Know What You’re Getting

Please be aware that this story contains harsh language.

“Would you like your receipt?”

I looked at the cashier, a tired, bored sixteen-year-old girl who clearly knew nothing.

“Do I look like the kind of person that wants a receipt?” I exploded. There was a chance that I might have been overreacting a little, but probably not, so I continued. “Why the hell would I want a fucking receipt? I bought one coffee, I’m in a hurry, I’m busier than you’ve ever been, I make fifty times more than you, and you’re wasting my time asking me if I want a receipt.”

I heard her start to say something about me getting a receipt when I was dead, but I was already out the door. I barely nabbed the Q train, and took a seat. Normally, I would’ve taken a taxi, but I was only going three stops, and the Center was right off of Times Square.

We were almost there when the train halted, suddenly. A loud voice erupted over the intercom:

“We are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher due to security reasons. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Momentarily. You believe that? Momentarily means a couple of moments. This was a good deal more than a couple of moments. After a minute or two, a couple passengers shook their heads and shrugged at the MTA’s incompetence. A couple of minutes later, and passengers started to look into other cars, trying to find an MTA officer. After a while, even the sleeping homeless man poked his head up, as if he had somewhere he had to be.

My mind started to wander. I’d forgotten my book, and my iPhone battery was running far too low to use it to read. My mind crawled back to the events leading here, and the slow girl trying to offer me a receipt.

What the hell made her think I’d want a receipt? I tried to honestly think of a situation in which I’d want a receipt. Every receipt that I’d ever received was entirely useless. Why would I want a scrap of paper telling me what just happened? A train dispatcher got on the line and divided my thoughts, explaining that the delay was going to last several more minutes.

I scraped my mind again, trying to think of a receipt that I actually would want to see.

If I could find a receipt that would tell me where all of my time was going, that would be useful to me. Or a receipt that could tell me how much time I saved, that could be helpful, too. Or a receipt that told me what I’m getting out of life, what I get to walk away with, what I get to keep, and how to return it if I don’t like it. The bored-looking cashier was right. I’d love to get a receipt after I died, telling me what the total sum of my life had come to.

Suddenly, the train started moving again, and the passengers let out a collective sigh of relief. I glanced at my watch. We arrived at Forty-second Street. The doors slid open onto a platform crowded with police officers.

I stepped off.

“What’s going on here?” I asked one, but he gave me no answer. I hurried out of the station and into the busy traffic of Times Square.

I arrived at the meeting a little late, and stepped inside quietly.

“Sorry I’m late, the Q was fucking held up forever.”

The others nodded and continued the meeting, rolling through progress data and status reports. My phone buzzed, and I checked it discreetly.

The New York Times flashed a headline on my screen, announcing that a bomb had just gone off near the Q line at Times Square station.

The next morning, when I got to the coffee shop, the same girl was at the counter. She glared at me, non-confrontationally. I asked for a receipt.

“Not in a hurry today?” she asked.

“No, I’m as busy as hell, actually.” I grabbed my coffee, and slid a ten into the tip jar, like it was some silly act of charity.

“I just want to know what I’m getting.”