People Watching

I am a people watcher. Not a professional mind you, no license or training from a top secret English Council, no just strictly amateur here. It is a great boredom eraser. Sometimes, I invent lives for the people or sometimes I just give them fun names and watch their antics. Take the other day when I was stuck in the Financial Aid office of my university.

The Financial Aid office moved to a new location this summer. It was formally housed on the second floor of three story Georgian style mansion built in the early 1800s. Payne Hall was originally a storehouse and makeshift prison as part of the Augusta Arsenal. Housing financial aid there always seemed fitting to me. The new location is just as old, but much smaller and previously used as such varied things as the purchasing office and art studio.

The old office had a high service bar behind which the helpful and optimistic financial aid assistants barricaded themselves against the constant torrent of often simultaneously confused and bitter students. The new office has no such physical impediment. The old office also had seating for about 15 people; the new office has zip, nada, not one seat for those who wait in monetary anxiety.

The new office is not designed to have customers, so when the new semester begins, as it doing so now, the little entrance way quickly becomes crowded and all are pressed together. Ten to twelve people fit in the little alcove if they do not mind invading each other’s personal space and everyone has used their Dial. So it was among these circumstances I was able to get some practice in people watching.

For the first part of my wait, it was pretty much your usual college kids making sure all was good with their scholarship and grant money. Our local university is in the middle of a hostile corporate takeover, so it is plain to see why they are worried. The move is not going smoothly.*

After a while, and outside of all the PDAs some individuals started to stand out. The No Child Left Behind Family, Baby Dyke, Junior Businessman, the OMG sisters and Chickie Babe. What can I say? I was there for a long time…

The No Child Left Behind Family consisted of at least five kids, I think, there may have been more. It was hard to tell as they continually floated from inside to out and back again. They were all pretty interchangeable, except for the kid in the wheelchair stuck in the corner and left to play games on a phone. I never did discover who was there to talk to the assistants, the mother or any of her brood.

Baby Dyke came in with a YMCA swim instructor t-shirt and life guard red swim trunks. Tall and thin, she sported a mohawk that fell into soft curls in the middle. Even this girl’s hair could not be straight. She carried all extraneous objects in the waistband of her shorts. Phone, wallet, keys, each was pulled in turn when needed. The reason she stood out to me was really one single comment. Upon being told she would need to supply a copy of her last year’s W2, she said and this is a direct quote, “You mean the IRS keeps copies of that?”

Junior Businessman came decked out in a three piece suit. Truly, an entire three piece suit and a briefcase to top it off. I am not quite sure who he was trying to impress. The whole point of financial aid is that you need money. Looking like Alex P. Keaton really doesn’t help your cause.

The OMG sisters are at every university function so I am not surprised I saw them that day. I am pretty sure you have seen them – they are the girls who upon seeing another member of their tribe  squeal at a torturous frequency level followed immediately by a high pitched repetitive screams of, “Oh My G-d, it’s you!” These vocalizations are usually accompanied with the waving of hands then followed by a round of ritualistic maneuvers mostly involving a-frame hugs and kisses that are thrown in the general direction of the intended recipient. It can be a painful thing to witness.

The coup de grâce of the afternoon was Chickie Babe. CB made a grand entrance in low cut, form fitting, sherbet orange dress, with matching platform 4 inch high heels and oversized, bronze, woven, heart-shaped handbag. She had flatiron brown hair with just the right swoop at the bottom. Her smartphone was blinged out with a multitude of shiny little rhinestones, which I thought would be uncomfortable to grasp, but without pain there is no beauty, as I am told.

CB owned the place. She put herself square in front of the door so that she would be the first thing seen to all who entered. She kept her head down just so much, while creating obviously important text messages with an imperious flourish yet able to keep an eye on her audience. When a friend came in she dared not associate herself with the OMG sisters. She merely put out her hand and said, “Come stand with me, Darling.” “Darling?” We live in Georgia, for goodness sake – no one says, “Darling” unless you are referencing someone’s grandchild under the age of twelve or a homemade handicraft we are not quite sure of.

Up to this point, CB had merely elicited a raised eyebrow and slight smirk, but I tell you I had to turn away not to laugh at her next move. When Johnny Olson announced her name as the next contestant on “Will Your Financial Aid be Approved,” CB sidled up to the desk and proceeded to lean over the desk giving the lovely assistant full perusal of les doudounes. As with Junior Businessman, I am not quite sure what this was supposed to accomplish. The assistant was not a cop who pulled her over for a minor traffic violation and was clearly not impressed with the display.

From her bent over position, CB whispered to assistant that well, she did not have her student id with her and that she wanted to know…the assistant interrupted her and asked in a bored voice, “Name?” CB looked somewhat taken aback then gave her the name, but still whispering a mile  minute. The assistant read off whatever magic computer revealed and as if she could not believe the statements, CB grabbed the monitor and turned it to her face. The nonplussed assistant sat for a heartbeat then reached up and slowly turned the monitor back around. CB did not get the hint but craned her neck further around to look at the sacred words.

I do not know what the assistant finally whispered to CB, but with it she was able to wrest CB from her personal space. CB stood up adjusted her clothing, checked something on her phone, tossed her hair and with as much dignity anyone can muster on 4 inch platform heels walked out of the office. The assistant crossed her name off the list and called the next contestant, who thankfully turned out to be me – Smirking Old Lady.

*(http://nation.time.com/2013/07/19/cash-strapped-universities-turn-to-corporate-style-consolidation/)  – read the comments for the real story.

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