May 17, 2009

Be Nice to the Ladies at the Post Office


I know I’m not supposed to like the post office. It’s a cultural given that we’re supposed to complain about the long lines, the poor service, and the surly employees. The stamp machines never work, and those bastards jump on our packages when we’re not looking. But I love the post office. Like the subway, it offers up a solid cross-section of the population. And whenever you get a cross-section of the population crammed together in a small space, you never know what’s going to happen. You’re almost guaranteed a show of some kind. The bigger the crowd, the uglier that show promises to be.

            That’s how I’ve come to look at the post office—as a decaying variety show. Which is why I’ve come to look forward to each visit. Over the past months, I’ve been spending much more time in the post office than I have on the subway, and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve heard business deals collapse and relationships melt down. I watched patient, indulgent parents finally reach the breaking point, and I’ve seen egos completely obliterated. I’ve witnessed screaming matches and fistfights—and only rarely have any of these things involved post office employees.

            Given the amount of time I’ve been spending at my local post office, I’ve come to know all the clerks who work there, and they’ve come to recognize me. They treat me well, and in return I try to make their jobs as easy as possible. Having witnessed what they put up with all day, it seems the only decent thing to do. I come prepared and I pay with small, unmarked bills. Everything always goes smoothly and quickly once I hit the window. If you don’t have to worry about taping the package shut or getting the address right while you’re standing in line, you can spend your time at the post office as a mere spectator. That’s what I do.

            The clerks seem to recognize this (maybe because I’m the only one in line who’s smiling).

            Making life easy for post office clerks is not a bad rule to keep in mind. Your time there will be more pleasant, and they won’t stomp on your package after you leave. By all accounts, Michael Gira, front man for the Swans and Angels of Light—a man with a reputation for being scary and menacing—was nevertheless always nice to the ladies at the post office. He knew the score.

            Wednesday morning I had two packages to send on their way, so I trudged up to the post office a little after ten. It’s a very small, very narrow place, so even six or seven people in front of me can constitute a crowd, and that day it was fairly crowded.

            I stood there patiently with my two packages while, one after another, the people in front of me were called to windows only to be sent away again to fill out forms, properly prepare boxes, add return addresses, or what have you. Those people always aggravate me, because the clerks tell them to “come right back to the window” when they’re finished instead of standing in line again. If I had my way I’d make them go to the end of the line again merely as punishment for not being prepared. With the current system, these people always end up shoving in front of me as I’m standing at the window. Drives me nuts.

            That didn’t happen this time. Not really. One woman tried to duck in front of me, but the clerk stopped her before she reached the window and told her she’d filled out the wrong form.

            “But you told me the green form,” the woman protested.

            “I told you the green and white form,” the clerk replied.

            So in a huff, the woman turned on her heel and stomped back to look for a green and white form, and I plopped my two packages on the scale and lowered the bulletproof window.

            At the window next to me, a young woman was filling out yet another form.

            My clerk—a stocky, red haired, middle-aged woman who was clearly having a rough day already—excused herself and stepped over to the next clerk.

            “Why are you letting her stand there filling out a form? She’s holding up the line. Lotta people are waiting.”

            “It won’t take long,” the other clerk said. “It’s just this one thing.”

            The red haired clerk returned to her chair, and the woman with the form muttered (loud enough for everyone to hear): “How totally rude.

            Well, that was that.

            “Hey! Lady! You need to read the signs—they tell ya not to approach the window unless you have everything you need. You’re holding up the line for all these other people.”

            Then under her breath she added, “I’d throw ‘em all out and lock the door.”

            The woman with the form, though, wasn’t about to stand there and take that.

            “I forgot one stoopit thing!” she shouted at the clerk. “Just one stoopit thing, and you treat me like this? It’s so rude . . . and so stoopit. Why you such a bitch?”

            As this was going on, that woman’s form wasn’t getting filled out any faster, and I was grinning like an idiot as I waited for my packages to be weighed and stamped. That wasn’t happening too quickly, either.

            “You’re the one who’s being rude to all these people by not being prepared. You’re wasting their time, not mine.”

            I was waiting for the bulletproof windows to fly up and the two women to dive at each other, but alas, the clerk finally returned to my packages, as both women mumbled to themselves.

            When she was finished, I slid her the money, and she slid my change back with a “have a nice day” that sounded sincere.

            “Yeah, you have one too,” I said.

            She barked a laugh. “Don’t worry—I’ll get them before they get me.”

            “I have no doubt of that,” I replied, before clearing the window for the next customer, and stepping around the woman who was still working on that form.


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