Swickard: A funny thing happened in line

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Years ago one August I was standing in a line at New Mexico State University, the usual kind college students must stand in. No one was speaking; each person barricaded in their own world of misery, trying to not snarl at other people, but secretly wishing the other people would all have a heart attack so they could step over the fallen bodies and go to the head of the line.
       The air conditioner in the building had “gone south” so the temperature hovered many degrees above the human sweat point. Standing in line that afternoon had all of the charm and enjoyment of mucking out a goat shed on a hot humid summer afternoon.
       It was Friday; 4:45 p.m. Closing time was five p.m.
You would think that with the computer age, lines should be a thing of the past. But I guess no matter what happens to our world; we will still have two things: lines to stand in and cockroaches to step on.
       Then someone walked up, looked carefully at a piece of paper and stared worriedly at the sign in front of the line. He started to leave, wavered, almost spoke aloud. He looked at the paper again, uncertain where he should be, fearful of being in the wrong line. He seemed angry that what he wanted to know wasn't easy to find.
       At last, with an air of resignation, he stuck the paper in his pocket, sighed heavily and stepped into line; having decided it was the wrong line but he was going to have to wait until he got to the front of this line to find out which line he should be standing in. Further, he knew at 5 p.m. he would be in the correct line, but the person at the window would close the window before he got to the front.
       A trickle of sweat ran down the small of my back. I turned and said, matter-of-factly, “I wouldn't mind these lines if it wasn’t for all the waiting.”
The effect on the people in line was immediate, most smiled. I was sure it was the first smile seen in that line all day. It was an important smile because I also smiled and my need for an aspirin/antacid/valium was relieved. Like the air rushing out of a balloon, the tension in the line vanished and people started talking to each other. It was an important lesson. Read full column


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