The Postal Convenience Station
I was the third of four postal patrons on the makeshift line. We arched away from the tinted glass aluminum framed door, attempting to allow enough personal space for the next potential patron to enter. The auto-teller was wedged at the front corner, along the glass, away from the walk-in-closet-sized room of PO boxes. At the right was the one big package-size-accepting mailbox for all parcels needing to be mailed.
A mu-mu and sandal-clad elderly woman sat on the low, rough pine bench, resting her arms along her black-metal walker, “I’m taking a break,” she said, “there’s AC in here.” Her hands squeezed the brake levers tightly.
At the front of the line a young woman in standard-issue running gear (white trim navy shorts, t-shirt, white sneakers) was balancing a wide corrugated cardboard rectangular box with her arm, hand and shoulder while also pressing her cell phone to her ear. The box could hold five pairs of shoes, if they were placed side by side, but in transit, it seemed, all shifted to the right. She couldn’t manage. The box would slide, the phone would slide; she juggled these items while reading aloud, to the person on the phone, the entire directions on the auto-teller.
“First class? Priority? Do I weight it? (Pause) Yeah, uh huh (Pause), you said this would be easy…”
As she rubbed her right pointer finger along the deep-browed touch screen she thankfully put the box down on the scale.
“It’s 16 pounds (Pause) I don’t know (Pause) do we insure it?”
The person directly behind her on the line turns to me, “I just need to check to see if I have the right postage…” I turn to the elderly woman on the bench, the witness to this and probably other postal transactions, she sighs, fixes her lipstick with the back of her hand, and shuffles her feet.
“You said this would be easy (Pause) so what do I do now? (Pause) Ok, take this label and stick it on the box? But you already wrote the address…”
I look out of the glass door, more postal patron arrive and hurry towards the back. I hear the click-clank of postal boxes open and shut, papers rustle, tearing and tossing. The sun reflects in long strands off the roof of a black sedan as it backs-up into a no-parking space in front of the station. A man from the grocery store, wiping his hands with his green apron, walks up and points at the sign. The driver rolls his window down, squints, shrugs, and rolls it back up. The grocery-man looks in at us, with the hopeful gaze that we’d agree with him. He dramatically drops his arms to his sides, shakes his head at us, and walks back towards the market. He bumps into a customer, raises his arms as if to hug the man, but doesn’t.
The woman with the unbalanced-box continues, “Pay with debit or credit? (Pause) I don’t know. (Pause) This was your idea…”
Still looking outside through the glass, the walk sign becomes a flashing do-not walk sign. A woman grabs two children by their forearms and rushes them along the crosswalk stripes. Two men in suit-pants and ties ignore the cars and walk at a careful gait from this side to that. A taxi honks.
The sign becomes a solid do-not walk sign, cars flash by, halt, and rumble off. The sign once again becomes a walk sign. The wind picks up for a moment and brushes the pedestrian’s clothes away from their bodies and towards the east river.
I hear the tin clicking of the auto-teller printing out a receipt, the unwieldy-box-shipping must be complete. I look up, the woman’s anxiety has increased, “Ok, so now where do I drop off the box?” She looks at me and the elderly lady. Was she talking to us? I wait to see if she’ll ask us again. Clamping the phone to her neck with her shoulder she shifts towards the back of the station.
As I step up to the auto-teller to gain the correct postage for my envelopes I hear the box-shipper gasp, “It’s stuck, the box is stuck in the drop-box, why did you tell me to put it here? You said this was going to be easy.”