Lines Out of Mind

A creative life is an examined life. Here's what I found myself examining last Monday morning: the long line at the doors of IKEA, where I waited for the Almighty Furniture Discount Voucher, with which I would receive half price on "MALM," a 3-drawer dresser in the requested color of white, for my daughter. I waited in the cold, outside the enormous complex, next to a nice mom and 4-year-old, and a large bearded man whose shivering wife stomped away with the baby to wait in the car. Half an hour later, the showroom doors opened, but the warehouse was not to open for another half hour.

As I wandered the showroom, I remembered: IKEA is not my thing. I'm overwhelmed in this mecca of hooks, swivels, flower pots, light fixtures, chairs, wire whisks, pillows, hampers. Inordinate organization. All in swoopy shapes and primary colors. The brain-numbing possibilities and sleek solutions make me long for a place small and shabby, like a garage sale, where I can walk once around the six-foot driveway, see everything, call it junk, and drive away.

When the warehouse opened, there was another thick line. I stood in it. For a while. Until I found out it was the line for the birch MALM. Which meant getting out of line and asking questions until I found a line for the white MALM, which ran parallel with the line for the black MALM. Somewhere around there was also the line for the dark brown MALM. And here's my favorite part. The lady in front of me turned around and said, "What are we supposed to do?"

"Don't you have a voucher?" I asked. "You give them your voucher."

The lady turned, looking at her teenager daughter, pondering the significance of this. She looked at me again. "Can I see your voucher?" she asked quickly. "Does it have a picture on it?"

I pulled from my pocket the Almighty Furniture Discount Voucher - nervous she might try some shenanigan and take my precious slip of paper with the words "MALM" and "White."

"No picture," I said, relieved I wouldn't actually have to hand it to her.

"Well, what is it?"

"It's a dresser," I said. "Wait--" and I remembered the mailer in my purse, which I'd taken from the fridge, with its glowing picture of MALM. Black. "Half off," I said.

"Huh," said the lady. Seconds passed. The line inched forward. The twenty-year-old guy at the front of the line handed over his voucher and was presented with a handcart, loaded with the brown box containing the unassembled parts of MALM. Now the lady turned to her daughter. "Do we need it?" she asked. And then, with a sudden revelation and a burst of confidence, she said, "We don't need it! We don't need it!" She took her daughter's arm and they strode away.

We stand in these lines out of fear of missing out. Whatever is being offered is a good deal for everyone else. Shouldn't we get one, too? We shuffle along with the herd, keeping our place. Waiting. Just in case. We're not stupid, we just don't want to lose our chance.

It's a good time to ask: "What am I in line for?"

Could be, you don't need what they're selling. Could be, all these people have different lives, different needs than you do. You won't get to know yourself any better by hanging around there wondering what you're missing. Go ahead. Ask yourself the real questions about what's important to you. Have the clarity to step out of line.

Write about a time you stood in line, and who you talked to, and what you were waiting for.

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