Ask, and It Will Be Given You. Knock, and It Will Be Opened For You Matthew 7:7
I’m wrapping up a boring video-conference call. My eyes are watching the time on the upper right corner of my screen. It's nearly 12:30 and I’m desperately trying to move onto literally anything else.
“Thank you for all your help”
“Yes, have a great week”
“It was a pleasure speaking with you.”
All good efforts to close the conversation, and after enough attempts Flora gets the message. I hit the red button to get my life back without appearing impolite.
I start processing my roommate Sam who had walked into our shared bedroom a few minutes before the end of the hour long call. Casually he asks,
“You want to sneak into Mark Zuckerburg today?”
“Ya, I was planning on going right when I finished that call.”
He gives a quick chuckle and the plan is set. We’re on the same page, like brothers who had grown up alongside one another -- Mario & Luigi. It is nice having a friend to come along for the ride. This whole story might not have taken place if there wasn’t an audience to shock or impress.
Mark Zuckerberg is coming to speak at Georgetown. Our other housemates woke up at 7AM to stand in line for the chance to breathe his air. He rarely speaks publicly about privacy regulations that are about to cost him billions of dollars, and while Georgetown does a great job of attracting politicians, tech founders are a rare breed here. This is going to be the biggest campus event this year,but there is no way in hell I’m waiting five hours for anyone ( Let alone someone who lost their virginity at 25 and has an obsession with Augustus Caesar). So earlier in the week when I scheduled that call with Flora, I knew I’d only have a 30 minute window to get into Zuckerburg.
Sam tells me that as he was walking home he saw the line was out of the building and only growing. This isn’t going to be the event to casually stroll in and eke out some horrible seats. 3000 people have lined up for an auditorium that seats 750. There are going to be losers.
I put on a suit jacket, grab an iPad so I have something to carry, and walk out the house. My heavy polished black boots lead the way and as I walk through the front gates, I approach a snake of people, herded in by metal barriers that remind me of Chinese subway stations. These waist-high crowd control obstacles interlock with one another allowing the game designer limitless patterns. The only way to keep order with so many people is to box them in and make the expectations very clear: you will sit and wait.
Never wait in a line without seeing both ends (I encourage my audience to add this to their arsenal. Learn what you’re waiting for, figure out how long it might take, before committing. This is a lesson from my father -- great guy.). The idea of standing with these 3000 people in the cold never even crosses my mind. I walk past the line of freshman who are circled up and excitedly making friends or sitting alone and listening to a true crime podcast. I’m not planning to jump over any of these metal barriers; a low class move like that will attract attention at Georgetown. Instead, I’m scoping out the terrain and planning a strategy.
But I see an opportunity and seize the day. A lazy error from the game designers, or simply the work of someone who ditched the line and wanted an easy way out. Two gates are not connected, and there is a gap I can walk through. My outfit is distinguished enough that I don’t expect someone to question me if I walk in front of them. Compared to the students wearing backpacks and sweatpants, I look like the head of an advertising agency with wool trousers, a beige sweater, and the black sports coat that always garners a compliment ( You’ve gotta imagine this is an exceptionally nice jacket, because how many compliments can a black sports coat even get).
I burst through the gate and make noise.
I don’t even need to give a destination. If I can get the first few people to make way for me, then everyone else will cave. People are sheep. So I’m loud. I have somewhere to be, and that means I’m going to part the sea.
Knowing that Sam is watching inspires a little more authority in my strut. A leader only needs one follower. My heart begins to race as I push past a sea of faces. Level 1 is underway and I am moving through people like butter. I’m swimming through the line, moving fast enough that people aren’t able to process what’s happening nor impede my advance.
But moving quickly makes it hard to plan. The idea of slowly staking out a strategy…well that's not my style anyways. I successfully move past all the people in the metal barrier and discover that this line transforms. The metal gates stop and the next obstacle is a dim staircase lit by two large glass windows.
