IF THERE'S ONE THING in this world that drives me completely out of my mind, it's waiting in line.
Some people wait in line gracefully, exchanging pleasantries and making small talk and generally behaving like adults.
I hate these people. Me, I stand there scowling and grumbling and elbowing little old ladies in the stomach if they come anywhere near me.
I also plot ways in which I could move up in the line more quickly. ("What if that section of ceiling collapsed? I'd probably move up to fourth in line, maybe third if that beam over the door gave way . . .")
One thing is absolutely certain: Given a choice of lines, I will get in the line that moves the slowest.
If it's at the supermarket, I'll get in the check-out line with the harried mother who's lunging at her squawking kids with a stick of pepperoni while writing a check for her groceries.
If it's at McDonald's, I'll wait in line 20 minutes behind the heavy-metal freak with the glue habit who finally reaches the cashier, only to stare up at the menu board (as if seeing it for the first time) to decide what he wants.
If it's at the airport, I'll get in the check-in line with the bearded, wild-eyed revolutionary who'll suddenly brandish a handgun and demand to be flown to North Yemen.
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to waiting in line at the hellhole known as the Motor Vehicle Administration.
This is a place where people actually start trembling the moment they walk in the door, so deep is their fear of waiting in the endless lines that snake everywhere.
Unfortunately, I had occasion to visit this vast gulag recently, as I accompanied a friend (practically at gunpoint) to straighten out some matter concerning his driver's license.
Frankly, if it came down to a choice between visiting the MVA or losing my license, I would seriously consider mass transit -- or even take up walking.
But my friend insisted he needed his car for work, as he is a salesman -- even though it was pointed out that we have more than enough damn salesmen in this country. So there we were, entering the gloomy bowels of the MVA with the sprightly step of two men on their way to the gas chamber.
After consulting with the clerk manning the information desk, we were directed to a vast waiting area that had all the charm of a Turkish prison.
No, I take that back. The fact is that Turkish prison guards, no matter how cruel and sadistic, are far friendlier than the sullen clerk my friend was waiting in line to see.
I have a theory about clerks, concession stand workers, etc., who must wait on long lines of customers every day.
My theory is this: After a while, they do their job by rote. Their work becomes so repetitious and joyless that they enter a dreamlike state in which they don't even know what they're doing -- or what people are saying to them.
I imagine conversations such as the following take place all the time in the MVA:
Clerk (in bored voice): "Next."
Motorist: "I'd like to change the registration on a car I just stole."
Clerk (silently tapping at computer terminal): "Reason for
Motorist: "We're using the car to run 50 kilos of cocaine up from Florida. Naturally, we're worried about the cops."
Clerk: "Is this a joint registration?"
Motorist: "I guess so. We're also running a shipment of guns and explosives to the PLO."
Clerk: "New registrant's name."
Motorist: "Abu Nidal. Also known as Ali Abdullah Fayeed."
Clerk: "New registrant's address."
Motorist: "Cyprus. Unless the Israeli's have snatched him."
Clerk: "Sign here."
Motorist: "Thanks, you won't regret it. This stuff has a street value of $40 million. We'll slip $500,000 your way."
Anyway, we languished in line for what seemed like days (I remember buzzards circling overhead at one point). Finally, my friend reached the clerk -- who, by the way, bore an eerie resemblance to a young Bess Truman -- and straightened out his license.
We stumbled back into the sunlight. I suggested dropping to our knees and saying a quick prayer of thanks, and one for the poor suffering fools we had left behind.
But my friend said, no, let's go have a beer instead.
He's just not very spiritual, is how I read it.