By: Gabriela Yareliz
New York City post offices are their own animal. They are fortresses of bullet-proof glass, disgruntled employees and long lines.
I am not kidding when I tell you that in law school we would read the Yelp reviews for nearby post offices where we had bad experiences and laugh so hard. It was a mix of personal entertainment and vindication of our woes.
I am lucky the employees in the Brooklyn ones don’t hate their lives like the ones in Manhattan, but still, you can typically walk out with a good story.
The other day, I had three batches of gifts I still needed to send off. I also needed a smaller box for one of the batches. I walked over to the post office with two large parcels hoping to use the postage machine to print labels for them and get the smaller box. When I arrived, the machine was, of course, broken. I just used this days ago, I thought to myself, mourning the little machine that saved me time. I looked at the line of 60 people ignoring the useless and arbitrary tape on the floor for “social distancing”. Three entire Middle Eastern families waiting to do their passports and everyone else shipping gifts. I am not standing in this line twice, I thought. So I grabbed the smaller priority box I needed and ran home.
As I start taping the last box together, without warning, my packing tape is done. Think fast, I think to myself. At this point, I am sweating in my three layers. I take off a sweater and throw it on the couch, with two remaining.
I run down the block, coatless and one sweater down, to the Chinese dollar store. When I walk in, I realize the snow globes I had seen at the cash registers at the grocery store were from there. Focus, I whisper to myself. When I look at the store, it looks like Christmas had vomited all over with some birthday stuff hanging precariously from some hooks above and then hardware items. I walk past the clear shower curtain separating the cash register from the surrounding disaster, toward the hardware items and start scanning.
I find the tape on the floor and run to the register where the man wants me to give him a dime as exact change. I keep telling him I don’t have a dime but can give him a quarter. He looks peeved behind the hanging plastic. I don’t understand why he doesn’t want my money, and I can’t believe I am arguing with a man standing behind a shower curtain. I slap the quarter on the counter and yell keep the change, as I run back out on the sidewalk. Still sweating.
I get home and finish taping the box. I scratch the address on the label and slap it on. I run into my mailman in the lobby of my building, who is a kind soul but can’t take the label-less boxes (even if they had labels, these guys don’t take outgoing mail—- I hate that about NYC).
I get to the post office. Still 60 people. One passport seeking Middle Eastern family left. I get in line, realizing I have to hold my boxes or put them on the floor and kick them. The floor is gross, so I decide to hold them. A woman with an Italian-American accent gets behind me and starts speaking loudly on her phone.
Her first conversation revolves around how Desitin cream is child abuse (according to her) because it leaves white residue on the skin. Then, she proceeds to hold a call about how excreting black waste like tar is not normal and how the person is probably dying of internal bleeding. “It’s not normal,” she insists loudly. She then answers another call where she discusses our mayor’s latest edict on vaccines and calls Joe Biden every expletive in the book. At this point, the whole room is eyeing her— many in annoyed solidarity. I am sweating and holding my boxes while trying not to laugh to keep from crying. If I react to her, she will murder me, I am sure.
A man walks up to the label machine that is now to my left. He taps the screen and then starts kicking the machine like a vending machine. I tell him, “Sir, it’s out of service. I tried it earlier. Now, it’s frozen.” “Oh f***ing hell no.” He looks at the line and then looks at me, “Thanks. I’ll come back.” And he leaves muttering to himself curses for us all.
Someone who tried to cut the line and should have known better in the back gets cornered into the PO Boxes. Finally, it’s my turn to get to the window. The worker shuts the bullet-proof door. I open it on my end and slide the packages in. I shut the door on my end, and then she opens her door and starts typing away, asking me to certify that there is nothing dangerous in the packages. I look around at the letter slot with the broken handle, the chipped floor tiles, the walls with scuff marks and the mold in a corner of the ceiling. Thank God they fixed the shattered window, I think to myself. The line is still long, but thankfully, it’s now behind me. I look at the clock which is frozen at the wrong time like most other things in the building.
Forty minutes of my life in that post office communing with my community. “Thanks for waiting,” the worker tells me, sliding the receipt in the window hole toward me. I smile and thank her. I walk out and rip the mask off my face the minute the cold air hits me. My last visit for the season, I think to myself. Until we meet again, USPS. Until we meet again.