Friday, December 12, 2008

How to make enemies and agitate people

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on a project that has turned out to be a massive time suck. I had no idea it would take this much time going into it, which is probably why they asked the new guy to do it--I was naive enough to say yes.

The project has been sending the annual holiday gift to our favored clients. I won't bore you with the details of sorting the customer list to come up with criteria for who would receive it. Because the part that really matters has been the packing and shipping of over 2000 items to several hundred destinations throughout the world.

This morning I went to the post office to ship as many of these packages as I could fit in my car. I used a hand truck to haul them in, but it still took me two trips. Mornings are a good time for jobs like this, because the post office is less busy at that time. At least the downtown post office is, because the heroin addicts and transients for whom the downtown post office is their lifeblood haven't woken up yet.

When the clerk next to the guy who was helping me noticed that his neighbor was likely to be at it a couple of hours without help, he offered assistance once he didn't have anyone in line. Then the guy next to him offered as well. Then the crowds rolled in, but all three of these clerks were fully engaged with my project. Within minutes, the line was over 20 people long. And it would be a lot more than a few minutes before we were finished.

So there I stood for a good half hour, the post office filling with people and me taking up fully 60 percent of the available staff. Fortunately, nobody yelled or opened fire, but there was a lot of toe tapping and looking askance in my direction as the masses wondered how long it would take them to mail their packages.

Meanwhile, other than redoing the occasional customs form when we had the wrong one, I was left with nothing to do but watch people. Which is, incidentally, one of my favorite pastimes. And I've got to say there are fewer places better to watch people than a downtown post office. Here are a few highlights:

My favorite was the guy who came in and bought a single stamp and a money order for $40 (which he paid a fee of $1.05 for). He then proceeded to place the money order in an envelope addressed to the NRA and place said stamp on the envelope. This really made me wonder. Generally speaking, people who pay for things with money orders don't have a lot of money. And when I say a lot of money, what I mean is any regular income. Because if you have actual bills to pay, it's simply not practical or cost effective to pay an additional $1.05 for a money order every time. So I wondered where this guy lived or whether he even owned guns or whether, gun owner or not, the $40 he was sending to the NRA represented a meaningful portion of his liquid assets. Or even the majority of his liquid assets. Or even a majority of all his assets. Or maybe he's loaded, literally and figuratively, and doesn't have any bills because he's already paid everything off in advance and is paranoid and doesn't trust banks or the government or any other organization besides the NRA. Without interviewing him, I will never know. And I didn't particularly want to strike up a conversation.

Next was the attractive young lady in expensive jeans and shoes, talking on her cell phone in a voice loud enough for all to hear. For instance, I now know that she and her significant other have plans for a date tonight, but not until after 9:00, because that's when he gets off of work. I could also, if shown the catologue, probably tell you which bra was hers, because it was a dark color and she was wearing it under a very sheer top. Now it used to be that a black bra under a white shirt was as tacky as a tube top, back when tube tops were really trashy, not just endearingly tasteless like they are today. And back when polite company wouldn't wear a black bra under a white top, such things certainly wouldn't be worn under a sheer top. Especially because sheer tops didn't exist yet. At least not like they do today. Once again, I was left to ponder her socioeconomic status, because she had expensive clothes and accessories, couldn't have been more than 25, and her significant other had a job where he didn't get off until 9:00. So either the significant other is a ER doc, or she's still on her dad's payroll. Or both. (Are my pants sagging, because I think I need to pull them up a little higher? And where are my white loafers? Hey--kid--get off my lawn!)

Right behind her was another young lady. This one, much to the dismay of the postal clerk, wasn't sure which address to write in which space on her shipping box. Even though the label clearly had "to" and "from" printed on it. In her defense, she wasn't a native English speaker. Not that the standards for where to put recipient and sender addresses vary that much from country to country, but I'll give her the benefit of a doubt. She didn't know how to tape the box up either. I could hear the tape gun going, applying way more tape than was necessary for that amount of cardboard, presumably in all the wrong places. So I turned around to see what was going on. She was squatting on the floor with her back to me, obscuring somewhat the tape job she was applying to the box, but not obscured in the least was more butt crack than I'm sure was visible in aggregate the entire time the plumber was at my house fixing the water heater. There was enough showing that I wondered if the country she is from is one of those places where they don't wear underwear. I turned back around to discover the postal clerk had been exposed to the same site, but either he has a great poker face, or he's numb to it from being there all day every day.

Finally, there was Charlie, who needed 20 minutes, with the clerk's assistance, to fill out an application for a PO Box. I don't need to wonder how long it would have required without the clerk's assistance, because the task simply couldn't have been completed. For a coat, she was wearing one of those Marlboro-branded jackets that you get for free if you send in proof of purchase from all the cigarettes you've smoked. The whole situation was just sad, really. In a time when so many of us are feeling the pinch of the bad economy, it was a poignant reminder of what "just scraping by" really means.

At long last, I was finished. It took three clerks the better part of an hour to complete and came to total well north of $1000 in postage. So I paid the bill and wheeled my hand truck and empty boxes out to my car under a deluge of dirty but relieved expressions from the other patrons. I'm just glad the crowd had turned over when I came back an hour later.


  1. i love it! great ending

  2. I have to say that your theory that people who use money orders are either poor or really rich is inacurate. You can get a money order for 25 cents at Albertsons and it copletely takes away the possibility of floating a check or making a mistake on your account register. So for those people, like me, who try to get as much out of every paycheck as they can (bills, bike stuff, retirement, savings...) it makes it a lot easier because the money that is in your checking account is what you really have left after everything is said and done. So you aren't realying on your math to ensure that you didn't forget to take out that 30 dollar check. You might pay a $1 or $2 for some money orders and 20 minute of your time to get the cash and go to the store but the security, in my mind, is well worth it.

    Hey congrats on the new job. I am glad you got it worked out.

  3. Kai,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was more intending for humor than to making generalizations about people who use money orders. But you've got to admit that the $1.05 post office money orders are steep.