The Night People
by Jean Shepherd
The Village Voice - September 19, 1956
The room seemed to be a place built for waiting. The walls were covered with two enormous photographs; one an aerial shot of New York, the other of Chicago. Facing the elevators in the center of the room was a desk. A receptionist worked here and was the first thing that anyone encountered upon alighting on the 10th floor. She was not outwardly bored and didn't talk at all like Judy Holliday. In fact, she sounded more like Radcliffe than anything else. Occasionally the phone on her desk would flicker, and after listening briefly she would call out a name to the young men seated around the room. One of them would put down his magazine or stop talking to the others and would walk to a door at the far end of the room. They usually made a few comments to the others before leaving. These were mostly about nothing and seemed to be largely unheard even by those to whom they were directed. There was a kind of jovial, tense nervousness in the room that gave everyone a sort of supercharged charm. Everyone except the receptionist, who was obviously part of the scenery.
From time to time the elevators would discharge another young man who would exchange a few words with the girl at the desk. She would then check his name off on a typed list before her, hand him a couple of sheets of mimeographed paper, and nod him toward the casual-looking seats that ringed the place. Invariably he would spot someone among the others who was known to him and there would be loud greeting-type talk before and after he settled himself with the others. He would then begin reading the sheets he had been given by the girl. Sometimes they would read them quietly aloud to themselves, but most often silently and very carefully. Once one of them called to the girl: "Hey, is this word supposed to be 'Cetamium' with an 'm' or is it with an 'n'? This doesn't sound right." The girl said: "The copy has it right, I checked it with Steve a couple of minutes ago before Rex went in to audition." Every time one of the men would return through the door someone would ask: "How'd it go?" He would usually shrug and answer "Who knows?" or something that meant the same. They all had an air of nonchalance, as though they really didn't care but were here on a kind of social call. A time taken out of a busy and official day. They wore no hats and were all very well dressed. A cross between Ivy League style and Madison Ave. A nice blend.
© 1956, The Village Voice, Inc.