Sometimes when I meet strangers I am charming and engaging. Sometimes I am an uncomfortably awkward fool. This is a (true) story about one of those latter instances.
On a bright summer day I stood outside of an apartment complex. The building itself was clean and modern, the grass healthy and well manicured. The sun warmed my face. I fiddled with my phone, trying to find a phone number despite the glare that obscured the glass screen. The sound of a busy signal could be heard, pulsing faintly. It did not come from my phone. A stranger, walking a small dog, approached. The awkwardness was coming.
Only moments before I had been at the building’s external intercom. I punched in the room number of my friend’s apartment and waited for him to accept the call and buzz me in. The intercom rang and rang. I waited, gazing lazily at the glass door that led to the lobby, my unfocused eyes blurring the block letters that were painted on the door’s central panel. Still the intercom continued to ring.
Finally the ringing ceased and an automated voice said, “I’m sorry. Your request could not be connected. Please disconnect and try again.” The tiny green LED screen at the intercom read: TO DISCONNECT PRESS ##. I pressed the # key twice. Nothing happened. The display text remained the same. I pressed the # key twice more. A busy signal, the sound of a phone left off the hook, began to emanate from the intercom. I pressed the # key twice, again. Nothing. The busy signal continued.
I stepped away from the intercom, thinking that I would call my friend and have them buzz me in without the use of the intercom. The stranger, with her small dog, approached. I struggled to see past the glare on my phone. I would like to say that this was when the awkwardness arrived. But the truth is that it had been inside of me all along.
“Is this not working?” the stranger asked, pointing to the intercom.
“Oh,” I said, distracted by my phone and not sure where to start my story. “Well, I-”
She pressed the # key in a staccato two-punch burst. The busy signal didn’t stop.
“I pressed the button,” I said, “and…uh.” She looked up at me. “The busy signal, um, wouldn’t stop.” Twice more she pressed the # key, in rapid succession, faster than before. The busy signal stopped. “Oh,” I said. She smiled at me with a face usually reserved for the very young, the very old, or the infirm.
I turned back to my phone and she punched in a room number. I heard the intercom ring and then I heard the sound of the door unlocking. As she led her dog through the door I wondered, for a brief moment, if I should wait for my friend to buzz me in or if I should just go now, while the door was open. Though my internal debate was short, lasting for only a brief moment, the door was closing. It’s alright, I told myself, He knows I’m coming. I’ll just go up. I reached out and grabbed the door handle. But the door continued to close. And more than the door’s natural inclination to close was at work. The stranger was pulling the door shut.
She looked at me as she struggled to keep hold of her dog’s leash with one hand while she pulled on the door with the other, fighting against the pneumatic closing mechanism that was meant to keep the door from slamming. “I’m sorry,” she said, eyeing me through the glass door as if I were a wild and dangerous person, “I’m not supposed to…” Her voice faded into nothingness. She glanced down at the words etched onto the glass as she pulled the door closed. The click of the lock latching echoed in my ears. She glared at me and shrugged before turning into the building and towards the elevators. I knew then that she would have slammed the door in my face if she could have. Somehow, if for only a moment, my bleary-brained buffoonery had been to her a threat, a menace, a source of panic.
I stepped back from the door. Oh. Or she was just following the rules.
As a safety precaution, residents will not let unknown individuals into the lobby area.
Those words had been there all along. Right on the goddamned door. I had just been too oblivious to notice them.
I moved into the shade to keep my phone glare-free. I called my friend. He buzzed me in. I felt like an idiot.