November 20, 2005

The woman in front of me shouts to the postal worker: "You must have to take an idiot test to work at the post office!

Anyone can get their income tax in late. It takes a real procrastinator to wait until the last day, half an hour before the third and final deadline. Welcome to my world.

My post office in Manhattan has as much charm as a prison cafeteria. But a prison cafeteria would have ventilation. And better lighting. In America, postal workers do not sit behind a glass plate, and the only thing they do is mail. No bill-paying, no chitchatting, just mail. For impatient New Yorkers it's a chore, and tensions run high. So there I am, relieved to have made it with minutes to spare. The line is long but I don't care. I'm safe. I kill time looking at the ceiling, watching the spread of mould.

About 20 people are waiting for two postal workers. Then one of them puts her "closed" sign up just as a guy with three huge crates of mail on a trolley walks up to the counter. Now there's one worker and a man with more packages than Santa Claus. People begin grumbling: how dare he wait till the end of the day;what was he thinking? One woman speculates that it's drugs. I stay out of it. I don't small-talk with strangers even when they are complaining, a habit I quite enjoy.

Instead I glare at the postal worker. A man behind me giggles and says how "funny" the situation is, and across the room the postal worker calls out: "What's even funnier is you people standing in line."

The next thing I know, I call out: "Well, some of us don't have a choice!"
She shouts back: "Am I talking to you?"
Everyone in line is silent. I've broken the barrier, spoken out for the people. I feel exhilarated. Like Norma Rae.

The woman in front of me takes it further. She shouts to the postal worker: "You must have to take some sort of idiot test to work at the post office!"
The worker exchanges heated words with her while the rest of us realise that all work has come to a standstill. Suddenly I don't feel like Norma Rae. I feel like the idiot who's held up the line and started a riot.

The woman in front of me, getting increasingly worked up, rolls her eyes and sniffs, dismissively: "Shut up."
"Shut up?! Shut up?!" The postal worker is now on her feet, hands on hips.
Images of disgruntled postal workers with sawn-off shotguns flash through my head. I wonder why they always use the word "disgruntled" when postal workers go on a rampage and shoot up a post office. Seems to me they're more than disgruntled.


The nasty lady is ejected by the 100-year-old security guard. She promises to file a complaint. I almost call out "Like it will matter..." but this time I hold my tongue.
The postal worker calms down and resumes stamping packages. Only two more cartons to go. Paying taxes is the easy part. It's going to the post office that's painful.