LULU's Back in Town

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HAS it ever occurred to you how many of the wrong people achieve favored positions in those lines that form the interminable continuum of life's waiting game? They lollygag at bank windows, dither at ticket booths, and miscount their change at checkout counters. They can be found in varied force at every form of public gathering from sports events to rock concerts, from post offices and photocopying machines to museum previews. The anomalies of the situation struck me anew as I took my usual place at the end of the line at our friendly neighborhood bank. Everyone joins lines but nobody does anything about them. In the absence of other volunteers, I am prepared to offer myself as founder of an organization dedicated to rectifying some of society's more glaring linear inequities.

The bold new association would be called Line-Up Losers United - otherwise known as LULU. Each member would receive a LULU T-shirt, bumper sticker, decals, and lapel button. And, of course, the exclusive plastic LULU credit card entitling the holder to step to the front of whatever line he or she might happen to be at the end of.

You have no doubt already guessed that the purpose of LULU is to rescue the most of us who wind up last from the few of them who get there first. Why, you may ask, are the people at the front of the line the wrong people? Simply because their only justification is the precedence of prior arrival, as flimsy a premise as you'll encounter outside of a campaign promise.

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I'm not claiming that there is anything intrinsically unworthy about people up front - except perhaps a certain pushiness and underhanded forehandedness. But that is not really the point. The reason the people up front are the wrong people is not merely that they are up front and aren't us. The problem is that they are so incorrigibly slow.

Take your average bank window line lollygaggers. They hem and haw. They ask innumerable silly questions. They want to know their balances. They indulge in multiple transactions.

And just as you think they are going to count their money and shove off, they whip out the bank books of all their friends and relations. Finally, when you become the head of the line, the teller closes the window. (Automatic bank machines are something I simply won't go into.)

We LULU-ites are a totally different type of customer. We are models for a time-and-motion study. When our turn comes, we step up briskly, do our business efficiently, and cheerfully whisk ourselves off before you can say, ``Compound interest.'' If only everybody was like us, the world would be a snappier and happier place.

Another acute example of the waiting game which cries out for LULU is the box office ditherer. Can't make up his mind about date, price, or how many seats he wants. Finally, when you think he has covered all the contingencies and plunked down his credit card, he suddenly remembers that the second Tuesday in May is the night of the Suburban Bowling League banquet. So he starts all over again. If you or I had been first, Mr. Ditherer could have done all his calculating at the far end of the line while we were making our prompt and unhesitant purchases. Everyone would have been ahead.

These typical instances should by now have convinced you that the time has come to draw the line somewhere. And it might as well be behind us.

I haven't yet begun to explore the global possibilities of LULU. Perhaps the matter should be referred to UNESCO. The French and Italians should certainly welcome such a beneficent organization, along with most of the rest of the European Community. It must be a common problem in the Common Market. Of the British, I'm not so sure. It isn't that they relish being last in line more than anyone else. But they have a certain natural affinity for queues. They have a queue for everything. Which is why every English child learns his p's and queues before starting on his ABCs.

Just as anything will draw a crowd in New York, so any small sign or barrier will start a queue in London. Admittedly, in recent years bus riders have been known to break the queue and go into a mad scramble as one of the ever more occasional big red buses lurched to a stop. As Flanders and Swan sang it, London Transport has ``cut down all the stages and put up all the fares.'' But I would still like to see how the British might take to LULU.

But at this point the cautionary voice of Cold Reason interrupted my queue-escent reverie.

``How does LULU anticipate calming the angry queuers whose line will be finessed?'' the chill VCR demanded. ``And what about the line buckers [not to be confused with line backers] who don't happen to hold the cherished LULU card? And how are you going to accommodate the vast hordes lining up to get into LULU in the first place?''

Before I could even begin to respond to these frosty negativisms, a gentler voice intervened.

``The same as usual, Mr. Beaufort?'' asked cheerful Ms. Bankworth, the teller who flatters her regular customers by remembering their names.

``The same, Ms. Bankworth,'' I replied, realizing that, in the course of my musings, I had inched my way to the head of the line. Ms. Bankworth never closes the window in your face.

While figuring out how to answer the objections raised by VCR, I have decided to retire Line-Up Losers United to the back of the queue - at least until I am stuck there once again myself.

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