Friday, April 4, 2008

It's not about the wait

There is this balding, red haired guy in a building that I frequent. He's short and has a potbelly, red, wind burned cheeks and bloodshot eyes. He's missing a few teeth and usually has a two-day beard and a wrinkled uniform.

He's the guard on duty in the morning, and likes to stand with his hands behind his back against the elevator button. As I rush in, I can't push it at will. I have to wait instead until he decides to summon the elevator for me.

If, as I enter the lobby, one of the doors is closing, my impulse is to rush to push the button and stop the elevator, but, (you guessed it) with his body as an obstacle, my reflex must be suppressed. I have to stand there while he lets the car in question go, waits a couple of beats and then invisibly, so that I can’t be sure if he's done it at all, calls the next one.

I know what you're thinking, and I've openly admitted that patience is not one of my strongest characteristics. But this has only a little bit to do with the wait. This man relishes the fact that he alone dictates the rhythm of the people who venture into his territory.

We all trot in, clueless, out of breath, holding our briefcases and gym bags, balancing coffee cups and Blackberries, phones and Bluetooth headsets, and as he stops us in our tracks I turn and catch in that sad, haggard face an oh-so-slight lilt in the corner of his mouth, the faintest hint of a smile.

Photo from

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's all about power. Do you remember the agents at the cashiers' windows of government offices, banks, anyplace you have to pay a bill? The classic image is a fat woman turned around on her stool, jabbering with the people behind her in the office, ignoring you while she applies polish to her nails or complains that "the system is down", or demands you present a document that was never mentioned before, meaning that you have to return with it the following day, in order to be asked for another document. Or the cop on the corner, the security officer at the entrance to a large office tower or corporate complex, and yes, sometimes the immigration or customs officer in the arrivals building at an airport. It's all about power. They have only a little, but enough to put your life on hold for as long as it takes.