SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 3, 2011

El Banco Loco

 

There’s an awful lot of contraband that needs to get across state lines and quick, so as a result I spend an inordinate amount of time at the post office. It’s been an ongoing issue for years, so one of my first priorities after moving to the new neighborhood was determining where I might find the nearest one.

            Well, I started asking around and every person I talked to named a different location, none of them terribly convenient. It didn’t sound right. There’s no reason, it occurred to me, why I should need to take a bus just to get to a damn post office. Figuring all these people were simply misguided, I went online to see what I could find there. Once again I found a handful of post office addresses. Not only were the listed addresses not convenient—none of them matched any of the locations those other dingbats had given me.

            What the fuck was going on? Ask for the nearest hardware store or coffee shop it’s no problem. Ask them where the post office is and people start pointing toward the sky or muttering about drainage ditches. Was everyone just screwing with me? This was, needless to say, a bit irksome. All I wanted to know was where I could find the nearest goddamn post office so I could mail some contraband. How hard could it be? Was this another symptom of that nefarious internet’s evil work? Finally I decided to screw the whole thing. Whenever I needed to make a trip to the post office I’d just take the subway back to my old neighborhood (loathsome as it is) to mail my contraband there. It’s a ninety-minute round trip and an extra five bucks, but Christ if that’s what it takes.

            Then I remembered Bill.

            Bill was an old friend who’d been living in Bay Ridge for quite a few years. His apartment, as it happened, was just a few blocks from mine. A couple of weeks after I moved in he took me on a walking tour of the area, pointing out shoe stores and bakeries, what bars to avoid, where the cheap restaurants were, which butchers sold pork and which did not, which diners were mobbed up and which fruit vendor would give me a good deal. It was all quite helpful, and when it was over he told me he was happy to answer any other questions I had.

            Well there was a package sitting on my table that I needed to get out of the apartment, so I gave Bill a call. He’d tell me where to find the fucking post office.

            Instead of simply handing me some fictitious address in Bushwick where I might or might not find a post office, he offered to walk me to the nearest one himself. Bill, see, is not a jerk.

It was, as expected, much closer than everybody else had claimed. A bit of a trek maybe, but there was no need to involve a bus in the proceedings, like those smiling, lying bastards had hinted.

            So we walked up the street, I got things mailed off (thank god), and as we left I noted where we were. It was no trouble at all—I could make that walk any old time. I thanked Bill and went home.

            A couple of weeks later it was time to mail off another package. Without thinking a thing about it, I put on my shoes and coat, tucked the package under my arm, flopped the cane open, lit a smoke, and headed out.

            It was a colder morning than I had expected, but I figured the air—“brisk” I guess you’d call it—would clear my head after the previous night. After turning three quick corners it was a straight fourteen-block shot. The sidewalk was quiet as it always was at that hour, so I tapped along, head down, counting the blocks. Some fifteen minutes later I reached my destination, and set about finding the door. This is not always as easy as it sounds. A lot of your more modern, ugly buildings come equipped with windows designed to look like doors—sometimes a row of windows that look like doors, except for one that actually is a door. So that morning like so many other mornings (and early afternoons, and evenings) I spent a good deal of time fondling windows in search of a handle that didn’t exist, cursing myself for not asking Bill to fill me in on that little detail. I’d found the building just fine, but hadn’t paid attention to how he got inside.

            (When I find myself in this situation I try not to think of what this looks like from the other side of the window.)

At last I gave up, stepped back across the sidewalk, and waited, listening for someone to leave. That would at least help me narrow it down. I figured I wouldn’t have to wait long, which was good. It really was mighty chilly out there.

            Finally I heard someone open the door. Training my ear on where the sound had arisen, I quickly tapped over to the building again and found a handle. It opened, and I stepped inside.

I didn’t remember all the specifics from that visit with Bill—I thought there were two doors—but I found a metal pole that ran parallel to a table. On the other side of the table were the service windows. This was great. There was no line. I’d be in and out of here in a matter of seconds.

I felt my way around to the other side of the table and waited for a window to open and a bell to ring.

            Nothing happened for awhile. . That was okay. Things were so quiet maybe they’d all gone on a break. I waited a few more minutes when I heard someone walk in behind me. As I prepared a snappy comment for when this new person took his or her spot in line, they walked past me up to one of the windows. I was about to remind asshole here that there was, y’know, a line when I heard some beeps as this person punched a series of buttons. I recognized those sounds.

            It was about then that I realized I was in a bank, not a post office, and I was waiting patiently in front of a row of ATMs.

            What the fuck was going on? I'd followed Bill’s directions step for step—when did the post office become a bank, and why didn’t I hear anything about it? Or was this all another grand joke? That had to be it. Damn that Bill. Serves me right for trusting people. That first post office was all a front—cardboard and plywood, a few actors and actresses, make things look like a post office for fifteen minutes, then when I leave pull everything down and make it a bank again. Oh, I’m such a fool.

            I looked around. Yup, it was a bank all right.

            The smart thing to do at this point would’ve been to, y’know, ask someone about the post office (lord knows what kind of bullshit line they’d feed me). Instead I did the same stupid thing I always do. I pretended like I knew exactly where I was, what I was doing, and why I was there. I looked at my watch. Then I spent a few more minutes trying to figure out which window was a door, and fuming at having been duped again, I eventually stormed out. Stomping another ten blocks through the cold, I got on the fucking train, and went back to my old godforsaken neighborhood where at least I can find the post office without depending on the kindness of strangers.

 

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