Ever since 9/11 I have had to produce an identification card with my picture on it in order to be granted access to my place of business. I don’t know how effective this is in the war on terror, but it seems to make the building management company feel better so I’m happy to comply. I carry my ID in my wallet, which has a clear plastic window so I can flash it like an FBI agent. If I’m going to be inconvenienced I might as well have some fun with it.
I usually do this to the morning security guard, a young man who is very dedicated to his work and rarely smiles. He displays an assiduous adherence to protocol. To him any job worth doing is worth doing well.
This was never demonstrated more clearly than on the day I accidentally left my wallet at home. As I approached the security desk my heart sank when I reached for my wallet and felt a disturbing emptiness in the rear pocket of my pants. I patted all my other pockets to verify that it was not in any of them, then re-checked my rear pocket just in case I had missed it the first time. I had not.
I recovered quickly, however. After all, the young guard (what was his name?) had seen me come into work every day for many months. Surely he must recognize me. “Morning”, I said cheerfully as I strode boldly past the desk and headed for the elevator bank that would whisk me to the sanctuary of my office.
I was extending my finger to press the call button when I heard him say “Just a moment, sir” in that polite tone I imagine the police use before beating a confession out of some perp. “I’ll need to see some identification.”
I turned to face him, my finger still pointing in frustration. “Ah, identification”, I said as if it were a concept I had not fully incorporated into my being.
“Yes, sir. Picture identification. Either a building pass or a governmentally issued evidence of identity.”
“Well”, I squinted at his nametag. His name was written on it in a very elegant and entirely unreadable script. “Well, Jilly" - I swear, it looked like Jilly - "I have worked here for quite some time. Surely you must recognize me.” I smiled my friendly smile, which was undercut by the fact that my finger was still pointing at him. A sudden vision of Bill Clinton passed through my mind.
He did not smile. He glanced down at his nametag. “It’s William, and I’m required to verify the identity of anyone who enters this building.”
“Well, the thing is William, I seem to have left my wallet at home today so I don’t really have any identification with me.”
I heard a disgruntled shuffling behind me and turned to see a small queue had formed. In each person’s hand glowed a card with his or her name and picture on it. How I envied them.
“Please step aside, sir, so I can process the others”, said William. Process? I didn't like the way he used that word. I wondered how he was going to process me.
After he casually glanced at each person's building pass or governmentally issued evidence of identity, he turned his attention back to me. "So you don't have any form of identification at all?"
"Nope." I smiled my rueful smile.
My rue was wasted on him. He shook his head regretfully, as if I had told him I was suffering from a terminal illness. "That's bad," he sighed. I half expected him to pull out a gun and put me out of my misery.
We both looked down at the floor and digested the situation. Then I thought of something.
"I've got this", I said, rummaging in my briefcase for an expired student body card from an adult learning center where I had once taken a Creative Writing Course. The picture on it was not particularly good, but it did resemble me in a washed out, poorly lit kind of way.
I gave it to him and he turned it over in his hands. I guess he was trying to decide if it was a forgery. I took a small step out of the overhead light, trying to look a little more washed out. Finally he nodded and said, "Okay, but you'll have to sign in."
I gratefully added my name to the sheet on his desk - prudently noting that I was there to visit myself - and almost ran to the elevator. When I reached my floor I felt such relief it took a moment for me to realize one other thing.
I didn't have a card-key to open my office.