Of All Things - Cover

Of All Things

Public Domain

Chapter 2: "Coffee, Megg and Ilk, Please"

Give me any topic in current sociology, such as “The Working Classes vs. the Working Classes,” or “Various Aspects of the Minimum Wage,” and I can talk on it with considerable confidence. I have no hesitation in putting the Workingman, as such, in his place among the hewers of wood and drawers of water--a necessary adjunct to our modern life, if you will, but of little real consequence in the big events of the world.

But when I am confronted, in the flesh, by the “close up” of a workingman with any vestige of authority, however small, I immediately lose my perspective--and also my poise. I become servile, almost cringing. I feel that my modest demands on his time may, unless tactfully presented, be offensive to him and result in something, I haven’t been able to analyze just what, perhaps public humiliation.

For instance, whenever I enter an elevator in a public building I am usually repeating to myself the number of the floor at which I wish to alight. The elevator man gives the impression of being a social worker, filling the job just for that day to help out the regular elevator man, and I feel that the least I can do is to show him that I know what’s what. So I don’t tell him my floor number as soon as I get in. Only elderly ladies do that. I keep whispering it over to myself, thinking to tell it to the world when the proper time comes. But then the big question arises--what is the proper time? If I want to get out at the eighteenth floor, should I tell him at the sixteenth or the seventeenth? I decide on the sixteenth and frame my lips to say, “Eighteen out, please.” (Just why one should have to add the word “out” to the number of the floor is not clear. When you say “eighteen” the obvious construction of the phrase is that you want to get out at the eighteenth floor, not that you want to get in there or be let down through the flooring of the car at that point. However, you’ll find the most sophisticated elevator riders, namely, messenger boys, always adding the word “out,” and it is well to follow what the messenger boys do in such matters if you don’t want to go wrong.)

So there I am, mouthing the phrase, “Eighteen out, please,” as we shoot past the tenth--eleventh--twelfth--thirteenth floors. Then I begin to get panicky. Supposing that I should forget my lines! Or that I should say them too soon! Or too late! We are now at the fifteenth floor. I clear my throat. Sixteen! Hoarsely I murmur, “Eighteen out.” But at the same instant a man with a cigar in his mouth bawls, “Seventeen out!” and I am not heard.

The car stops at seventeen, and I step confidentially up to the elevator man and repeat, with an attempt at nonchalance, “Eighteen out, please.” But just as I say the words the door clangs, drowning out my request, and we shoot up again. I make another attempt, but have become inarticulate and succeed only in making a noise like a man strangling. And by this time we are at the twenty-first floor with no relief in sight. Shattered, I retire to the back of the car and ride up to the roof and down again, trying to look as if I worked in the building and had to do it, however boresome it might be. On the return trip I don’t care what the elevator man thinks of me, and tell him at every floor that I, personally, am going to get off at the eighteenth, no matter what any one else in the car does. I am dictatorial enough when I am riled. It is only in the opening rounds that I hug the ropes.

My timidity when dealing with minor officials strikes me first in my voice. I have any number of witnesses who will sign statements to the effect that my voice changed about twelve years ago, and that in ordinary conversation my tone, if not especially virile, is at least consistent and even. But when, for instance, I give an order at a soda fountain, if the clerk overawes me at all, my voice breaks into a yodel that makes the phrase “Coffee, egg and milk” a pretty snatch of song, but practically worthless as an order.

The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

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