I was going to write about how you can improve your life by slowing down and taking time to do things yourself instead of writing a check or swiping a credit card and having someone else do it for you. Coffee, for instance.
I was going to write about how we’ve been cooking our own coffee and it’s not that big a deal and we save a bunch of money and buy our green beans in 30-lb. towsacks and etcetera.
I was going to write about how instead of buying juice at the store, where it doesn’t have any nutritional value and is overpriced and doesn’t taste very good, for a few hundred bucks you can buy something with a lawnmower engine strong enough to juice your old socks or your rock collection, not to mention fruit, and how a few extra minutes doing that instead of watching TV is relaxing and by the way you’ll quit cramping after long rides and experience a huge reduction in the stinkiness of your daily creation and etcetera.
But then I went to the post office for the first time in a long time, you know, the place where time stands still.
All this stuff about slowing down and taking time to do stuff yourself hit a nasty wall in the post office, because that is the place where time goes to die. If you have too much time on your hands, go to the post office, which is a time suck of such proportions as to make Strava and Facebag together look like productivity tools.
I stood in a line of fifteen people, with three clerks working the counter and I use the word “working” in its most elastic sense. I noticed that not only had time come to a halt but that no one in the post office was in a hurry, including the customers. Which led to an observation: No one who has anything going on in their lives goes to the post office.
Everyone was retired or a stay-at-homer or someone who simply wanted to find out what it felt like being dead.
More astonishingly than the corpses standing in line were the corpses at the counter. The PO is deathly silent so everyone can hear everything, and the one thing that was obvious is that everyone at the post office, despite decades of tenure, was doing each job with each customer for the very first time. It’s as if you were standing in line at Von’s and each time a customer’s shit came over the scanner the checker-person got a big happy smile and said, “Well, what have we here? Some bananas!”
I kept waiting for someone to scream, “It’s a fucking letter! Put a stamp on it and take my money and get me the fuck out of here!”
But no. The kind PO employee was not to be rushed, and exhibited genuine interest in each transaction. “Now, where is this letter going to?”
IT’S ON THE FUCKING ENVELOPE, YOU TENURED FUCKER!
“Oh, well, let’s weigh it and see what the postage is,” the kind employee said. Because in the history of letters no one has ever come in and needed a first-class stamp for a letter of undetermined weight.
If it were me, all contented coffee-roasting and self-juicing mindfulness murdered under the ugly boot heel of raging impatience, I would have screamed to the customers: “Hey, you fuckers! Dump your shit into this box!” Then I would have weighed it with a machine (I’m pretty sure they have weighing machines somewhere in the post office), slapped on the tariff, and been done by 9:00 AM.
But no. The line continued to snake and each tenured person enjoyed the careful consideration of each mailing problem presented by each customer as if it were a complex physics problem trying to synch the extra second per year due to Earth’s variable revolution speed around the sun with the atomic clock and the space station.
Finally my turn came. I had a huge problem, one that, like stamps, my lady had never encountered before. “Well hello, sir? How are you today?”
I’M A RAGINGLY LIVID MANIAC WHO WOULD EAT YOUR HEAD IF I COULD AFTER SHOOTING YOU DEAD EXCEPT I BELIEVE IN GUN CONTROL AND DON’T LIKE TO EAT HAIR SPRAY.
“Oh, you need a package?” She gazed at the slip for the package that had not been delivered the day before because, I guess, there were too many stairs to climb at our complex and the tenured employee figured, “Fuck it, they can come get this shit.”
I fully expected her to get up and go get my package. The long line, which now stretched to Torrance, watched the transaction. The giantess gazed three counter spots down. “Suzy? You getting packages?”
Suzy lifted her head from the luscious oats she’d been munching, thoughtfully chewed her cud, and nodded. “Yeesssss,” she mooed.
“Would you get his?”
“Yeesssss,” Suzy mooed again.
I briskly strode to Suzy’s counter, but not briskly enough. A spry Korean woman, seeing the open slot, jumped out and dashed up ahead of me. “Yeessss?” Suzy asked.
“This letter to mail Kentucky,” the woman said.
Suzy gazed at the envelope. “Well, let’s see where it’s going,” she said.
“Kentucky,” said the spry old lady.
“Looks like it’s going to Kentucky,” Suzy confirmed, showing off her ability to decipher the written English language. I thought about calling the Foxworthys and having them come out and hand-deliver the thing, as it would probably be quicker, but then realized they only accept payment in good bourbon.
“Whatta postage?” asked the lady.
“Let’s see what the postage is,” Suzy said as my hand trembled with my package pickup ticket.
Suzy carefully weighed the letter, but there was problem! It already had some stamps on it. The Korean lady had gone through her drawer and randomly stuck on whatever was on the bottom, in between the old lipstick and the replacement pencil leads. “Looks like we’re going to need some more stamps,” said Suzy.
And there it was! Another new problem never before encountered by Suzy! A letter with insufficient postage! If only there were a solution!
By now time had ceased all relativity and simply stopped. Nothing moved anywhere on earth. Time had gone from a slow drip to a gummed up sewer pipe. Shit was going nowhere. I remembered having read “The Day That Time Stood Still” by H.G. Wells, and wondered when everything would go flying off the surface of the Earth, like when your bike suddenly stops and you don’t.
When I dropped back into reality, Suzy and the Korean woman were disputing the amount of added postage. Suzy argued for $1.41 extra. Korean lady argued for $1.21 extra. Everyone in the line watched to see who would be right, but being married to a Japanese lady for a thousand years I knew who was going to win the battle of the pennies, and it wasn’t going to be Suzy.
Suzy, however, said she would try it with a different calculator, as if that were the problem. “Excuse me,” I said. “Can I just pay the extra twenty cents? And can you please get my package?”
Everyone would have paused at this egregious breach of protocol, not to mention the profane suggestion that twenty cents was an inconsequential sum of money, but they couldn’t pause because everything had already paused. We were stuck on pause forever. We were in the post office.
Suddenly, each ticking second being murdered in the post office begged for mercy. I forgot my mindfulness, my package, my quality of life sermon via slowing down and living for the moment and doing things yourself.
I got the hell out. Whatever was in the package, even if it was Bradley Wiggins’ Fluimucil, it could wait.
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