The single best feature of my daily work is meeting the people who come in.
In many ways and places, middle aged women are invisible. In a building, an industry, where people expect to meet Bureaucracy, don't know how even to ask the right question to find the information they need, my friendly middle-aged face seems to be an attraction.
So many of them sidle into the office, or phone, and say, hesitantly, "I don't know if I have the right place, but I'm trying to..." I love meeting those people, taking those calls; they are my specialty. I often feel so tentative myself that when I say "I understand," they know I do. I might not know a lot, but I know who knows, and when they learn that there is, in fact, a human, with a name, and a telephone number they can call, or to whom I will pass along their inquiry, their faces just glow with gratitude, their voices go saggy with relief.
One very voluble woman has come in twice or three times to have documents notarized. I know the whole story of her insurance claim now. How the insurance company wouldn't send her the money ("It's not much probably a couple hundred dollars but it's the principle! It's mine! ...and everybody there knows it's mine but they need...!") until she proved she was her grandfather's granddaughter and how they had the deceased's address in New Jersey instead of wherever he had truly lived. ("And I'm thinkin' well maybe he had another life a woman on the side that I never knew about hey y'know it happens! But....") A matter of a mistyped middle initial, apparently. How many times she's sent letters and documents ("...certified, return receipt and that's not cheap!") She's talks and laughs and barely stops for breath. I sit back in my chair. She is a wonder to watch and listen to, although the speed and the wealth of detail in each sentence leaves me with only a recording in my head that I must replay once she's left so I know what she's said. She stopped in a week ago, an envelope gripped so tightly in her fist that it crinkled, a fierce close-mouthed smile on her face and fire in her eyes. "I got it! This is it!" Her smile broke open as ("Hah!") triumphant, she threw her glance Heavenward. "I won! I beat those b******s! Look at this! I got it! Here's the check!"
Last Friday an elderly man stepped slowly through the door, the skin of his upper face white and smooth, arresting cold blue eyes casting around the room for the person he had come to see. He spoke in a Northern Farmer way, the corners of his lips buttoned up like his wool jacket. I offered to take a message and he assented, looking only at my pen poised over the message pad.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Roger E__," he said.
I said his name sounded familiar.
Uninflected: "It should."
He spared me his telephone number and left, accepting my assurance that my coworker would call him.
I haven't yet gotten the story on Mr. E., but I will be asking.
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