O, Bureaucrat

I.

11:22 AM, 8th Avenue

I hurled my suitcase on the backseat, slammed the taxi door, and, missing not half a second, shoved a piece of paper over to the cabman:

“Can we get here in 10 minutes?”

He hesitated.

“Fifteen? How long to get there?”– anxiety crept its way in.

“I don’t know… I can’t tell,” the Indian driver shook his head, “It’s the traffic.”

Something clicked inside: however high I raise my voice, however fidgety I got, New York traffic won’t improve. Nor will the Norwegian Consulate open past 12.

(Nor will anything else in life change, for that matter.)

So I leaned back in the leather chair, crossed my legs, hands on knee, and waved at the the cabman: “Just do what you can.” Hell, had I also got a glass of martini on my hand, the cool and the calm of the entire scene would have been perfect.

“Go.”

II.

11:32 AM, 7th Avenue (i.e. ten minutes later, and one block away)

Did I mention to you guys that the Norwegian Consulate is on 3rd Avenue?

I was half-contemplating whether to just get off at a subway station to find a hostel for the night–then the traffic suddenly cleared. The cab breezed on. 6th Avenue. 5th Avenue. Red lights.

III.

11:52 AM, #625 3rd Avenue

I hit the elevator, making sure to push the button only once. Thirty eight floors later, I was in front of the office, grabbing the door handle. It was locked.

And in that millisecond came flashing through my mind was me tonight on a bunk bed, under an itchy blanket, against a moldy wall, sharing a room with a hairy stranger in Chelsea International Hostel somewhere on the dimly-lit West 20th. (Don’t Chelsea and Hostel together somehow make a explicit name?)

Oh joy. I shrugged, reached for the suitcase handle, and was about to turn away when the door clicked open.

IV.

11:55 AM, the Norwegian Consulate office

Here came something worse than NYC traffic– ugh, bureaucrat. I don’t even plead my mom when she has a broomstick in her hand, let alone a stranger. But to back down now makes a terrible story, doesn’t it? (Plus, these strangers have papers and a stamp–small, but much deadlier than a broomstick.) And so I put on my sweetest voice.

“Hello. I’m here to apply for the Norwegian visa. I know it’s closing time…”

“Seven minutes, yes,” she raised her eyebrows.

“I know. This is asking you to do more than your job demands, but I’ve come from so far away…”

“Did you have all the papers filled out?”–her eyes narrowed.

“Yes.”

“Okay, someone will be out with you in a second,” and noticing that I had been on my toe the entire time, she said, “Just take a seat.”

Is this really happening?

Another lady walked out, and beckoned me to come near the glass window.

“You came just before 12. I’m sorry for keeping you waiting for so long.” Did she just apologize?

“Oh, your birthday was yesterday,” she said, glancing at my passport, “Congratulations! Are you 19 now?” Good Lord, a bureaucrat that exchanges pleasantries?

“Yes, yes,” I nodded, too baffled by what was going to correct her that I was, in fact, 20. Twenty, people, it’s twenty.

Since when does bureaucracy become this understanding and cooperative? I submitted my papers 2 minutes–2 minutes–before they closed down. I hazard a guess that it has something to do with the social democratic regime of Norway, in which the state and the citizens are exceptionally intertwined and interdependent via taxes and corporatist decision-making. Perhaps that’s why, unlike in other countries, there is not an antagonism, a mistrust between the two parties. But that doesn’t quite cut it–why can’t a minimal, laisser-faire state be equally helpful, not out of social responsibility like the welfare state, but out of professionalism?

O, Social Democracy, why do you keep playing with me like this? I thought we were about to break up over our quarrel on sluggish growth, burdensome tax, and a culture of welfare. And yet today you sent me a bouquet of kindness–how am I going to get over you now?

V.

8:15 PM, Starbuck Cafe on 7th Avenue, writing this entry.

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1 comment
  1. HK said:

    that’s exciting! 🙂

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