You have spent an hour carefully collecting an appealing stack of books and movies. I cannot let you check them out because the last item you returned to us was coated in a sticky fluorescent green sugar glaze. At least, "sugar" is what the note on your record says. I am alarmed to think of my co-workers tasting of the returns, especially when they've returned from their journeys with new textures, smells and colors. Also, the pages appeared to have been lightly toasted, like a gently roasted marshmallow. As this book is unsuitable for circulation you now owe us $10.95. This exceeds our allowable limits. No, we don't take credit cards. There is a cash machine down the street. I'm sorry about your unemployment situation. No, it is unlikely you checked the book out like that as your date due slip is actually affixed to the book by an over coating of the green glaze. Oh really? I am terribly sorry about your gangrenous leg.
We regard each other for a moment, me implacable, and you with dimming light. You try to accept it all, but it's just too big. There is something almost like a weight, misty, plowing inexorably down on you. I watch the slump of your posture under it. It seems to thin you, crush, leach and crack. The tight grip you have on your items slackens like a great ocean liner sinking. Life is futile and darkness falls.
What you do not know, slouching in your private misery, is that, barring your turning out to be a complete monster, I, at the very start, decided to let you check out for today, whether you could pay or not. Why then do I let you suffer like this? What kind of person am I? I am a clerk, and as such I am only sort of a person. I am also my job. I am the institution. I am a teacher. I am a performer. Yes, I am a performer, and this is my performance. Here I play the cold bureaucrat, the institutional wall, the end of your hopes and dreams. I have to sell that first. But hidden here is mercy, the light of my humanity, your second chance. It is my secret treat whose value I carefully cultivate to its apogee. Mercy must be delayed here so that you understand it is not yours by right. I hope to make an impression so that you will take us seriously, pay your debts, care for your materials. And when I relent and exclaim "Oh, I'll just go ahead and check your stuff out for today!" as if I can no longer hold the door back on my irrepressible humanity, it is indeed a small light to shine. But in my job I do not have much light to give, and in the deeper darkness even the dimmest of lights can be seen from far away. Of course, this is also a way of saying that if I, at little cost to myself, do a favor for you, I will spare no effort to make sure you see it. I like to be noticed.