WAITING IN LINE is not something I do graciously, so I have tried to organize my life in a way that I avoid lines at almost any cost. There are some places I do not go because of lines and some things I do not buy because of lines. I avoid supermarket lines by shopping Sunday mornings or in the evenings or, as my family might tell you, by simply not shopping at all. i

Avoiding lines sometimes involves personal sacrifices and sometimes not. I have missed acclaimed cultural exhibitions because of lines, but then I've also missed rock concerts because of lines. And I have missed no end of terrific message movies because of lines. Who, after all, wants to stand in line for tickets to a movie you can see on TV in a year? Who else do you know who can truthfully say she has seen neither "Nine to Five" nor "Kramer vs. Kramer"?

A cardinal rule for avoiding lines is not to open your mouth and come up with a great family project before finding out whether it means standing in line. You would think that someone as anxious to avoid lines as I am would have this rule down pat, but you would be wrong. So it was that last Friday morning I opened the newspaper and saw that some movie called "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was getting nothing short of a rave review and that it was labeled PG, that it was opening that day and that it might be fun for the 5-year-old as well as the 15-year-old who would be leaving Sunday for five weeks. What better family send-off, said I aloud, than going out to dinner and the movies Saturday evening?

That the 15-year-old had heard it was a good movie was my first clue that I'd made a mistake. "That's supposed to be a great movie," said he. "It was on the cover of Newsweek this week." After a brief archeological dig, he reappeared with the magazine, which had disappeared into his room shortly after coming in the mail. There on the cover was the movie. There in my dining room was a distressed mother. I had not exactly discovered a sleeper. By this time, of course, it was too late to change plans. The 5-year-old was already clamoring to take a friend. The solution was obvious: We would go to the Tysons Corner theater early on Saturday and my 15-year-old would stand in line for tickets to a later show. The die, as they say, was cast.

Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. Since this was the last day I would have access to my son's gardening services. I sat at the kitchen table, paring down the list of plants to be moved and beds to be created to that which I could reasonably expect him to do in a few hours with the amount of complaining that I could be reasonably expected to tolerate. By 9:30 a.m, the list was down to something that could be managed by a crew of nursery professionals working for two weeks. With love in my heart and orange juice in my hand, I started the process of waking him up. Shortly thereafter, he limped into the kitchen and displayed the ball of his foot, which was covered with dried Merthiolate: he had gashed it coming in the door the night before.

He was, obviously, unable to work.

He was, hopefully, still able to stand in line.

By 1 o'clock, he was on the phone finding out how soon we could start buying tickets for the 7 o'clock show. I was not about to take any chances. We left the house at 5:10 for what is usually a five-minute drive to the shopping mall. The plan was to get the tickets, then get pizza, then go to the movie. No sooner had we gotten there, though, then it became obvious that to make him hobble on a shoeless and bandaged foot to the theater and stand in line would be nothing less than child cruelty -- or at least that is what he might claim loudly and clearly for all to hear. It was early enough, said I, that there probably wouldn't be a line. I would get the tickets.

I was wrong. My only hope of getting tickets was that the hundred people standing in front of me weren't buying for tour buses full of their friends. At 5:30, they started selling tickets. After 20 minutes, there were more people in back of me than in front of me. Moments before 6, I left the ticket booth, triumphantly clutching four tickets, and dashed to the pizza parlor with my 5-year-old in tow, hoping there would be some food left for us. Seating for the show started at 6:30 p.m. There wasn't much time. Nor, it turned out, was there much pizza.

Soon after, I took the 5-year-old to get candy. Suddenly, as we walked out of the store, the electricity went off. We walked to the theater and it was dark there, too. You could see a torrential downpour outside. The storm had knocked the electrical power out at the mall. Like good sports, we got in line that wrapped around the lobby as far as the eye could see and waited for the electricity to come back on. And waited. And waited. Finally, they announced that even if the electricity came back on soon, they wouldn't show the movie until the next scheduled time -- at 9:30 p.m. With a 5-year-old, it was time to give up, which of course nearly everyone else had done already. By the time I got in line for the refund, so had everybody else. And by the time I got out of the theater, young men were striding up and down the dark mall with bullhorns, ordering everyone to clear out, making like it was the Battle of Britain or The Day the Earth Stood Still.

We did not, of course, get to see "Raiders of the Lost Ark." We did, however, get a glimpse of how the world could end. Something tells me I'll be standing in line.