Level 2 is a change of scenery. The sunny Healy lawn gives way to the ominous castle. The imposing stone steps are beginning to cave in, defying everything I know about the material world. Now people are lined up inside bordering the stairwell, a path which may lead to heaven but likely leads to another line of people.
I can’t stop going. If I halt here at the beginning of the stairs and start waiting in line after skipping the first half then everyone will know I’m a fraud. But some piece of guilt or morality prevents me from continuing to skip people up the stairs. I’m honestly not sure if it was guilt, but I’d rather call it guilt than fear.
I’m frozen. Seconds are passing and people are starting to stare. Every moment counts. Slowly one person will realize I’m not some important assistant who is too stupid to find the back door, and then another, and then a wave of angry customers who all got cheated will rise up and begin the revolution. They’re not expecting me to stay put. I’m supposed to have purpose, I need to be going somewhere. At the bottom of the stairs, a handful of steps below the landing, a man in a collared shirt tucked into his plain khakis exits from an office with a sandwich in hand.
I am out of options and desperation brought me down the stairs. Every line sitter should know that my pause was a momentary rest or a quick glance at the surroundings. Nothing more. The door swings open with barely a push. Sam isn’t behind me, and I don’t need to turn my head around to check. I enter, thankful to breathe and rest from the crowd’s watchful eye.
This office is a mess. These are the undiscovered unexpected places that fuel my appetite for adventure. The side missions that distract from the main campaign. The room is mostly floor but tastefully decorated with two or three overturned desks and a chair with yellow foam blood oozing out. I wonder what the hell that guy was doing in this office. This is a place for shooting heroin, not a place for excel sheets and customer service calls. I walk to the back of the long narrow office with a singular broken-blinded window. There is another room: a private office in the corner that reeks of squalor. I joke that this is a Hirshorn exhibit on the demise of the white collar worker. Very tasteful with a biting social commentary but a bit haphazard: 8/10.
This secret Georgetown trap house is the place where I plan my next attack. The initial campaign was a success; we skipped the first 500 losers. Now I want to rendezvous with Sam. I give him a call and he says he is in line close to where the stairs start (Sam’s footnote: I got caught line-skipping so I endlessly rambled until they lost interest in me. I told the rugged man I had higher calling to meet with Mr. Zuckerberg; he was not amused). The door handle to the office starts to jiggle so my time has expired. As she, the lifeless office drone, enters I walk out with the phone up to my ear. If she thinks something is wrong she won’t have the time to ask. The people in line seem to have progressed and I see Sam close to the entrance of the landing. I climb the bottom stairs, return to the landing, and reach out my hand.
“Hey Sam! Come up here. I’ve been waiting for you”
He starts moving forward and people don’t seem to question it. They are so focused on him moving up, that no one seems to wonder where I came from. Except for Zach, a friend from my first two years at Georgetown. Zach parts ways and lets Sam through, but earlier Zach and I made eye contact when I was walking past the metal gates; he waved. He knows we cut, but doesn’t make a scene. Now we’ve joined the line. Part of the crowd.
This is the boring 10 minutes of the story we will skip through. Sam and I make small talk. I ask Zach how long he’s been in line. His answer is an hour and a half -- I laugh. The line isn’t moving at all. I text my roommate who woke up at 7AM. A few minutes later I get the ping. She got seats in the fourth row (Remember kids, hard work pays off). And she lets me know the auditorium is packed to the gills and they’ve stopped letting people in.
This line of people, of which I am now a member, is a large group of suckers that someone forgot to tell to go home. It’s a move or die situation. The time is now 12:55. We can count on Zuck the Schmuk being late -- a diversion to appear human. But I am not going to be getting in if it's 12:55 and there are stairways and hallways full of people between me and the auditorium.
