Thursday, December 18, 2008

The return p.2 - At the RMI bureau

It's a folly this world of papers Francaise. I arrive back in the little bureau / basement apartment for what has become my weekly rendezvous with Mme. M. I descend the stairs as usual and arrive in an empty office. I guess the one good thing is that there is never a wait. I’ve never seen another person in here. The office is barren of souls save Mme Montserrat’s. Though on one occasion I did see the long gone maintenance man and his wife haunting about.

Mme comes out and I notice her face fall a bit when she sees it is me. She tells me to wait a bit and crosses across the waiting room (the ancient living/dining room) into the kitchen. She begins fiddling with the hot water tank, evidently trying to get it to work. I sit and watch her for a few minutes before speaking.
“problems with the heat?” I ask.
“it won’t come on, and It’s cold in here”
“yes” I respond “these basement apartments are damp and cold on a day like today”.
You have to hear that just as sounds when I say it in French.
“Oui, il fait froid et humide dans les aparts sous niveau. Specialement sut les journees comme aujourd’hui.
Short, direct, curt almost, and with an american accent as thick as your local qwickie-mart man.
She turns and says nothing, evidently aggravated by my reference to her place of business as a basement apartment.

I get up from my seat to go over and have a look, it seems obligatory. The fact of it being a question about the functioning of a hot water heater and me being a man, her a woman. Never mind the fact that I know nothing about their operation - you see my predicament. I couldn’t just sit there watching.

She explains that normally she just turns the thermostat and voila, the heat arrives, but today no luck. She opens and closes the cover to the control panel once again. She stares at the three dials, one button and two flashing lights - one yellow and constant, the other red and intermittent. I join her with my stare. I then re-turn the button which she just turned. I say something inconsequential along the lines of “these things are always breaking down” and then, add that perhaps she should burn the cardboard cartons in the long abandoned fireplace behind the chairs in the waiting room.

She cracks her gum. She has all the chutzpah of a big american city welfare worker, but with just a little bit less of the hard edge they carry and that she seemingly aspires to. But it’s a little village here and well, that edge is hard to come by without having been brought up under its tutelage.

“How about this button” I proffer as I push the only button that is there.
“I don’t know what that’s for
“Sometimes that will work” I add with de rigour’ manly confidence.

She looks at me with her pretender bad ass look as all the lights go out. Then in the next instant I can see that it immediately goes soft as the yellow light pops back on. Then the machine clicks, then the gas ignites. At each rapid fired event she outwardly maintains her bad ass office bitch look while it simultaneously melts from her eyes. I gesture her gallantly towards her office, “ it should be warm in a little while”.
I see clearly that Mme. M will be helping me today.

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