A clerk is perfectly situated for emergencies. We have enough authority to handle moderate and small events by ourselves if we like, but if things get heavy or ugly we have every right and even the responsibility to hand the problem off to a person in charge. And even then we get to, if we like, be a kind of emergency assistant, no longer responsible, but still involved in something important and unusual. This means everything from holding the door for the paramedics to, mostly, telling the story of what has happened and is happening over and over to a variety of very interested audiences, sometimes for days to come. What this really means to us and, to me in particular, is that attending to emergencies, if they are of the right sort, is a major treat outranked only by breaks, lunch and going home. It’s such a treat because even if I am doing what seems to be a hideous and ugly task; cleaning plops of excrement from a hallway or attempting to rouse a limp, not scrupulously clean man who seems to have stopped breathing, a deep part of my clerk brain, fooled by variety, is reveling in the idea that, at least, despite everything, I am not working. And that, after all, is all that a clerk ever wants.
Certainly there are emergencies that I would or do hate. I do not imagine I would fancy a gunman opening fire at my workplace. I would not enjoy seeing any but an extremely rare few of my colleagues coming to harm. But these are extraordinarily unusual events. And likewise I do tend to very much dislike emergencies I am involved in directly; a vomiting child can be a nice diversion, whereas a child vomiting on me, no matter how eventful, is distinctly unappealing. A few hundred dollars that has gone missing and that I had access to is quite uncomfortable whereas a few hundred dollars missing that I had no possible connection to is, frankly, of profound interest.
So what emergencies am I talking about? The range is enormous. On a beginning level are things like a patron with a hand wound, fairly minor, but dripping some blood, a stray cat loose in the library, a small car crash in the parking lot, an outside ashtray on fire, all good for a few minutes and maybe even some fresh air. Somewhere towards the middle is water dripping from the ceiling, a computer system crash, a toilet bowl filled with rolls of toilet paper, or maybe a glass entrance door smeared with vomit. There are only a very small minority of clerks who so treasure emergencies that they would take all of these on, but, really, these are all good for ten to thirty minutes of not working, and think more towards the 30 minute mark. There is no one, clerk, management, or patron, who will begrudge you a careful thoroughness punctuated with idle chatting and storytelling when you’re in the process of cleaning vomit. Then, of course, there is the top level of emergencies where you have flashers and other seriously deranged patrons, tornado warnings with massive storms, full power failures (heaven on earth but never long enough!), and the previously mentioned odoriferous man who can’t be roused. These generally are good for half an hour to the rest of the night and it’s like an angel of god has come down from the heavens just for you.
In all of this unbridled joy I am aware there are sick kids, scared cats, victims, and people in mortal danger. I’m not a terrible person here, just a clerk, and part of being a clerk is being humane, it’s speaking calmly and reassuringly to a lost child until they are reunited with their parent, it’s commiserating with you on how you somehow managed to nearly sever your thumb on the dull plastic of a CD lid. It’s just that part of being a clerk too, in the very important limbic section of the clerk brain, is exulting in getting paid for a nice, safe, interesting seat at Calamities' Table. All too many are the seats at that awful table, but all too few are the really good, plush ones. The pleasures of clerking are fleeting and precious and I, for one, am ever anxious to grab a seat, put my feet up, and only get back to work when everything, and I mean everything, is one hundred and ten percent okay. And then I’m happy to tell you all about it.