The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in Line at the DMV (PG)

I look at their faces and I pity them and I envy them and I know more than anything that I can’t be one of them. Not any­more.

Still, I can wait in line with the best of them. It’s a skill like any other. Like whistling or making macaroni and cheese or de­signing a bomb capable of laying waste to over twenty miles worth of human life and achievement. In the end, it’s just pick-up sticks; all you need is patience and plenty of it.

Here I am in – what is this? Arizona? New Mexico? Some dry town with beige buildings and beige people and I haven’t eaten in two or so days and I can wait in this line.


We can always use a good driver,” he’d said with flecks of sour cream from a greasy, foil-wrapped burrito stuck in his moustache. “If you can work any of the heavy equip­ment – the CATs, the Deeres – that’s a big plus. All we’ll need is some ID and a look at your license.”


The same old song and dance.

Every town is safe for a few weeks, maybe months. Grab a job, whatever’s paying for room and board and all the replace­ment shirts, pants and shoes. I probably spend more money on clothes in a year than any of these women.

With every job comes the familiar challenge – time for new IDs. As a matter of necessity, I’ve become skilled at finding the kind of people who can help a wandering stranger in such a predica­ment. And every town has them, lingering at the bus stops and working the one-hour photo booths.

The woman behind the “Licenses Renewed/Transferred” counter is a great cow with her bifocals on a chain. Looks like

she’s worked here for twenty years, though it’s most likely half that. Perhaps a study into the life spans of Public Service employees would reveal some interesting discrepancy between “workplace time” and “real time.” Maybe a year working for the DMV is equal to two years natural time. Interesting, but unlikely. If that were the case, this woman would be moving much faster.

Hold on! Isn’t this the same guy from ten minutes ago? The farmer or mechanic or whatever in the crusty overalls who still can’t figure out which line he needs to be in to register his off-road monster truck? Did he actually cut in line with eight people waiting behind him? Could they possibly be chatting about the local high school football team?

Whoa. Watch it. Fingers to the wrist; it’s reflex now. Seventy-three beats a minute. Have to monitor. Keep the blood calm. Even. That’s right. Theeerre you go. I’ve got all the time in the world and I can wait in this line.

Should’ve been out of here by now. It’s actually my second time through. Of all the stupid slips. Had the form completed, spent half an hour in this same line, got up to the desk and, smiling as genuinely as I know how, started to hand over the paper to this self-same myopic endomorph before realizing I’d put the wrong name down. The wrong name for this place. I’d written “Bob Bannister” – a pseudonym I haven’t used since Cedar Rapids. Bad memories there. Started with a traffic jam then it’s all a blur of screaming faces, property damage, and the National Guard.

Here I think I’m supposed to be “Dave Baxter.” Thought it up on the Grey Hound. A quick look at my newly fabricated ID confirms the fact. This is what I’m using my impressive mental capacity for: inventing and keeping straight an endless array of aliases and backgrounds. All so I can drive a gravel truck. Or mop floors. Or drop baskets of fries into boiling oil.

And this is what has become of the wunderkind of applied physics, the nerd with the Nobel touch. O how the mighty have fallen.

Still, it could be worse. I could have a four-star general for a father-in-law.

That wasn’t funny.

Best not to think about her. About those weekends off-base; that sweet look of indulgence in her eyes and at the edges of her mouth as I rattled off whichever complex chain equa­tion just popped into my head. She would shut me up with a kiss. Then more.…

Whoops. Down, lover boy. Betty still does dangerous things to your heart rate.

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