In my mind, there’s a sniper at the top floor window of the courthouse just waiting for someone to turn into a parking spot without using their blinker, plotting the moment he can take aim with a devilish smile, thinking, Gotcha, no-blinker McGee. Hope you paid your taxes, cuz the line’s a mile long where you’re going.
Just walking up the front steps sent shivers down my spine. The businesslike clickity-clack of my heels was in perfect rhythm with the words repeating in my mind. Don’t look back, don’t look back. I could feel bystanders’ eyes burning accusatory holes into my back, thinking:
What did she do wrong THIS time? The real crime should be that derriere looking so great in those slacks. Why is this turkey sandwich so dry? (Well, can’t always be the center of attention. It was lunchtime, after all.)
Yup. Not having the guilt of ever getting in trouble a day in my life sure felt good.
I’m a reasonably mature, (can I emphasis again) level-headed adult, so I wasn’t afraid to ask for directions once inside.
“Yes, I’m here to pick up important documents. They’re for a friend,” I say. The story instantly sounds flimsy.
I pointedly look down at my formal work attire and aspiring work badge and put on my most winning smile as if to say, “Do I look like the type of person who would get into trouble?” My eyes twinkle with the rest of a responsibly-acquired, eight-hour night’s sleep.
The woman smiles back, a knowing “God, you’re amazing” smile – surely not to be confused with her “I get this all the time and see right though you” smile – and directs me upstairs. I hear something about a metal detector and security guard in my concerted efforts to appear Christian, mentally stable and like the type of person who regularly showers.
I find the metal detector and the security guard.
“Ma’am, do you have a cell phone?” I was clearly holding a bright red cell phone. “You can’t take that in with you.”
I gasp in dismay. What kind of atmosphere was the office two feet away that phones were restricted? With appalled scrutiny, I notice the lighting beyond the guard isn’t fluorescent. Instead, the office is bathed in a welcoming, warm glow and candy (assorted fun-sized candy bars– they had splurged on the good stuff) overflowed from the front desk jar. In the distance, the department manager lazily laid across a hammock, eating plump grapes from the hands of a voluptuous assistant.
Hum. Good to see our taxpayers’ dollars at work.
I see a set of trays and try to hand my phone to the security guard to place in a tray. “Iiiii don’t want your phone,” he sneers.
Good, because I don’t want you to have it, either, I think stubbornly. Prolly get it all sticky.
“See that locker behind you? You can put it there. Do you need your purse?”
It’s like he’s never met a woman before. Which, thinking back, he clearly hasn’t.
“Uhh, I guess not,” I say, officially thrown aback. I put everything in the locker and try to close it.
“You need a quarter,” he says impatiently, as if I should have known because I was the one who had built and engineered the locker’s very design.
We all knew I didn’t have a quarter. He sighed in irritancy for approximately five minutes.
“I’ve been sitting here all day,” he says. Huh, funny, because I feel like I’ve been sitting there all day.
What does that even imply?! I scream in my head. Yes, ok. You seem like the kind of guy who wants to help a girl out. Sign me up to owe you a favor, oh, mighty master and keeper of the courthouse. You and that Subway sandwich that you seem to have no trouble making love to right in front of me. That sounds delightful!
Prolly steal my purse and get it all covered in ranch.
I resignedly half shut the locker door and after two attempts and the loss of some accessories, make it through the metal detector, but not before encountering more sighing. If I lost my personal belongings, at least I would walk out of there with a gold medal for biggest burden in this man’s life. (If you’re wondering, my acceptance speech will probably go something like this: “Oh, gosh. Thank you. THANK YOU! This is all so unexpected. There are so many people who helped me get to where I am. First, my friend, for asking me to come here. I couldn’t have done it without you. Second, my immense hunger, which turned me into the impatient, famished spectacle I am today…Oh, and of course, you, angry security guard. Without you and your snide remarks, this most celebrated, momentous day would not have been possible.”)
After I was cleared, I walk into the office only to discover I was in the wrong department.
