We rounded the corner as the man in a cowboy hat carrying a wooden cross with fake flowers bellowed almost unintelligible words that sounded menacing and foreboding. I caught some proclamation about the death of manhood. He was still there later when we came back around.
The marquee and chandeliers spoke to a more glorious past with the echoes of movie-goers. Our profile reflections bounced back and forth across the entry walls as we walked up the ramp to the immobile escalator leading to the second floor. On the door to that office I read the sign that prohibited guns, knives and weapons in the office. Inside, other signs littered the walls with instructions and prohibitions. No food. No drink. No cellphones. No photos. No video recording.
The area to our right was partitioned by cubicle walls. The room looked unkempt with the curling paper signs taped to walls and tables. There was a lassitude or disrespect for itself within the confines of the office, although that was belied by the efficiency with which people were sorted and dispensed to the right cubicles for their business. We felt an air of resignation as we stood there, but perhaps those were simply the feelings of first-time visitors. A second visit might fill a newcomer with hope and gratitude.
A uniformed woman instructed us to form two lines. No one moved, so she pointed ‘you here and you there’ until everyone was in one of the straggling lines. I could hear fragments of conversations. Someone asked about free phones, and one of the receptionists said the man handing them out had been outside this building earlier in the day. Apparently the free-phone-man roams the city dispensing his merchandise to eligible clients. If a person had a phone, they might wait for a tweet with his location. Alas, that is a catch-22.
The uniformed receptionist said, “What do you need sweetie?” I have always been disconcerted by terms of endearment from strangers, yet strangely warmed by it too. I said, “I’m just waiting for someone.” She pointed me to the waiting area behind her where she could ignore those of us who had no business in this office. I pulled out my book to read but ignored its pages to watch people. The waiting lines had disintegrated to nothing now; it seems we had arrived with the after-lunch rush.
The man seated in front of me stretched backwards in a yawn, and I got the whiff of alcohol. He eased back forward, and the smell was gone. Later in the afternoon, I sat beside this man again on a park bench blocks from this office. That is Pittsburgh-a very small city. A woman in red walked past me and sat in the farthest corner behind me. I got a sudden whiff of body odor.
He finished the application and turned it in; all that remained was to wait for a telephone call of approval. It might come today, but that seemed unlikely on a Friday afternoon. We walked out the door and stepped on the down escalator.