Friday, January 27, 2006

Two Cents Worth

It’s 3:45 p.m. and I’m standing in line at the Post Office. I just need 2-cent stamps. There are 17 people ahead of me. Only two of the four service stations are open, and one of them is manned by Crazy Asian Lady. I hope she does not wait on me. I do not like my odds.

I don’t want to be in this line. My preferred postage dispenser is a vending machine, not a disgruntled human being, but the contraptions in the lobby have been “temporarily” out of order for months. I used to buy my stamps at work. One of those little benefits I hadn’t given proper weight to before I quit my job. So now I’m at the Post Office, wondering why, at 3:45 p.m. on a weekday, 17 other people are not at work, either. They are not all retirees or stay-at-home moms (or nannies). They are not all trying to “find themselves.” Only one guy looks like he might be a bicycle messenger or in a band.

Welcome to the alternate universe of Day-Timers, non-conformists in the world of 9 to 5. Some of these people work nights or weekends. Or part-time. Some of them are decidedly homeless. I suppose a few are independently wealthy. I imagine that another percentage is, like me, on “hiatus.” In the late afternoon, our ranks are swelled by high-schoolers (which is when the rest of us go into hiding).

We are a disparate lot, from well-heeled Soccer Moms to bona fide freaks—they don’t all come out at night. The other day I saw this guy standing on the corner, waiting for the signal to cross. His face was shrouded by the hood of his sweatshirt and something that resembled blood appeared to be oozing from his mouth, covering the entire bottom of his face. I didn’t feel it was polite, or safe, to take a second look. I trailed him my entire walk home, struggling to overtake this curious specimen, for what purpose I wasn’t quite sure. From the rubbernecking of oncoming pedestrians, I knew my eyes had not betrayed me.

The line behind me at the Post Office now snakes to the back of the building and out the door into the lobby. I count more than a dozen who people who join us for a moment or two and then leave in disgust. I watch them mentally calculate, “How badly do I need to mail this today?” and apparently determine “not badly enough.”

I recognize myself, my old self, in these people. They are interlopers into the Land of the Day-Timers. They have someplace else to be. A clock to beat. They can not be bothered to stand still.

But we Day-Timers wait. We don’t flip open our cell phones, sigh loudly, roll our eyes or dramatically shift our weight from one foot to the other. We patiently bide our time, perhaps amuse ourselves by pondering the seemingly complex nature of postal procedures being conducted by our fellow citizens.

I am next in line. Crazy Asian Lady is wrapping up her transaction. Her colleague is in the back room, attempting to locate a package for pick-up. “Please no, please no,” I telepathically transmit to the Postal gods.

(Once, in my presence, Crazy Asian Lady went into a public harangue against a colleague about sexual harassment. Every time you thought she was finished, the rant would start anew. She kept up a steady stream of muttering while continuing to serve customers. Angry muttering people make me nervous.)

The woman at Crazy Asian Lady’s counter has a question. The colleague returns from the back, package in hand. I’m saved.

I pay for 10 2-cent stamps and throw in a roll of the new 39ers for good measure. It’s 4:16.

On the way home, I pop into the produce market to pick up a couple of avocados. I’m a Day-Timer. I’m in no rush.


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