I have to go to the post office.
Last week, In New York, we dropped by my Aunt Ethel’s apartment in Long Beach where I saw an old family photo of my paternal grandmother, Miriam, with my father and his brother, my Uncle Chaim.
“Aunt Ethel, I never saw this photo. It’s amazing.”
“Yes, I love it.”
“Can I borrow it?”
“Robert, that’s my only copy.”
“I’ll be careful, but please let me scan the picture into my computer so it’s protected.”
So: I lovingly carry the photo back to Los Angeles, scan it, and now:
I have to go to the post office to send it to New York.
Or face: The Wrath of Ethel.
Step into the post office.
Oy-vey, there are, lemme count, 19 people ahead of yours truly.
There are seven stations for the postal workers, but only three windows are open.
I slip into line behind an old hippie with shoulder length white hair. He’s listening to an iPod, and the volume is set at maximum so I can actually hear the music.
Hmm, not bad. Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. One of my absolute favs.
Okay, it’s a long line, but at least I have some music.
One of the postal workers has drifted away and the other two are involved in the extremely complex business of–as far as I can tell–calculating costs of postage.
Oh, wait, a customer is finished and the postal worker signals for the next on line.
We exchange smiles–we’re in this together–and everyone takes one baby-step forward.
A few paces behind me a flamboyant gay guy is on his cell phone yammering away to a, presumably, gay friend about, well, the fabulosity of gayness.
Gay guy is talking really loud and saying stuff like:
“It was sooo gay…”
“He was totally gay, he just didn’t realize it…”
“I used to be a clueless gay, but no more, darling…”
In-ter-esting: gayness, for some, is not just sexual orientation, not just a life style, but a religion.
I mention this because right behind Loud and Proud Gay Guy is a tiny, shriveled, ancient black lady who looks, I swear, like she’s about to have a coronary. Listening to gay guy is having a visible effect on her blood pressure. She closes her eyes, mumbles to herself, then turns and gazes pleadingly at an ENORMOUS black guy standing right behind her.
Enormous Black Guy looks like a gang-banger. He’s got the backwards baseball cap, the blinding bling around his neck, and masses of tattoos on his arms which are impossible to decipher because his skin is so black. It’s like one of those Malevich Black Square paintings.
Enormous Black Guy steps past Tiny Black Lady, gets right into the face of Loud and Proud Gay Guy.
Oh goody: conflict, drama.
“Yo, dude. Mah Aun-tie.”
Loud and Proud Gay Guy–thin as a stalk of wheat–finds himself face to face with a scary black guy who is, I do not exaggerate, the size of Rhode Island.
Loud and Proud Gay Guy into his phone:
“Sweetie, call you back.”
Enormous Black Guy nods, gets back in line behind his Aun-tie.
Still, only two postal workers behind the bullet proof glass.
Good idea that glass because we, on line, are on the verge of going postal.
I’m counting the people in front of me, including the old hippie still grooving away: nine customers/consumers/victims/whatever.
Maybe I should drop out of line and head on over to UPS or Fed Ex.
But that would be like going AWOL.
I gotta stick with my squad here in the foxhole.
One of the postal workers has drifted away from his window.
Only one worker left.
Collective groan from we-on-the-line.
Oh, yeah, here’s a scan of the picture I’m sending back to Aunt Ethel:
My father is to the right of grandmother Miriam. Hey, dad’s got Dr. Spock ears. My Uncle Chaim fought in the Pacific campaign. He contracted malaria and all sorts of tropical diseases. Never said one word to me about his service, but according to my father, it was horrific and Uncle Chaim never recovered from his combat experiences. Photo, 1924, Poland.
The old Hippie buys–get this–one single stamp.
I’m on deck.
The postal worker, a black lady with hair like a porcupine, barks:
Nervous, intimidated, I step up. Slide the package forward.
She punches in the order.
“Anything else, sir?”
“Um, I was wondering, how come you’re the only one working and there are so many people in line?”
Postal Lady narrows here eyes at me:
“What you axing?”
“I’m just curious how come you don’t have more help?”
Step outside, take a deep breath.
Can’t wait for Obamacare.
It’s gonna be so much fun standing in line, making new and diverse friends, and then kibitzing with all the gracious health care workers.
Anyhoo: Let’s listen to Richard Thompson and Christine Collister, sing Wall of Death–appropriate title, huh?—from the Shoot Out the Lights album. Linda and Richard are divorced, so this is the 1985 touring band, different than the original album, but still great.
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Copyright Robert J. Avrech