Today I invaded two U.S. Post Offices to inquire about my missing box of books. I was quite polite. You never know when a federal worker might whip a weapon out from under the counter. Just for show, of course. To discourage people who enter at ten minutes before the lunch hour shut-down to question exactly what goes on during the shipping of precious cargo.
Oh, what a different vibe each Post Office emits! They're like snowflakes! Like fingerprints! Like DNA!
The first stop was at the local hub. Everything hauled to rural areas comes out of this facility now. Things that don't fit in the mailbox are brought back, then trucked to the neighborhood Post Office the next day for pickup with a little orange postcard.
The Hub had no discernible smell. Kind of like a dog's nose right before it enters one's mouth uninvited. I passed through two sets of glass doors and stepped up to the middle of the counter, where the lone worker worked. She consciously ignored me. You know that action. I know it well. I was, after all, a public servant myself, once. I call it a Public Service Standoff. In this version, the worker knows you're there. You know the worker knows you're there. The worker keeps working. So busy. Such vital duties. You know the game. So you wait. You don't want to set yourself up for a rebuff.
Finally, Stick Woman acknowledged me. "All right now. How can I help you?" She had hair like straw. Like it was sticking right out the wrist cuffs of The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. It was not her natural hair color. She was all angular, like a Picasso Weeping Woman. Only not so pretty.
I explained my predicament. I could detect the beginnings of a smirk. She said she would take a look in the back to see if there was a box of books. I know she rolled her eyes the minute her back was turned. I suspect she simply stepped to the side out of my vision, then came right back. "No. There's no package back there. Without a tracking number, we really have nothing to investigate." She reached around the back-room wall and grabbed a form. "All I can suggest is that you fill out this claim form with the tracking number, and submit it to see if your box might be in the Dead Letter Facility."
She did not seem thrilled when I asked for a phone number and a name to contact with the tracking number. "Here's the number. Just ask for a supervisor."
After such marked success, I headed for my mom's house to wait for the lunch hour to be over at my next Post Office. It's not pleasant to stand in line at the metal roll-top-desk thingy they pull down during their noonday feast. I can imagine them peeping through pinholes in that silver curtain, snickering behind their Cheeto-encrusted hands.
The dead-mouse-smelling Post Office had an aura all its own. The lady at the counter was a comfortable sort, with a face like an applehead doll, who had obviously never been introduced to Mademoiselle L'Oreal. A golfer-looking thirtysomething in a white knit shirt stood first in line, obtaining tracking numbers for his package. Next in line, but off to the side, leaning on the counter, was a scrawny man who appeared to be in his fifth decade of a hard-knock life. Like Smoky Lonesome in Fried Green Tomatoes, just before Idgie told him the story about the geese flying away with the lake.
Apple Head asked to help Hard-Knock. He apologized for bothering her, and pointed to a package on the side shelf that rattled like pills. He thanked Apple Head profusely, explained that he was down on his luck, and asked if he might keep his general delivery address for a bit longer. She agreed.
Apple Head looked in the back room for my box of books. She apologized for my loss. And before I had a chance to ask, she wrote down the number of the Hub Post Office and told me to ask for a supervisor when I had the tracking number. Same result. Different delivery.
I suppose there's something about working in a dead-mouse miasma that keeps one humble.