Time to dip. Sam and I make the decision to bet all our chips and give up our current spot in line. We go back down the few stairs and walk into the first floor hallway. It’s weird that in this hallway students are hustling around with backpacks and going about their day, while 50 feet away from them are hundreds of other students nervously waiting for Mark Zuckerburg. It feels like we’ve found a glitch in the game; a portal to a dimension where the rules of the line cutting game no longer apply. We’ve stepped out of bounds, and now don’t have to worry if passersby are looking at us with suspicion fearing they’ll raise alarm.
There is an elevator here that is mostly used by the elderly, but I spent four months wheeling around this campus on a knee scooter (Knowledge is power).
We pull a left into another hallway, take a few steps, and approach the elevator. Sam hits the third floor button. We are deposited into a bright red carpeted room where portraits of old white men hang on the walls: the patron saints of Georgetown. We’re in the wrong wing of the building. But this is the time to move. We are close and the elevator was a nice lift. Instinct takes over and without thinking I find a back hallway. We rush past a startled caterer who is cleaning up from some event that was in the red carpeted room. We reach a set of offices.
It’s the classics department, and the classics department is across from the entrance to the auditorium. It’s a traditional set of academic offices that remind me of a 1960’s high school with old glass windows and a font on each office that is wider than it is tall. The distinguished title of the classics department, and its prestigious location within the Georgetown castle always inspired awe in me.
This is my first time being in the department, and it’s a letdown to realize it is nothing more than musty offices, since I expected something akin to Dead Poets Society. We walk past closed office doors and right by the exit there are two grad students who are nosed deep in books. I fuddle with the door. There is a moment of sheer panic as it doesn’t open. It's locked. I’m going to make a huge scene and be thrown out of this office. Five more seconds of jiggling the handle and I have come to realize that the door is more old than locked. A few more jiggles to experiment whether it’s a push or a pull and the door flies open. I created enough noise to displease the erudites.
The order and quiet of the classics department is instantly displaced. Georgetown Police in their baby blue uniforms are standing at the ready, inspecting bags, directing people, and hoping for everyone to get seated so they can stop working. People in suits, reporters with cameras, and students are all jostling and moving around. A few officers and student-ushers stare at us as we exit the classics department, but this is a two story auditorium and I quickly walk up to the second floor, hoping there are a few seats in the less desirable upstairs. Plus the officers upstairs won’t have seen me magically appear out of the classics section. They’ll think I waited in line like a good boy.
Two at a time up the stairs. On the landing someone gets in my way. “I’m going to need to check your bags.” We don’t have bags, but I offer her the next best thing: a pat down. She grabs my thighs and nods. Guarding the doors is a stronger team. These are the final bosses. A self important Georgetown student. Give a 20 year-old a suit and some power and they’ll quickly show their inner Fidel Castro. The enthusiastic confidence of the student is paired with the grizzled experience of a Georgetown police officer, who just wants to finish up her day and get back to catching kids smoking weed. I walk up with a smile. iPad in hand. I’m supposed to be in this room, so please stand aside.
“Where are your tickets?”
No polite, “Hi, can please show me your ticket.” Just a straight who the fuck are you. I know you cheated. Jig is up. You’re caught.
I fumble up an excuse. I tell the officer I have a ticket in my pocket. Fake a quick search for the watchful eyes, and then apologize and say I lost it. This isn’t my first rodeo, and though this trick never worked for me before I can’t think of any better course of action.
“No ticket. No Entry”
Let’s try getting angry. Some white male entitlement might work.
“I waited in line for hours. I don’t have my ticket with me. I’m supposed to be here.”
I get hit with a quick no. I turn to the Georgetown student and despite him having heard the entire exchange, I offer up a more honest explanation. “What ticket are you talking about?”
“On the second floor they passed out tickets to those waiting in line.”
That fucking second floor. The part of the game we skipped with the elevator cheat code. God damnit! I push and haggle for a few more minutes. There isn’t much else to do because this is not a door I will be bullshitting my way past.
