You've never had this experience yourself, of course, so I shall today present a sketch of life in this capital, this seat of power:

You enter a branch post office, a new one that cost trillions and has eight service windows though you have never seen more than two of them open, and on this bright morning needless to say there is a line of 18 people and the usual two service windows open.

Very well. You get at the back of the line, though all you want to do is put the right amount of postage on your income tax forms (for you are a good citizen and do not wait till the last minute).

Ahead of you are the usual assortment of people from banks with plenty of packages, a person with umpteen manila envelopes, etc.

But they too have legitimate business in the post office and you cannot (offhand) think why your business is more important than theirs, or why you should advance to the head of the line, so you wait.

After 20 minutes you have moved right along and are near the service window.

Then in comes a dandy fellow, a lawyer from surburban Maryland as it turns out, and he too has post office business, but of course it is much more important than yours, or the bank person's or the manila-envelope person's. He stands at the back of the line a second, before it dawns on him that his business is urgent (he has come to see about his auto license plates) and it would really be pretty dumb to wait his turn.

You, after all, are nobody of consequence. So he leaves the end of the line, walks up front and gets the supervisor of the post office to wait on him.

This strikes you as incorrect procedure so you remind him all these people have been waiting their turn and he must wait his.

But what you don't understand is twofold:

You do not comprehend he is a lawyer, for God's sake, and therefore a good bit more important than a housewife or the other rabble in the line.

You do not comprehend that the supervisor is greatly interested in avoiding scenes, far more interested in that than in running his post office efficiently and correctly. He is afraid (as he said later) the laywer will raise hell if he isn't served instantly. The supervisor knows, of course, that you and the others in the line may also raise hell, but the lawyer is up in front, by now, and you're behind.

Besides, the chances are you will never do anything but be mad for five minutes and forget it.

So you call the post office to complain of this, and you get a fine cheerful fellow:

"I imagine," he says, "he was afraid that if he didn't tend to the man there might be a scene."

Well. This does seem an adequate response so you press right along and the complaint department, I must say, listens patiently and promises to phone back and -- hold your seat -- does so.

The complaint department reaches the post office supervisor and asks his side of the story.

"He did not tend to the man's business for him," that complaint department assured itself.

But you say:

"The supervisor heard people in the line tell him the man had walked from the end of the line to the front. The supervisor did not question the man to see if that was so. He did not ask the man to wait his turn.

"He took him immediately, spent five minutes with him and told the man his license plates would be delivered to him by carrier. Now if that is not tending to the man's business for him, what is?"

The lawyer, when reproached by some of the people in line, had said:

"You do it your way, I'll do it mine."

And when he left, his business transacted, he said:

"My way is better."

Of course his way is better. It got results didn't it? But you ask the complaint department:

"What are the rules for taking customers when a lot of people are waiting in line?"

"There aren't any rules," the complaint department says.

Finally the supervisor himself calls you, because by this time you really want an answer how this kind of thing happens. All at taxpayers' expense, needless to say.

The supervisor sounds nice enough. Not too gutsy, maybe, but nice enough.

He was afraid, he said, the man would make a scence if he didn't tend to his business for him.

"And what about me?" you shoot back. "Do you consider some goddam subburban lawyer more important than the housewives of Washington or anybody else?"

The supervisor says he probably made a bad judgment. He backs off a little on what the complaint department said he had told them -- that he did not tend to the lawyer's business for him.

Pressed, the supervisor admitted the man's business was tended to sufficiently that now he did not have to stand in line, as all the others did.

The supervisor was right about one thing, of course. It was bad judgment.

How, you wonder, did he come to make this bad judgment?

"It isn't all that damn difficult," you may point out, "to tell a man who moves from the back of the line to the front to please move to the back again, especially when people waiting in the line point his out to you."

Now suppose you are a supervisor. There are any number of excellent reasons why "judgement" might fail:

Suppose you are a quiet sort of supervisor and have run into goddam lawyers before. Especially the kind (if, indeed, there is any other kind) with the gall to briskly move from the end of the line to the front.

Suppose you do not care much who gets served when, as long as you get your hours in and your paycheck.

Suppose, as supervisor, you know there should be more service windows open at 9:30 than there are, but you really hate saying anything to all the postal folk chatting along in the back room. Maybe if you don't tend to the lawyer promptly he'll raise hell that the line was very long and six of the service windows were closed.

Suppose you think a bunch of dumb housewives can jolly well wait, and what's the sweat?

Suppose you got to be supervisor in the first place by taking the path of the least possible resistance at the moment, and suppose you really aren't very quick at sizing up situations anyway, and dear me, how unpleasant it is to offend anyone, especially a lawyer, even if he has an unpronounceable name. Gee, he might be somebody big.

Now it strikes me a supervisor really should not skirt the truth when the complaint department asks him if he served the lawyer out of turn.

I would like the supervisor better if he had told the truth and said yes, because it was the easiest thing to do and nobody told me some nut at a newspaper was going to yammer on and on about it.

That at least would have been forthright.

Meanwhile, as the goddam republic collapses around everybody's ears, the various stages of collapse are fairly entertaining and provide us all with amusing vignettes of life at the seat of power.