Sunday, November 9, 2008

L is for Lingefelt in a Long Line

This last Tuesday, I spent forty-five minutes in line waiting to vote. Every so often, a poll worker would come out and ask if anyone’s name started with A or G or P, etc. Not surprisingly, they never asked for anyone with an L. I brought along a book to read (The Butler Did It by Kasey Michaels, one I’ve read before; hilarious and highly recommended), and was thankful I didn’t get stuck between two people who happened to be, as they say in Regency England, bosom bows.

I’m reminded of our days in the military, where a lot of time is spent waiting in line for one reason or another, especially at the base commissary where we shop for groceries. We can’t pick any old checkout the way we can at civilian grocery stores. Instead, the commissary uses ropes and posts like the ones at the bank, to create a maze and make lab mice out of us.

Fairness aside, I don’t care for this method of lining up commissary patrons for at least two reasons. In the first place, I usually get stuck between two people, one in front of me and one behind, who happen to be intimate lifelong friends. This happens every time I go to the bank, too. They talk to each other—loudly—and usually about a mutual acquaintance (she couldn’t be a friend—not with friends like these) who isn’t there to take offense at having her gynecological problems broadcast in such gory detail in so public a forum.

It’s very confusing. The lady in front of me appears to be looking at me, when she’s really looking at the person behind me. I have to try and act like I’m not eavesdropping, yet I know the two of them are hoping I’ll become so uncomfortable with their graphic discussion about their hapless subject’s hysterectomy, that I’ll tell the lady behind me to go ahead of me so I won’t be caught in the middle.

Does the woman in front ever offer to let me go ahead, so she can have an unobstructed view of her pal while they continue to foam at their respective mouths over the size of the absent third party’s uterine fibroids? Of course not. Do I ever have the backbone to ask the woman in front of me if I can please go ahead of her? Of course not. I’m Karen Lingefelt.

That, or the two people are long lost friends or lovers who, after—why, it’s been years!—of separation, are reunited right there in line and spend the whole time catching up with each other’s life stories that never seem to include anything I might incorporate into my next novel. Sometimes the line is long enough that if they can find a notary waiting a turn, I might get to be a witness at their on-the-spot wedding.

The second thing I don’t like about the commissary maze is that I’m denied the freedom to choose who I want to wait behind. I’d rather take the checkout with the man holding the armful of junk food for his football game or Star Trek marathon, than the one with the woman my mother’s age, whose grocery cart looks as if she’s planning to entertain the entire Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. She does everything slowly and painstakingly, as if she’s performing open heart surgery on a butterfly.

All patrons are required to present their military ID cards at the cash register. This has always been the rule all over the world, for the three decades I’ve been part of the military. So you’d think after all these years, a military veteran/spouse older than me would know by now to have her ID card ready; but no, she always waits for the cashier to request it, at which point she embarks on a full scale expedition to the bottom of her purse to excavate it. Ditto the coupons and the checkbook, unless she’s paying cash and then it’s usually in coins and small bills, or really really big bills that can’t be changed unless the cashier can find a supervisor with access to the safe.

Even after she’s finally managed to pay, she refuses to move forward until she’s balanced her checkbook and conducted a major audit of her five foot long sales slip, interrupting the cashier while she’s trying to ring up my groceries to question a suspected discrepancy. If the cashier did make a mistake ringing up her groceries, maybe it’s because the customer before her was still hovering around interrupting her with similar trifles. Many’s the time my own full cart has been rung up, and I can’t swipe my ATM card or punch my PIN into the keypad, because the woman who was originally in front of me is still standing there trying to reorganize her purse so as to honor her ID card with a proper reburial.

Next time: What happens—or more accurately, doesn’t happen—at the head of the commissary maze.

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