De-Escalator Extraordinaire

Walla Walla post office buildingFew places in Walla Walla acquire large numbers of people. I should clarify that. Few places in Walla Walla acquire large numbers of people on a frequent basis. There’s the annual rodeo each Labor Day Weekend, and fans drive in from all around for that, but that’s certainly not what I would call frequent. The weekly sale on Tuesdays at the Bi-Mart, on the other hand, are frequent, but not packed with crowds. I know, I’ve been there, okay? Of course some of the churches have the biggest parking lots in the city, so I presume that they draw in a lot of bodies, or perhaps they overestimate their appeal. Having not gone to Sunday services since moving here, I couldn’t say which is closer to reality.

The post office at 2nd Avenue and Rose, however, is always packed. It sits in a sturdy, brown brick building right across the street from the Marcus Whitman Hotel, which is also the tallest structure in Walla Walla; thus the post office seems demure and conciliatory in respect to the hotel. It has broad steps that lead to tall, heavy outer doors, and once inside, is reminiscent of the 1950s with off-white concrete floors and a sparkling aggregate spread over the top. Off to the left are banks of post office boxes and a stairwell that I’ve never explored.

Directly in front are two more double doors, all glass, that almost never serve as the end of the line for the counter service. Maybe I should stop by at 8:42AM one day and see if the queue is any shorter, because I usually arrive between 11–2, and the lunch hour is deadly for standing around. Thinking back to the last three times I’ve come to this post office (or any post office, for that matter), I’ve watched someone melt down in front of the clerk while the bystanders stood by pretending nothing was wrong. But yesterday, hoo boy, I hit the jackpot.

I had two packages to mail, and because I watch television, I’ve seen the commercials for the flat rate priority boxes. Trudging up the stairs to the building, I could see that I had a nice, juicy line in which I could immerse myself. First, however, I needed to borrow a pen, because I only remember to bring a pen inside while I’m still in my car. Apparently, the act of exiting my vehicle causes all references and memories of writing instruments to vanish from my brain. I also needed to cross the entire waiting area because the flat-rate boxes hang on the far wall. At a good clip, I stopped abruptly because of what was transpiring at the front of the line.

An older woman in a trench coat, battered pants and shoes, and a hospital gown had tears in her eyes. A small package in one hand and $6 in her other, she had been asking for a dime from anyone in the room; this was the amount short for her postage. Ten cents, barely worth the expense of minting the coin. It took me a quick glance to see that not one soul was reaching into a purse, wallet, or pocket. Forget altruism, didn’t they want the line to move? My second glance was back at her, clearly in distress, breaking into the tale of this latest sad chapter of her life, which according to the narrator, had gone exquisitely wrong. I latched upon the first coin I could reach from my person and handed her a quarter, and received a blessing in response. Note to all: if an old lady asks you for a dime, GIVE HER A DAMN DIME.

I secured two boxes and the clerk was more than happy to lend me a pen for a few minutes, thanking me for helping her and expressing what a bad day the customer had been having. If I were wearing a hospital gown and needed a dime, I’d call that a bad day, too. I went to the work counter and began filling out addresses for my packages. One man with a white beard walked in and took his place which just happened to be next to where I was standing. In the reflection of a poster about outer space stamps, he pulled out a comb and began grooming his beard. This made me reflexively pull away a little, because I didn’t intend to send small white stranger beard hairs to my mother along with her present. He noticed my slight maneuver and told me, “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to read over your shoulder.” I assured him I had no such concern. It’s not paranoia, buddy, it’s my need for cleanliness.

He moved past me as another couple of customers finished their transactions, and then I was done and could take up the end of the line myself. There were roughly 20 folks ahead of me. Off to the side, a toddler crawled on the floor, and when his mother picked him up to prevent him from continuing, he banged on her, whimpering out a series of “NOs,” first in her ear, and then for the rest of us. For three or four minutes he gradually worked himself into a fury, screaming and kicking her in her kidneys while she tried to transact her business with a clerk. They yelled at each other just to converse over his volume. Finally the mother set him down. With his freedom granted, he cried to be picked up, and when she ignored what looked to me like an unreasonable request, he literally threw himself on the concrete and continued to wail. Beard groomer in front of me grumbled loudly in what I presumed was a call for support of his anti-family position.

I looked over at the boy and made eye contact.

“You’re so worked up, now where can you go with this,” I asked him. He gave me a look back that suggested I’d made a good point, and within 3 seconds, ended his tantrum. Then he crossed his legs and got comfortable.

More grumbling from Pirate White Beard. He looked at me to assess why I’d spoken to the kid. I turned to him. “How about you just be glad you’re not either one of them,” I said, meaning the old lady and the toddler. He gave one last harrumph and shut up.

From behind me, a woman in her mid-30s with close-cropped hair and a black leather jacket held together by thick zippers, sighed a couple of words: “Thank you.”

Finally, my turn at the counter. The clerk was happy to see me again, after my aid of a quarter, now some dozen minutes ago. “It’s been a really rough day,” she told me.

“I understand, I used to work for Social Security,” I said. Her eyes got very big.

“Oh my god, that job is worse than this one!”

“Well now, I don’t know about that,” I said, smiling so as to not convey my insultedness, “I went home a lot of days feeling pretty good about it all.” I didn’t tell her that “went home” was a 90-minute commuting hell, because really, we weren’t competing for shittiest job, at least in my mind.

Packages mailed, I walked down the steps into the bright desert sunlight, and considered myself, for the moment anyway, a superhero.

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4 Comments on “De-Escalator Extraordinaire”

  1. March 10, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    As much as there is to complain about living in a one horse town on the buckle of the bible belt, one good thing I can say is that just as you did (kuddos by the way) anyone in the room would have given the woman a dime, or a dollar, or the entire amount if need be. It is disheartening to think that people would rather pretend she wasn’t there, a person in obvious distress, than offer up ten cents to the cause of human decency.

    • evmaroon
      March 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

      I was happy to lend her next to no money, and I was troubled that she was so out of sorts. I hope she had a better day today.

  2. IrishUp
    March 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Hahahahah – this had me LOLing out loud.

    ““You’re so worked up, now where can you go with this,”
    whoa, that is some 301 level parental-unit skills right there. Graduate level is remembering to use them when it’s YOUR kid ;>

    • evmaroon
      March 23, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      @IrishUp: SO true!

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