“Why did your friend send you here if you don’t know what you’re doing?” he asks as I sheepishly walk past him again. I fervently wish I had forgotten to use my blinker outside. If this wasn’t my worst nightmare, I’d have been sure it was hell.
He then gave me directions to the correct office, which was conveniently located down the hall and to the right, but not before coming across a rickety bridge under which a boiling lava river teemed with piranhas. Ironically, the department was also only accessibe by way of completing a Sunday word puzzle, making the perfect soufflé and finding the kidnapped princess after a series of harrowingly dangerous adventures in which I could only use a paperclip, rubber band and bobby pin for weaponry.
AND I had to go through the metal detector again.
I refused to be broken.
Upon gathering the documents from the first floor, the clerk tells me that she has spoken with the security guard and I can go get my purse to pay the fees. I wince, wishing desperately I could teleport to the locker and back unnoticed.
Instead, I go through the metal detector. The wrong way. By accident, of course. It beeps loudly in dismay, echoing my mistake unforgivingly across the cold marble floor. I freeze, shoulders hunched.
The security guard quite possibly has a stroke. I couldn’t tell because his bulging eyes and beads of frustrated sweat were becoming the day’s norm for me.
“DID YOU NOT SEE THE EXIT SIGN?” he yells, unnecessarily loudly. I mean, I’m right there. I’m still the only one right there.
I did not. In my closed-eyed wishing, no, I somehow totally missed the strategically placed exit sign that is the size of a pencil eraser, written in some fancy French script that’s barely legible and conveniently located three feet outside the area I’m supposed to exit.
I look around confusedly, playing it off like he’s talking to someone else. Daggers shoot from his eyes. Paradoxically, they are probably the only weapons he’s legally allowed to use for his job.
“Oh, me? You’re talking to me? Whoops! Just came to grab my purse. Need to pay for these documents. They’re important, and for a friend,” I say helpfully. I’m afraid to turn my back, as I am indefinitely moments away from getting tased and/or arrested. I reach behind me and fumble for the right locker and purse, never breaking eye contact. Daring to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Desperately wanting to steal his delicious-looking sandwich and run.
“Oh, and I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth. I never said you couldn’t have your purse. Hundreds of women walk through here every day with purses,” he says pointedly.
“You’re right. I’m so dead wrong. I apologize profusely,” I say with a sticky sweetness capable of conjuring up cavities. “How could you asking if I need my purse after saying I can’t have my phone possibly imply that I couldn’t have my purse either? Wow, I’m dumb! SO dumb!” I say, chuckling. “What are we going to do with me, right? Right?!”
As he rifles roughly through my things, he pulls out a camera from my purse. “What’s this?”
I speak slowly and softly, as if he is a newborn child.
“See, it takes pictures. Like in storybooks? Hey, we should take a picture together! This is a moment I don’t want to forget! New Facebook profile pic! Best buds. …Best buds?” I ask brightly.
He throws me my purse and glares his disapproval.
I go back through the metal detector.
As I’m paying in the department, I smile innocently and tell the clerks to pray for the mean, joyless security guard. My teeth shine with bright clarity, emphasizing my dependable nature and love for puppies, freedom and giving all my belongings to the poor.
As I leave, I make an exaggerated effort to notice the exit area by imitating an overly obese person accidentally colliding with the cloth fencing material and sign and getting caught in them. I fake surprise and mouth “Ahhhh!!,” arms flailing, hoping to get a dry laugh or two.
I straighten my formal work attire and clear my throat awkwardly.
“Thank you SO very much for your time and assistance – it’s MUCH appreciated,” I say, selfless and kindly. Humbly. I sneak a peek at the guard.
Still nothing. He pretends I do not exist. I think about asking about my gold medal, but then recall the week’s $5 foot-long special from Subway he cheated on his wife with earlier that day and realized he probably does not splurge on medals for customers, no matter how wholesome and fiscally responsible they may be.
I get in my car and heave a sigh of relief. I am halfway home before I realize I left my phone in the locker.