I am going to break my self-imposed blog silence for a momentous occasion: a trip to the post office. Don't get too excited. I'm just hoping that by writing about it, my blood pressure might drop back to normal.
See, I needed to mail an application for a fellowship that I'm applying for. It's due Thursday. Today is Tuesday. I figured I'd drop it off, do a little express mail action, and be on my merry way. After all, the last few times I've been to the post office my experiences have been, if not pleasant, at least tolerable. But then again, I'd never been to the Grand Lake branch.
Oh my fucking god. I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps I'll first ask you to stare at this computer screen for twenty-five minutes without doing anything or reading anything, to simulate what the first half of my experience was like. Then I'll invite you to imagine the following:
-three windows, two of which were staffed by people who probably rocked the "How Slow Can You Go?" part of their entrance exam
-a third post office employee behind the other two, who emerged from the back room every few minutes carrying what looked like the same package out to the front and then back to the back, occasionally looking toward the 15-person line with an expression of bemused interest, as if to say, "Gee, will you check out that line? Someone should really do something about that!" before picking up her coffee cup and disappearing into the back room again
-Some of the stupidest people I have ever seen in my life. Including:
-one grandmotherly woman (I wanted to like her, but wait) who tottered up to the counter and asked to see the entire stamp collection. She wanted flowers. And not just flowers, but a particular flower, a flower that apparently was extremely difficult for the extremely slow woman behind the counter to locate, moving, as she was, at .00000002 of a kilometer per hour. After about seven minutes of stamp inspection, the woman pulled out her credit card to pay. The line, growing by the minute, sighed in relief -- but we were too soon! For some unknown reason, she took her credit card back and repeated the ENTIRE PROCESS again, starting with stamp examination and culminating in a painfully slow extraction of money from her gigantic purse, and then another 7 minutes of waiting. Meanwhile, at the other counter . . .
-Another woman, bearing a Trader Joe's bag full of packages she wanted to return, was handing them over to the woman behind the counter, by which I mean placing them, excruciatingly slowly, on the bullet-proof plastic Lazy Susan separating the customers from the postal employees. Then the post office employee slowly, ever so slowly, began typing each into the computer, and coming up with registered return receipts and insurance tabs for each one. Then, after this had gone on for about ten minutes and the woman (presumably) was about to pay, the post office employee looked at the addresses on these packages, and noticed that they were all addressed to the woman. Yes. She was sending them back to herself. "You know, these are all going to just come back to you," said the post office employee, as an audible groan erupted from the line. "You need to readdress every single one and bring them back." I had a moment of sympathy for the woman, but it quickly evaporated when she continued to stand at the counter, asking follow up questions ("What do you mean they will come back to me? But I would still like them to be registered receipt!") and insisting on buying her insurance for the packages ahead of time.
Then, just as she was sent away to do her re-addressing and I took a triumphant step forward to buy an envelope and send one item Express Mail, another woman -- heretofore lurking on the sides, waiting to bring back up some packages that she, too, had mislabeled, announced that it was her turn. I stepped aside. The line grumbled.
-FINALLY, I was called. To be honest, at that particular moment I was feeling a little sympathetic toward the woman -- after all, she had been dealing with the flowered stamp lady -- but that, too, quickly evaporated when we had the following exchange:
Me: I would like to send this express mail, and get postage for a 2-pound envelope going to New York.
Her: (Blank stare. Then, finally) So you mean you want postage for this for 2 pounds, going to New York.
Her: You know, you're going to have to come back to mail that. Anything over 13 ounces you have to come back and mail in person. You can't just drop it off in a mailbox. You have to come back.
Me: Okay, that's fine. I'll come back and drop it off.
Her: Because, you know, if it's over 13 ounces I have to ask you questions about it. You can't just drop it off and walk away. You have to wait on line and I have to ask you questions. Like, for example, is it hazardous? Or fragile?
Me: No. It's a book. It's fine. I just want to buy the postage now. I'll come back later.
Her: I'm just warning you about what you're going to have to go through. You can't just drop it off in a mailbox.
Her: (Putting postage on my express mail envelope) You know, you missed the cut off for today. It will get there in two days, guaranteed. 3pm. But you missed today's cut off.
Me: When was the cut-off?
Her: It was at three pm. You missed it.
*Side note: It was now like, 3:07. I'd been at the post office for about 20 minutes.*
Me: So, it'll get there by Thursday then.
Her: (blank stare) What's today?
Her: Tuesday, Wednesday, yes, Thursday. Yesterday was my day off. I have no idea what day it is. Yes, Thursday then, by 3 o'clock.
Me: Okay, that's fine.
HEr: You could still go to the main post office. There it's four o'clock. But here it's three. Because they have to come and pick it up. You missed it.
Her: Your postage for the two pounds will be $8.99. Priority Mail.
Me: I just want first class.
Her: (Another blank stare. Then) It's over 13 ounces. You can't send anything first class that's over 13 ounces. It bumps up to priority mail.
Me: Is there anything cheaper?
Her: You can do ground. Or media mail.
Me: It's a book.
Her: You didn't tell me that.
Me: It's a book.
Her: You can do parcel post then.
An interminable amount of time passes as she scans my credit card, carefully folds up my receipt, and passes my paperwork back through the slot. By this time, the line is still well out the door and the other postal worker has worked through three separate customers.
As I walked out, a man stuck all the way at the entrance looked at me and said, "What, did it take , like an hour?" I tried to make a joke or some lighthearted comment about the craziness of the post office, but instead all I could say was "Yes, yes it did," with what could only have been a crazy smile, and pushed past him into the sun.
This, my friends, is why the Soviet Union collapsed.
This is the blog for Salt Magazine.