There were 15 people ahead of me at the post office. That equals something like 6 switchbacks in the Space Mountain line. I joined the herd to wait it out, checking the weather on my iPhone and deleting spam to kill time. After a while I noticed I hadn’t moved even a foot-length forward and the guy next to me was giving me that schmaltzy smile with one eyebrow up like some creepy 1970’s key party guest. There was a lot of hair tossin’ going on and one girl was writing her number on a man’s hand with a Sharpie. These people had been there so long that they were forming relationships. I didn’t have that kind of time so I bolted before I got caught up in the nightclub scene or, worse, left with the 80 year old man who appeared to be the only guy who hadn’t hooked up yet.
A few days later I headed south to take care of some business, dragging my raggedy postal business with me again. Thought I might have better luck at a different Post Office. And at first it looked as though I might. I was the only person there. I did the Snoopy dance. It was Monday. Expectations were low. But if i was going to claim that coveted first place in line, I had to first fill out the International Return Receipt in order to mail our Canadian Tax Returns. That pink tag was about to suck the life out of what started as a pretty decent Monday.
On one side of the little pink tag it says “To Be Filled Out By Sender” and it has an area where one puts one’s own name and address so the tag can be mailed back to one. So one did that. Then I turned the tag over to make sure I filled out everything that fell under my realm of responsibility. On the back it said “To Be Filled Out by Originating Office”. There was a place for the “Originating Office” address but it didn’t even hint that it was an address that I should be providing. I turned that thing over 3 times, rereading the limited instructions and when I was certain I’d fulfilled my duty, I approached the “Enter Here”. And the black cloud started forming over my head.
The gal that greeted me. How to describe…..She was a woman. Of that I’m certain. She was a crust old thing – probably only 37 but appeared to be closer to 66. She was your basic beatnik. The kind that went to Woodstock and never left. Red hair, but one of those unidentifiable shades from Hot Huez As Seen On TV. The frames of her glasses were striped and polka dotted and she sported full-sleeve tats on both arms. Now, I love beautiful tattoos, but these had outlived their glamour and actually looked like they were melting. On top of all that, she was angry. Not the kind of angry you get when you’re stuck in a public toilet alone without toilet paper or a kind soul who might share a square. She was a slow burn kind of angry that ferments and stews for years. And all day every day it bubbles over, spewing onto every unlucky soul who crosses her path.
She barked at me to advance and I proudly handed her my pink tag and envelope. She flipped the pink tag over to the back side, slammed it back down onto my envelope, pushed it toward me with so much force she nearly hit me in the boobs. And then she snarled, “Go fill it out! And then you can come back to the line!” Then she flipped her name tag around to the “closed” side, pounded it on the counter and said, “I’m goin to lunch!” And she was gone.
I slunk away, a little bit befuddled and a whole lot pissed, and went back to the prep table. A few other customers had entered the line so everyone saw my banishment and they were sore afraid. I looked at the back of that card again and STILL it said “To Be Filled Out by Originating Office.” So I stomped up to the counter addressing the gentleman who was left to handle the small crowd. He was only slightly less angry when I asked him what I needed to fill out. He pointed to the section that said “To Be Filled Out by Originating Office” without saying a word. I asked what I was supposed to enter and he pointed at the address of the Canadian Tax Office on my envelope, again saying nothing. So now I’m way past pissed and I say to him, “Let’s see if I understand this. Although it SAYS ‘To Be Filled Out by Originating Office’ it REALLY means ‘To Be Filled Out By Sender.’ And although it ASKS for the ‘Originating Office Address’ it REALLY wants the ‘Destination Address’. Am I correct?” He paused, thought about it, eyes rolling up in his head like he was doing long division, and nodded.
I lumbered back to the prep table. I filled out the card and marched back to “Enter Here”. Now there’s a young guy who has just come on duty so I step up to his window. He’s cute. Has a cool look. A couple of smallish gauges in his ear, trendy hair cut. And he’s smiling. That alone creeped me out. He takes my envelope and pink tag, but then he pulls some super secret form from behind his counter and tells me I need to fill THAT form out first. Now I’m coming unglued and I can see that realization dawning on his face. My left eye is twitching and I make it painfully clear that I’ve been in and out of line for 30 minutes, scorned by Ursula and then by Shrek, and if he thinks I’m stepping out of line one more time to fill out the super secret form, then he would have to pry my cold dead hands from his pen-on-a-string.
His anxious grin faltered a little but he played along, very quietly sitting on his stool while I filled out the super secret form. I planned to take my time filling it out while I savored the place in line I had taken hostage. On the first attempt I transposed the addresses, grumbling the entire time. On the second attempt I assigned the Canadian Tax Office address to my name and was slightly less vocal. On the third try I had to laser light focus, and in silence I finally filled in all of the boxes correctly. I tried to sell my failed attempts as purposeful protest but the kid just looked at me, smirked and shook his head. He knew. I remained very quiet for the remainder of the transaction. I counted 12 times he punched that little envelope with his self-inking stamper. He shuffled receipts, stapled stuff, paper clipped more stuff. And then he smiled widely and handed me my receipt. I thanked him for his help and did the Charlie Brown walk of shame out the door.
By the time I settled myself in a bench across the street with a hot cup of coffee, I had to laugh out loud. With an absurd sense of humor, life had shared a few of her mysteries with me. And now I pay it forward:
– If you find you’re the first person in line at the Post Office, there’s a reason. Take a cue from the ones who came before. Back away quietly and reclaim your place in the Space Mountain line. You’re too old for a real night club anyway and a decent post office is the new grocery store for man creeping.
– Always approach the youngest person working behind the USPS counter for assistance. Science contends that a postal employee’s hostility toward the human race is in direct relation to his or her years of employment. It is your duty as a citizen to help these youngsters along their road to discovery. By the time they’re in their 40’s they should, at a minimum, be able to make an old lady cry with no remorse. It’s their only hope for survival.
– When decoding even the simplest government document, your higher education is of no use. Clues to cracking the code are hidden somewhere within the ancient and oft-misunderstood language of pig latin, the “Joe Dirt” screenplay, and the “Frampton Comes Alive” album played backward on a Close-N-Play.
– And if you’re getting inked up, design for the future. That portrait of your girl when you’re 25 years old morphs into Marty Feldman when you’re 60.