The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

Category: Prose

Kafka at the RBS

Mildly-edited transcript of a real-life conversation, 17.09.2013.

O. Hello, Royal Bank of Scotland telephone banking, Omar speaking, how may I help?

J. Hi there Omar! I’ve just ordered a card reader over the RBS website and I’d like to have it delivered to my new address.

O. Right sir – I’m afraid you can’t change your address over the phone.

J. It says on your website you can.

O. Yes sir, but I’m afraid that’s only for our Level Two customers.

J. Okay then – how do I get to be a Level Two customer?

O. You need a card reader, sir.

J. But that’s why I’m phoning – so I can change my address and get the card reader.

O. I understand that sir. But you can’t change your address over the phone without Level Two access.

J. Then how do I change my address?

O. You can change it at any RBS branch with valid personal documentation, for example your passport or driving license.

J. But what about the card reader?

O. That will be sent to your current address.

J. But the address isn’t right!

O. I know sir; I can only apologize. If you do wait a second, I’ll see if I can get that card-reader stopped.

(Discussion in background).

O. I’m sorry sir, I can’t do anything. It will be sent to your current address.

J. My old address?

O. Yes sir.

Even if I ordered it five minutes ago?

O. Yes.

J. And I’m telling you, before it’s been sent, I don’t want it sent there?

O. That’s right, sir. The card readers are sent automatically.

J. Mmm. So there’s nothing I can do?

O. I do apologize sir.

J. Say, Omar, have you ever read any Franz Kafka?

O. Actually sir, he’s one of my favourite writers. In fact it was his masterpiece ‘The Castle’ which inspired me to enter into the world of telephone banking in the first place. Something about the protagonist K’s increasingly desperate attempts to be granted access to the titular castle or ‘lock’, a process Kafka’s plans for the novel suggested would only be approved at the very moment of his death, led me inevitably to employment in a call centre. I read him in the original German, of course.

J. Of course, Omar. I’m sure a developed sense of the absurdity of all human effort is most useful in your line of work.

O. Indeed it is sir. Essential in fact. Now sir, is there anything else I can help you with?

J. No thank you, Omar. Keep up the reading.

O. I will sir, and do have a nice day. Your card reader is on its way.

The United States

Over the course of that brief civilization certain trends emerged: a preponderance of skyscrapers, hyperactive modernity, and a valorization of the personal automobile. Parking lots dominated and at the end of its second century important regional centers emerged. These formed an excerpted America amongst the endless massif central of imprecise nothing and farmland overlaid by roads. Metal capsules propelled hopeless optimists into the hearts of these cities; meanwhile a certain residual respect clung to property and the written word.

It was a nation of individualists, with its good – endless self-realization, refusal to form herd mentalities – inextricably bound up with its bad – repulsive selfishness, exurban sprawl. Here the logical consequences of human life conceived of as a personal adventure could be observed, as well as the intense congress of people of diverse origins. Somehow this endless diversity in material goods and personal attitudes resulted in a sense of great sadness in me. In order to understand whether this sadness was personal or American I left where in fact it might have been better to stay.