Tuesday, April 27, 2004


I hate waiting. I am that guy in a long line, the one huffing and puffing; the one shifting his weight between right and left foot far too many times for a normal person; the one muttering a myriad of vulgarities just under his breath (just loud enough for the toddler behind him hears). I am, to put it mildly, not a very patient person.

This is not, of course, anything incredibly new. I realize that if I am that guy above, there are at least a half-dozen more somewhere in the line with me. What makes it a bit more strange, I guess, is that I am oddly patient with people. I may not like a person, but I will at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they have something to bring to any given conversation. My purpose for this is, I must confess, that they might also show me the same generosity -- that is, I realize that I, too, can be both a bore and a nag.

What is different about situations that cry out for a bit of patience, though? Things like lines at the supermarket or to get into a concert; or, in my present case, waiting for the courier to show up and pick up my passport renewal papers? Situations, after all, are rarely devoid of people. Lines, typically anyway, are composed of other people. As are couriers, not to mention the people they have to deal with on any given day -- i.e., in traffic, on other courier runs, etc.). Situations, then, for the most part, are also people. Why, then, do I not give them the same sort of slack?

Is it because situations often assume your cooperation? That is, when you're in a traffic jam that you're not going to start ramming the cars ahead of you; or, when you're waiting for a courier, that you're going to sit at home between the hours of 12 and 5, eschewing lunch (because you forgot to buy anything the evening before), and, well, just bloody wait for what you're told to assume is the inevitable arrival of your courier. I'm not so sure this is the case, since there is a similar (implicit) social contract in effect between me and people -- eg., I don't, or at least rarely, walk away from somebody while they're talking (unless, that is, the act of walking away [or, say, yawning] is a rhetorical gesture to communicate something like anger or boredom, and thus to, in a way, continue the conversation). Or, is the difference that situations -- those that most often drive us crazy, anyway -- often come to us in very impersonal forms? This might explain why we call a cluster of individuals, with various stories and rationales for being at one place at one given moment in time, a LINE; or an individual worker, with bills and debts to pay, say, a COURIER.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question at all. I've still no clue as to why I should privilege my interactions with people, when in fact situations are peopled with individuals (though often strangers) as well. If anything, you'd think that the former would piss me off more. Which is more disturbing, for instance, a friend or acquaintance who betrays you (even in something as mundane as taking the last piece of chocolate out of a bowl) or a complete stranger who does something to piss you off (be it steal your wallet or take up too much space with his suitcase on the subway)? Is it even fair to differentiate at all between the faces of people and the (apparently) nameless faces of situations -- for example, between the terrible waiting at a hospital for some indication about a friend's well being and the situation of having to wait at the hospital at all (in all its nameless ugliness and reality)?

I've no clue. All I'm sure of is that I've been waiting nearly an hour, and the damned courier still isn't here; and I have very bad feeling that it was HIS grey van I saw pulling away from the curb at 11.55, as I was walking back from the post office not one hundred yards from where I live. But what else can you do but wait anyway?