Patrick, my old boss, walks by. He’s flustered. Every time I see him he is more stressed and older than before. It's sad to see someone who was full of life with good stories become a stodgy member of the system. He grumbles a hello, a fake nice to see you. But his eyes are set somewhere else and he goes past. While walking away I see him pull out a thick stack from his suit pocket.
My boy Pat isn’t rolling large with blue Benjis. He’s got a handful of tickets. The tickets that are worth their weight in gold to me at this exact moment.
“Patrick!” I scream
This is god offering a helicopter ladder to a shipwrecked crew. My miracle. Patrick has a god damn stack of tickets and all I need is two.
“Patrick!” I scream again
“Patrick!!” one last time
But the stressed out guy who used to be my boss is out of earshot. Down the stairs and thinking about whatever problem he’s about to confront. I’m standing here with a cop and a kid staring at me, and no ideas left.
Sam follows me as we head down the stairs, away from the cop and student who halted our progress. The two people we couldn’t talk our way past. We’ve enjoyed this journey, but I didn’t come this far and cut so many people just to be denied.
Back on the first floor of the auditorium I stand around. Three Lecture Fund volunteers and another cop are guarding the first floor doors. Walking away now would be quitting early, so I’m hoping for an opening. I’m taking in the energy as people are rushing to their final positions. Nearly every seat is taken and the time is 1:10, 10 minutes after the planned start time but the lights haven’t yet dimmed. One of the student-ushers shouts as her two friends
“He’s about to begin and all the seats are filling up. Let’s go in and take our seats”
They don’t need to rush. There are reserved seats for all the volunteers. But people are selfish. Rather than wait for the other Lecture Fund volunteers who have been passing out tickets on the second floor or directing media personnel so that everyone can enter together, these three want their pick of the reserved seats. One volunteer put her internal justification out into the open.
“Everyone is already seated and we’ve stopped letting people in so I guess we can go in,” she says.
The three line up in a single file in front of the door and the cop holds open the door for them. I get right up behind the last guy in the suit -- so close I am breathing on him. Sam follows behind me. The police officer holding the door open sees five kids in suits instead of three. Nothing she will notice.
We walk in quickly. The auditorium is stuffed. Hundreds of students are seated. Officials with name badges line the wall, eyes tilted down towards their phones. By the door, a few monsters with visible ear pieces stand tall. Sam is by my side and we scan for seats. There are none. Careful not to push our luck we head for the back of the auditorium. Standing blankly right in front of the doors when all the regular guests have been seated and the only people entering now are media would be akin to suicide. In the back there are a row of cameras and burly men who hoist them up on their shoulder, and in front of the cameras is a completely empty row of seats. What luck!
It shouldn’t surprise you that the empty row of seats in front of the cameraman was reserved. It shouldn’t have surprised me either. But as we approached a professional red-head who had been repeating the same rehearsed line all day informed me,
“These seats are reserved for media members. So sorry”
We spin around and start walking slowly. Looks like Sam and I are going to split up, but even then there truly is not a single seat left on this entire first floor. Until two other monsters with ear pieces stand up and make their way to the door. I don’t advise stealing the seat of a secret service member, but in this situation what else was I to do?
A blonde woman sits in the aisle, and her seat has clearly been labelled with a piece of paper on the front and back saying “RESERVED”, but the two next to her which had been occupied by her bodyguards show no paper reservation. I smile at her and hope for the best.
“Hey, can we sit in these two?”
She looks up from her phone and smiles back. “Yes, they’re available”.
Finally made it. We cut at least 2000 people and now have some of the best seats in the building. I sit down next to Sam. We are grinning at each other knowing that we won. Game over. In the few moments before Zuckerburg takes the stage I want to share this journey with my loyal instagram followers. But I’m interrupted by a message,
“Hey, I’m in the balcony and just saw you take your seat. You are sitting next to Tiffany Trump”