The Office in the Afternoon



230 E. 42nd Street, ny ny

Neighborhood: Midtown

The girl arrived late on a Friday afternoon and interrupted what I was doing. She refused to take a number and said she only had to collect her airline ticket and that she didn’t have time to wait. She had to get to the airport, she said.

I was busy helping somebody, I explained with overt politeness, and she would have to wait. But this only spurred her impatience. She didn’t have time, she repeated. Slowly. As if I was having trouble understanding: She. Would. Miss. The. Plane.

I understand, I told this girl, with equal slowness but with exaggerated good manners, and suggested that she should really have come earlier. This caught her off guard. I turned away from her, and she sighed in frustration and anger and did not step back, but she allowed me to continue with my client for another few minutes. I went slowly, elaborating on every option, discussing the fine details of a flight connection my client would probably never buy. Soon, the girl broke in again. This was ridiculous, she said. She would miss the flight. Did I not understand? It would only take a few seconds to give her her ticket. She asked to see a manager. That was fine, I said, but the manager was a little busy right then. If she would take a seat, he might be free in a little while.

She spread her hands and repeated again that she would miss the plane if I didn’t give her her tickets, whereupon my client mentioned that she wouldn’t mind waiting for a few minutes. I should help this lady. She really might miss her flight.

This forced my hand, of course. You never had a chance when they align against you.

So, graciously, I went to the prepaid ticket file and rooted through it for a while. I saw her ticket right away, but did not take it out, and instead went into the back office and stared out the window. What was I up to, somebody asked. I explained I was pissing off a pushy customer, and they nodded and went back to their work. After a while, I went back out again and asked her to spell out her name to me.

P.e.t.e.r.s.o.n. How many ways could you spell it, she asked. She told me again that she’d been told that the ticket would be there, and so I went back over to the file, and went through it again. Taking out a few tickets and examining them before putting them back and whistling tunelessly to myself as I did. And then I took her ticket out and flicked through it to make sure it was all right. And then brought it over to her. Great, she said with some sarcasm and reached for it, but I held on and placed it on the counter between us. With it firmly under my hand, I read through each flight detail with her.

She knew, she told me. The ticket was fine, I just had to give it to her. She had no time. But I told her it was an important procedure and read on in a monotone, and she fell into a pained silence until I finished. She asked if she could have it now and reached for the ticket again. I held it back again and told her that she should check in two hours in advance. That that was very important. She stared at me furiously as I smiled back at her, but she said nothing. I left her and went to find a ticket jacket and painstakingly filled it with flyers for immunizations and visas and whatever I could find, then wandered into the back office once more and stared out the window.

After a while, I went back out to the counter and checked through all the contents carefully, before placing the ticket in her outstretched hand.

Thanks a lot, she spat at me and turned and hoisted her backpack inelegantly over her shoulder and hurried out the door. I turned back to my client with a smile.

Now, where had we been, I asked.

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