I Have a Gift
Some other people say what I experience on a daily basis is not a gift. It is karmic retribution. To-may-to, To-mah-to.
I have the ability, when presented with a multitude of lines in grocery stores, gas stations, department stores – doesn’t matter - to pick the one line that will cause me to wonder why Gob hates me so much. What did I do in a past life? Was I a serial killer? Did I wear synthetic fibers once too often? Was I perhaps a clerk in Olson’s Mercantile and I just happened to be really bad at making change? So now I’m being punished by being made to wait in line, instead of making others wait in line?
Lest you think I exaggerate, let me present, Exhibit A:
Last Saturday, I went to Target. I was expecting mass chaos, so I had (as Mr. J. sometimes nicely reminds me) “put on my patient cap.” When I decided to pay for my goods (note – about 3 things, at most), I was pleasantly surprised to see that although there were MANY long lines, they all appeared to be moving quickly. I happened to be standing nearest the register in which an elderly couple was just paying their bill – purchases rung up and bagged. “Perfect,” I thought. “There’s no WAY this can turn out to be the slowest line.” And this is where Gob laughed and said to him/herself, “I’ll show you, missy!” The cashier was handing the couple back their credit card, couple was walking away when she said, “Oops! I forgot to ask you if you’d like to open a Target account today and save 10%!” (Maybe she was being monitored by management? – that does happen in retail). I thought surely the couple would say, “No, you can take your 24.99% APR and stick it where the sun don’t shine. And don't call us Shirley.”
But no. Mr. Slow and his wife, Mrs. Pokey looked at each other. “Well?” he said, eyebrows raised. Mrs. Pokey looked back at him. “I don’t know. What do you think?” “I suppose we could.” “Yes, I suppose we could.” “All right then, let’s do it!”
I looked around frantically – how was this happening? People in the other lines were moving along, moving along. I had avoided all the other lines because they all had at LEAST 4 or 5 people in them. How could something so right suddenly go so wrong!?!?
Cashier said, “Great! Let me run and get the form. The whole process only takes about 10 minutes.”
Now this is where my gift really turns into a curse. Just like when I’m reading a book I don’t really like or enjoy, I feel it’s somehow my obligation to stick with it. Like, maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its first 300 pages. Who knows? It might get really good. And when I have chosen the world’s crappiest line, I start this little conversation with myself:
Optimistic Self: You could move to that other line over there. It’s only 6 people long.
Pessimistic Self: Who are you kidding? The minute you move over there, you might as well apologize to all the people in front of you because you know something will happen. Probably the cashier’s hair will spontaneously burst into flames and then all the other cashiers will be on their break and we’ll have to wait for the fire department to come and put her hair out and you know how long that will take.
Optimistic Self: But look – the whole time we’ve been standing here, three people have already gone. I saw them leaving. With their purchases! That could be us!
Pessimistic Self: You’re delusional. We’ve already been standing in this line 10 minutes. You know as soon as we move, Mr. Slow and Mrs. Pokey will get their Target card and you’ll be standing in the “Ouch, my hair is on fire!” line.
Get this: Woman was EXTREMELY grateful, she and son moved two lines over that had TWO families in front of her and I was still standing in my “line” (question: Is it really a line when it’s just you and one other party? Or is that more of a hyphen or a dash?) when I watched them walk out the door, all paid up and somewhere to go.
Hand to Gob, 15 minutes later, all other lines were empty and I FINALLY got up to the register.
I have taken it upon myself (since last week) to become a walking public service announcement. Whenever people get in line behind me – anywhere – Target, grocery store, Ann Taylor – doesn’t matter! – I turn around and say, “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but I believe I have an amazing talent for picking the line that has the biggest problem. You may want to choose another one.” Sometimes they seem grateful and move to another line and then wave at me, smiling and mouthing “Thanks” as they leave the store. And sometimes they don’t listen to me and stay where they are and 20 minutes later, when they’re looking at their watch and sighing loudly, I just turn around, look them in the eye, shrug my shoulders and say, “I told ya!”
In the past two weeks alone, I have countless examples of this strange phenomenon: Getting in line behind the sweet elderly woman at the grocery store - her groceries were bagged, it was the shortest line in the store. And then. She took out her beaded change purse and started counting out pennies. A tear rolled down my cheek.
At the toll booths, where I chose the lane that had only one car in it. All other lanes had at least 3-4 cars and maybe one or two semis. I gave myself a pep talk as I drove behind the lone Volvo station wagon stopped at the booth. "There is no way. No. Way. that this will turn out to be the longest line. It's just impossible. It goes against all laws of nature, including the law of um, gravity and astrophysics or Newton something. Plus, Volvos are kind. Volvos are good. We have many positive experiences with Volvos." Alas, this was not to be one of them. As big rig after big rig rumbled by me, I sat. I think the woman in the Volvo had either a.) run into a long lost friend, or b.) Didn't really know how toll booths worked and was surprised to find out she needed to have money. Maybe she was writing a check for .50 - doesn't matter. I got to memorize her license plate number while all the other toll booth operators with empty lanes took their coffee breaks.
At the gas station - Oy! Don't even get me started. But here's a little tip: When you've filled up your car and paid, get the hell out of the way!!!! When every pump has at least 2-3 cars, and you have ME waiting behind you, why do you think that's when you need to balance your checkbook? Asshats. I don't get it.
At the ATM: To rip off a bit from Jerry Seinfeld: The ATM is NOT the place to pull off some major financial transaction. Transferring money from your Swiss bank account to your kid in jail in Guadalajara? Go inside. If you're in the regular banking drive-thru line, it is ALSO not the time to give the teller your new Tupperware catalogue. Do you not SEE the line of cars behind you?
In closing folks, if you are anywhere in the world and happen to get in a line, if a woman turns around and says, "This is probably going to be a very long wait simply because I'm standing here," believe her. Move. And then fire off a thank-you e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, because it was probably me.
Today's public service announcement has been brought to you by Teacher Lady and the makers of Valium.