I was awake long before my digital alarm clock struck 5:30 a.m., pelting buzzing sounds into the surrounding air. I switched on the radio and sunk back into my bed upon hearing the day’s forecast: 16 degrees. Clouds. Rain. Possibility of thunderstorms. Harrumph. What a letdown, given the unimaginably long streak of cloudless, warm, sunny days.
I know what you’re thinking: What’s wrong with a little chill and rain? Nothing, if you don’t have to adapt to changed circumstances. Nothing, unless you are a little like me, a ‘weight-watcher.’ As soon as I had to add in the weights of a (collapsible) umbrella and scarf, I just knew my camera would have to be left behind. And those of you who know me, and my irrepressible need to snap pix just about every day, will attest to how difficult it is for me to leave my Canon behind. It’s one of the things I like least about the whole weight-bearing, weight-watching thing I need to contend with on a daily basis. What adds up to approximately a kilo goes in; the rest, fugettabout it.
But I digress.
The pre-alarm anxiety that colored my sleepy world had nothing to do with weather. Or weight. Or even cameras. No, it stemmed from a conversation I’d had the day before; I was warned (more than once), on the phone, by a chirpy-sounding government clerk, that the office where I was to go, was “crowdy” all day long. How bad, I’d regretfully asked. Could be a few hours, she said, very crowdy.
Crowdy. That was enough to send my mind into a tail-spin, concocting nightmarish visions of queues circling the block, lines forming far past what the human eye could see. Or a sea of chairs, each one occupied by a displeased, harried or frustrated client. (Bad weather does that too). I also imagined myself falling into a heap on the floor, unmoved by the stares and finger-pointers around me.
In order to avert certain disaster, I decided that I had to do whatever it takes, which meant heading out before daylight. On a rainy, drizzling, spittingly-grey morning. It was not a pretty sight. Subway riders dressed in various shades of black or brown. A subterranean hodgepodge of students, laborers, blue-collar workers, stylishly-dressed secretaries and fast-food, uniformed employees heading home after their shift.
Arriving at the building an hour before the office opened its doors, I asked the security guard in the lobby if I might be able to get assistance – and stated my case. He suggested that I speak with one of the guards in the office.
Just before 8 am, the elevator whisked me up to the 3rd floor, where I waited alone in the empty hallway until, a few moments later, a guard appeared. Once the numbered tickets had been handed out, I noticed I was 4th in line. Still, with the employees not meeting clients for at least another 30 minutes, I knew I had a problem: What to do in the meantime? Everyone else had taken their seat…
There she was, the guard. Petite in stature,straight posture, starched uniform, jet-black straight hair (with just a touch of curl at the ends), and severe face, she exuded an air of control. Made me wonder whether in a previous life, she might not have been a prison guard. As if to compensate for her size, she strode with confidence, big steps and a jaw clenched tight. I reckoned I had no chance of being heard.
But I approached her anyway, explaining my quandary in hushed tones. I need to rest, but I can’t sit on those chairs, is there anywhere else I could lie down, at least until I’m summoned?
I think I caught the guard… off guard. She looked at me with what I can only describe as a mixture of bewilderment, awe and sympathy. Even as she shook her head, and said “no, only here,” I could see that she was trying to come up with a solution… So I let her be.
Off she marched down the corridor, leaving in her wake a trailing echo that sounded like “let me check.” I circled around for only a few moments, until I spotted her walk in, armed with a (collapsible) chaise longue. Not any lounge chair, mind you, but the kind that you would take to the beach. The metal kind with stripes across the canvas. The kind that really lets you RECLINE. Whoopee!
Madame Security Guard smiled as I walked up to her, nodded, and asked if it was ok for her to open it up right here, smack in the middle of the waiting room. Yes, yes, no problem, she said with what sounded, just possibly, like a thinly-veiled East-European accent. And so she did just that. Under the silent and watchful eyes of a dozen or so onlookers, this sheep-in-wolf’s clothing unhinged, outstretched and planted the beach chair among the chairs and watched as I eased myself onto the reclined seat.
She didn’t seem to think it was comfortable enough for me, but I quickly assured her that she did good. Then, the only possible question left to ask (though I did not do so) was this: Why was a collapsible beach chair stored in the offices of bureaucrats & civil servants?
It was a surreal scene, that’s for sure. Reclining on a beach chair, under the gaze of harsh fluorescent lights, in an office building deep in the downtown core. How crazy is that?
It took a few minutes for me to get used to that recliner. But then, it was PERFECT. I was facing the wall, but suddenly and self-consciously became aware of all the attention focused in my direction. So I closed my eyes and fell into a deep… breath. I imagined myself lying on a sand-filled, sun-drenched beach, surrounded by the voices of tourists and sun-worshippers. It was almost heavenly…
That – together with finding, then thanking, the security guard with a heart – made all the difference to my day.