The United States Post Office is a place that gets a lot of play when you’re a military spouse of a deployed servicemember. Whereas it was a threshold I previously only crossed during the Christmas season, it has now become a regular and devout place of worship.
Despite the public’s perception that postal carriers are slovenly psycho-killers ready to burst at their well-taped edges, I’ve always romanticized the role of the postal carrier, partly because my Great Uncle John was the busiest postmaster of the world’s tiniest post office. He was the Santa Clause of Tonganoxie, Kansas, who anxiously greeted each townsperson to let them know the good news about their prized package, long anticipated letter, or the new Sears catalog (which he had likely perused with his morning coffee). He had all ten of their P.O. Boxes memorized, and even though I only traveled to Kansas on holidays and summers, because of him every patron in his charming little fiefdom knew who I was, too. In Tongie, I was the Zippy Girl.
Remember that cute little guy printed on the edge of the stamp sheets, back when they only came in perforated folios? He was the plucky cartoon guy that reminded you to put that newfangled zip code on all your mail. And just about every time Uncle John sold a page of stamps he’d tear off Mr. Zip and then ask, “mind if I save this for my niece in California?” Of course, the truth is he handed them out to lots and lots of kids. But when my Grandpa brought me in, he made me believe he’d been saving them up all year, just for me. There was a time when I had a shoebox full of Mr. Zips. I sure wish I still had that box now that I don’t have my favorite postmaster around any more.
So wishing on my sweet memory of Uncle John trolling for catfish in bluejean overalls, I sauntered out the door to the United States Post office and called over my shoulder to my secretary, “be back in a few minutes!”
It was only then that I remembered that the boxes were totally unpacked, strewn across the SUV floorboards. I had cleverly determined to pad Husband’s necessities with some lovely parting gifts. However, since I was characteristically flying around like a chicken with my head cut off all week, I had merely tossed the goodies into the back of the car alongside a couple of empty boxes as we went along. The resulting ballast of paraphernalia floated recklessly around in the back of my SUV until they resembled packages that had already made their journey to the desert.
My penchant for the positive kicked in immediately. I mean really, how bad is a box of pulverized Cheezits? Isn’t it really these crumbly, salty morsels that everyone secretly longs for? Don’t we all dream of surreptitiously hoisting the box above our heads to let the briny goodness drain into the back of our throats? Husband will be grateful for such a prize. Surely.
After finally encapsulating ten thousand PSI of junk food into a flat rate box, I set out for the cathedral of postal pavilions: the Downtown Station. And WOW, whoa, let me just say there were some freakishly hairy people in my line. And I’m not talking just head hair here. There were unkempt eyebrows, overgrown mustaches (who wears a mustache nowadays?), one pair of particularly luxuriant forearms, retro lamb chops, and a set of massive underarm explosions. I know, it’s not the right time of year to see that kind of thing out in the open, but I’m hoping beyond hope that’s what the darkish bulges were protruding from the underarms of the white-shirted man in front of me. Trust me, I didn’t have much else to look at during my three thousand hours in line, so I had plenty of time to rule out a long list of possible alternatives. So let’s just leave it at visible through the shirt bushy pit hair and call it good. K?
During my underarm ruminations I came to realize that my hairphobia stems from Husband and the other men in his profession who are traditionally hair-averse. So I mentally blamed him for my hair bigotry. And by the way, the B.O. that accompanies such multifarious hair? WOW, again.
But the collective volume of hair I saw was nothing in comparison to the period of sheer ecstacy I spent in line. Everyone knows this is not a high-stress occupation. Taking packages and money over a counter and making sure they get placed in the really big bin sounds easy enough. But watching these folks work their magic was downright painful. I saw their brainwaves strained to the bursting limits of capacity. Does the patron really need to examine all the possibilities in all the folders of all the clerks at all the stations in order to find that perfect, individual stamp for their electricity bill? These people could learn to push the Forever Stamp. I’m just sayin. And I’m really not a high-maintenance customer, either, but when I finally arrived at the window 45 minutes later you would have thought I handed over a live alpaca bound for Tasmania. It was a flat rate box thoughtfully and hermetically sealed, bearing a neatly written postally-sanctioned mailing label, dutifully accompanied by a detailed customs declaration form, completed in quadruplicate. Everything was there. Or so I thought …“What do you want to happen if it can’t be delivered?” “Uh, I guess I want it back.” “You didn’t check the box.” “Oh, okay. Well, go ahead and check the box.” “You have to check the box.” “Ummm, alright. Can I have the form back?” “You’ll have to step aside while you fill out the form, ma’am.” “Just to put a check in a box?” “Step aside, please. May I help you, sir?” “Here you go.” “Sorry, I’m with a customer.”
I smiled at her. Visions of mascara flashed through my head and my right eye actually twitched. I looked around on the counter for a weapon of mass postal destruction, but could only find the pre-attached pen which I quickly determined would not reach all the way to her pharynx. Just as quickly, I realized that being located in a federal facility during the offense might make it a felony. So I used the pen, which I suddenly realized was being strangled by my right hand, to check and recheck the box again and again, very, very BOLDLY until it was finally my turn.
All this to say, today’s United States Post Office is just not what it used to be, particularly at the downtown station at 4:45 pm. But fortunately for the Postmaster General, I have a solution. I was thinking, they could really use Zippy for a little postal public relations makeover. It would have to be updated, of course. Mr. Zip might need to be just “Zippy,”an androgynous digitally enhanced avatar who promotes recycled envelopes instead of zip codes. But hey, it would still be Mr. Zip in spirit, right? We could engender a whole new generation to endear themselves to his little blue hat, and particularly to his closely shaven profile.
Then maybe, just maybe, my love for Uncle John’s post office would return. Until then, I’m staying away from the downtown station, at least until my hair tolerance/threshold increases. Husband will just have to wait for his next box of crushed Cheezits until I can make it back to the local parish. It’s just another brave sacrifice he’ll have to make in the name of the War on Terror.