Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Tale of Two Biddies

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.


  1. Cheeto-encrusted hands? Apple Head?

    You had me laughing out loud, and that is not done very often...Not over the written word...

    1. Perhaps, Madam, you are feverish and delirious. Or your feet are being tickled by a daddy longlegs who just broke up with his Chex Mix Cheerio.

  2. I had a favorite post office, but they closed. But I was lucky enough to find another one... it's an old time one and the people are super. Hope you find your box of books!

    1. Lynn,
      I can't help picturing your old time post office as a Pony Express outpost, where waiting riders play checkers on an upturned barrel, and white-bearded geezers offer you a chaw that they carve off their plug of tobacco with a Bowie knife.

  3. Val, I've missed you! Your writing is always's the word? I can't describe it in just one word, because it's amazing, funny, hilarious, unique, entertaining, and real! I haven't been around blogland much....what books are lost? Before you take the time to answer that, I'll go read some of your older posts. P.S. I REALLY loved this description: "Cheeto-encrusted hands.".....Eewww!

    1. Becky,
      Don't be a stranger. Then you won't miss me. I know my writing can't be described in one word. Because it's a pattern of letters and spaces with punctuation arranged in horizontal rows! Yes. That's the perfect description of my writing.

      The lost books are Not Your Mother's Book...on Being a Parent. I'm sure they will fall into the hands of people who need to learn how to be parents.

      What's with you city folk and Cheeto-encrusted hands? Do you eat your Cheetos with a knife and fork? That's only for candy bars, you know.

  4. You have to get out of the back woods, although I don't think these city slicker P.O.s are any different other than the odors. I do hope you find your books.

    1. Linda,
      Okay, SOMEBODY is trying to pull the wool over Val's eyes. City post offices are no different? Maybe you haven't heard. One of your very own pen-wielding women has clearly stated that she has found an old time post office where people are nice.

      And if the post offices are the same, why should I get out of the back woods? Huh? There are more holes in your story than in the business end of a well-worn Croc. I'm starting to wonder where YOU were on the day my books disappeared...

  5. In defense of postal workers, and I have known a few...the stories they tell...their supervisors are notorious a-holes known to time bathroom breaks, and frown at unnecessary courtesy.

    I will wait for about a minute and then say. "excuse me, I know you see me, I don't mind waiting, but am I at the right window or is there one somewhere else. But then it does help to be old and crotchety!

    You have described every post office and DMV in the country...well they privatized the DMV in NJ and it actually is much better...but we pay $7 for dirty water cocktails, so what do we know!

    1. joeh,
      Before I read on down the page, I was about to inform the world that Val herself has taken the rural carrier exam, and even been called to two interviews before returning to her calling of educating the future of tomorrow. But since I don't want to be thought of as a weirdo, I won't mention it. Wait. You're all raising your eyebrows at each other when I look away, aren't you?

      Thank you, New Jersey, for reinventing the wheel. Although your spirit of choice to lift in celebration leaves a little to be desired.

  6. My husband just retired from the post office and his hub was WEIRD. The staff, the building. The majority of the people that work there are some of the strangest people I have ever met. The stories my husband has told me about his coworkers over the years could fill a book. What make them so WEIRD? Maybe it it the weather but I think Newman had it down pat...

    "Seinfeld: The Old Man (#4.18)" (1993)

    George Costanza: Let me ask you something. What do you do for a living, Newman?

    Newman: I'm a United States postal worker.

    George Costanza: Aren't those the guys that always go crazy and come back with a gun and shoot everybody?

    Newman: Sometimes.

    Jerry: Why is that?

    Newman: Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There's never a letup, it's relentless. Every day it piles up more and more, and you gotta get it out, but the more you get out, the more keeps coming in! And then the bar code reader breaks! And then it's Publisher's Clearinghouse Day...!

    (I love that one word. "Sometimes")

    1. Birdie,
      Yes, the inflection and accompanying facial expression were perfect for that "Sometimes."

  7. I love that more people are discovering what I've known for some time---that you're a very good writer. I do hope your books are found. Getting published should be the hard part, not hunting down your books.

  8. Stephen,
    I am not nearly so good a writer as you are a painter. I feel quite comfortable here in my lower-middle-class niche in the literary class system.

    "Getting published should be the hard part, not hunting down books." I KNOW, right? I hardly ever break a sweat when I'm writing, but that hunting-down business is for the birds!