07 January 2015

Adventures in human interaction

I enter the well kept and organized office.  I walk directly up to where the secretary is sitting typing something on her keyboard. There is a raised counter above her desk and I rest my hands on it.  But I try act nonchalant.

I wait patiently while she works and I casually look around the office.  I see that there are a couple of chairs along the outer wall and an empty coffee table.  I am getting the feeling that they have few visitors in the office.  That changes my initial assumption that they are lawyers.  There's a long hallway off which there appear to be several offices from which I can distinguish several different voices speaking.  They sound like they're on the phone.

As she wraps up what she is doing, the secretary acknowledges me with a nod of her head but says nothing.

I have no idea what the people who work in this office do.  I have no idea why anyone would visit these people and I have no idea what I am going to say to this person when she actually begins to talk with me.

Instead I only hope that I don't come across as some crazed maniac who's wandered in off the street looking to cause trouble.

My mission as I've set it to myself is to wander aimlessly into offices and inquire what they do.  In my mind this seems harmless enough and also a bit exhilarating.  How will people respond to a complete stranger walking in off the street asking open ended questions with no intention of doing business there?

She has finished her typing and has set her gaze on me.  "Hello, what can I do for you?" she politely asks.

"Well," I stammer uncertainly, "I guess I'm not really sure.  You see, I'm just kind of wondering what you do here."  My guess is that she'd quickly find a way to get rid of me is what she'd do right now.  I'd soon find out how wrong I am.

She smiles with a questioning expression and I quickly follow up my last statement, "See I walk by here everyday on my way to work and I'm just curious."

Now she's raised herself up in her chair and I'm not sure if she is thinking of this as an innocuous interaction or a treacherous one.  After she says, "You walk by here everyday?" I wonder if it now seems like I'm a stalker or an admirer.

"Well just on my way to work."  I'm beginning to lose my nerve and am about to excuse myself when she begins to explain exactly what they do.

"We work with recently settled immigrants.  We help them find resources, get housing, register their kids in school.  Basically we're a non-profit service assisting people in the transition to living in America."

I'm mesmerized and nearly stupefied.  She's caught me completely unprepared.  Nowhere in my mind had I come up with a scenario in which I might get a sincere answer.  That makes me wonder if there is something wrong with my world view.  What did I really think would happen, they'd call the police and have me hauled off for vagrancy?  That seems outlandish.

I ask, "How long have you, your company, been doing this?"

"At least ten years now.  We're always looking for volunteers.  Maybe you'd be interested."  Before I can respond she's turned around and is calling down the hallway.  "Joan, we have someone who might be interested in volunteering in the lobby."

As I parse the ambiguous nature of that sentence, I realize that I may have taken one of those bites that be can't chewed.  I have a few options, I can quickly explain that I'm not interested in volunteering, I can feign illness and ask for an ambulance, I could just run away.  Instead, I just stand there waiting to see Joan.

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