Today I decided I’d mail out the books I owe people. I gathered names, addressed envelopes, filled out the forms for overseas shipping, and headed to the post office. The post office was packed. There was not a single parking space available. Cars were stacked all the way to the No Parking Zone and more kept rumbling by, prowling for a flicker of reverse lights. I parked across the street at a store, then gathered up all the books in a giant chicken tote I use for grocery shopping and hoofed it to the post office.
The line was monstrous. I mean out the door and out the other door, and onward to a distant horizon where people blinked out of sight as if being swallowed by a black hole. I had forgotten it was the first day of business after a three-day holiday. Woe to me. Woe to us all.
I entered the building hoping the automated postage machine thingy was available. Good luck! There was only one lady standing at the machine thingy mailing a letter. I waited for a bit. She was still pressing buttons. Waited a bit longer. Still pressing buttons. No problem, I needed to check my PO Box. Did that. Recycled the damn grocery store ads that get stuffed in there every week*
Went back to the automated postage machine thingy. Stood behind the same lady. The lady took my new arrival as some kind of suspicious behavior. She glanced over her shoulder and shifted, trying to block the screen from my view. I wasn’t watching the screen. But the lady was still working on mailing that one letter, and every thirty seconds or so, glanced over her shoulder and shifted to try and block more of the screen from me. She did that “gee, I’ll look casual with my arm draped over the top of the machine” move, and the “if I hold up my purse next to my shoulder that will cover the screen” and “maybe I’ll just lean precariously to the side and hug the thing.”
I stood there staring at the mailboxes next to me and tried not to give off that super-spy vibe I’m known for.**
She finally finished and wandered off to mail her single letter that had taken nearly twenty minutes to stamp.
My turn. I had a lot of books to mail, so had at it. Even though there are literally a dozen screens you have to go through to assure the machine that you’re not shipping fireworks or small children***, I have it down to a science and can whip through those screens. And whip I did. Until Fancy lady walked up.
Fancy lady was a young business woman. Tall, pretty, very nicely dressed in skirt and four-inch heels. She eyed the stack of stamped packages, and the three in my hand. She also eyed the giant chicken tote bag I had slung over my shoulder, made her judgment, and folded her hands primly in front of her to wait.
I keyed in the postage for the next book. The machine froze. Oh, sure, it SAID it was printing my postage, but haven’t we all heard that before? Fancy lady and I waited. And waited. I kept swiping my hand in the postage slot, waiting for the stamps to spit out. Nothing. I finally told Fancy lady that the machine said it was printing. We waited. Perhaps five minutes passed. Perhaps an eon wherein an ice age came and went with the rise and fall of wondrous creatures, all of whom carried giant chicken tote bags to do their daily business, passed. Still no postage.
When in doubt, hit buttons. I tried, “Clear” then “Cancel”. The machine made funny noises, went deadly silent, and DIED. Wow, I thought. When they make a “Cancel” button, they aren’t messing around. Fancy lady was still waiting. I still had three books to mail. “It’s broken,” I said.
“What?” said Fancy lady.
“Out of order.” I couldn’t meet her eyes.
“Now?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t do anything different on this package than all of the others.”
Fancy lady nodded as her gaze wandered over the teetering stack of envelopes I’d already stamped. She did not seem surprised to hear this information out of a person with a giant chicken tote on her shoulder. But luckily, she had the class not to get all bent out of shape about it either. She simply turned on her spikes and clattered out of there.
Smart move, I thought. I stared at the three books in my hand. I glanced over at the monstrous line and all the grim-faced people clutching packages with the desperation of having just realized that waiting at the DMV or sitting down for a root canal would be more fun. I took a deep breath and joined them. A half an hour later, I made it to the postal clerk. He was friendly, and took probably three times as long to stamp and process those last three books than I would have taken at the machine thingy. But he didn’t seem bothered by my poultry purse. No, instead he told me stories of his war days when women bought him dinner and plied him with good times and wine.****
So all-in-all a successful mailing day.
*Funny story about the grocery store ads. I can lose my PO Box if I don’t pick up mail when it’s full. I get very little correspondence through my PO Box, so it can go for a couple months easy before it fills with letters. But every frickin’ week they stuff in newspaper ads from this one grocery store. I don’t shop at that store. For that matter, I get the paper, so I *already* get the ads. But if I don’t drive to the post office, pull out the ads, put them in the post office’s recycling bin every couple weeks, I can lose my PO Box.
I mentioned to the mail clerk once that all I did was recycle those ads. She got a funny little smile on her face and told me, calmly, that about a year ago there was a customer who came to the post office complaining loudly and bitterly that they didn’t get the grocery store ads in their PO Box. The clerk told the customer that they would have to contact the grocery store and asked to be put on their mailing list. So the customer did. The grocery store said it was against store policy to send ads to PO Boxes. The customer complained her way up the store management until the store change their policy from “we don’t mail to PO Boxes” to “we mail our ads to every single PO Box in the city.” So one customer is very happy, and the rest of us…all of us who are driving to the post office to recycle wasted paper…not really so thrilled.
**I am the least sneaky person I know. And also, yes, sometimes I wear jeans and a T-shirt and don’t look “dressed up.” But I had made a point of putting on my nice non-stalker/non-hermit clothes. Plus, what kind of spy carries a giant chicken tote?
***At least not in the SAME package.
****Chicken tote has the power to make men hungry. Who knew?