A STRANGE PLACE FOR DRAMA
You never know what will happen at the post office. Often in a slow line I’ve struck up conversations with people—both men and women--and ended up giving them my card, or sometimes even a book. Or I’ve stood there doing a crossword puzzle and had the person next to me lean over to help. Hey, we’re glued here together, we might as well talk!
Post office stories come in good and bad flavors. The really bad ones were the times a knot of protesters camped just outside the door . . . two or three men with a table and signs in big black letters, “Impeach Obama!” Underneath, hanging from the table, were photos of the president defiled by a Hitler mustache. I’ve been known to yell at them as I pass, “Get lost!”
One day recently a bizarre thing happened. A big man ahead of me in a wheel chair got into a wrangle with the clerk behind the counter. He wheeled himself closer, and his chair just happened to hit the little metal stanchion that holds one end of the divider rope. He grabbed the metal pole and slammed it to the ground. But the pole bounced back, so he seized it again and slammed it down harder. I stared at him, amazed. Others stared too, but nobody said anything.
Seemingly inspired by his own rage, he picked it up with added fury, bent on crushing it once and for all. Without thinking, I yelled, “Cut it out! CUT IT OUT!” Somebody had to say something. With others around me murmuring, he finished his last slam and quit.
I couldn’t believe my voice had been the only one. Eventually the man wheeled himself closer to the clerk, but he wasn’t quite through. Reaching above his head, he pounded his money onto the counter—so loud you could hear it everywhere. I left, wondering how much violence it would take before someone with testosterone got involved.
Today was the strangest post office day yet.
With twelve books to ship, I couldn’t pack them at home—I needed one of the postal service’s big priority boxes.
In a hurry to get there, I made a swift decision to wear, one last time, a sweat shirt I’ve been on the point of giving away. It’s twenty-three years old, which I happen to know because the lively insignia is right there on the shoulder—Queen Elizabeth Two--and it dates back to our fortieth anniversary on the lovely ship. The shirt is a flashy mix of white and bright red, and even incorporates some red and white stripes—loud enough to make an impression across the street.
Who knows what difference clothes can make?
As I was standing at the customer table, carefully packing books, a lovely-looking lady broke out of the line and asked, “What are those books?”
“Memoirs,” I said. And then added, “I wrote them.”
“You wrote them?”
“Yes, it’s my tenth book.” I went on packing. “A story about our family.”
Around her, people were starting to lean closer.
“Really,” she said. “I work with some older people, all of whom have great stories to tell. How did you get this published?”
I named the publisher, and she said, “That’s the kind of thing we need to know.”
When she paused I said, “I teach novel writing. Here, I’ll give you my card.” As I wrestled it out of my purse, to my surprise the man ahead of her in line put out his hand. “I’d like one.”
I smiled at him. Well, this is interesting! I dug a little deeper, pulled out another card. And right then the lady in front of him said, “I’d like one, too.”
Now I was really surprised! It was as though I’d suddenly been recognized as a celebrity . . . Janet Evanovich come to Tustin. Immediately others spoke up, until almost everyone in line wanted cards, and I found my supply nearly depleted. Here I was, passing out six or seven cards in a row to total strangers. I was laughing, thinking, how did this ever happen?
I said to the original lady, “Tell you what. I’ll get you a book from my car.”
“I’ll watch your box,” she said.
As I backed toward the front of the line, everyone was looking at me and smiling, so I said for them all to hear, “I guess I should give a speech,” and they all laughed. Well, I could, I thought, now that I’ve got the whole post office involved.
Back at the car I decided, What the hell, I might as well bring in two books. Which I did. The first I gave to the original lady. And since the man was next in line, I hesitated, then handed him one, too. The room had taken on the atmosphere of a party.
Further down the line a lady said, “I’ll BUY one!” So I gave her a card.
Once back in line with my books, I could see the man ahead of me reading what I’d given him and smiling. As I reached the counter, the first woman rushed back inside and gave me her card.
Just before I handed over the big box, the lady who said she’d buy a book came up to talk, and we learned we were practically neighbors. “I’ll be in touch,” she said.
The clerk was smiling as I reached him. “Did you see what happened?” I asked, and he nodded, as if to say, Another post office drama.
Home again, I studied myself in the mirror. Was it me or the Queen Elizabeth shirt? Impossible to be sure . . . except the shirt had suddenly become a keeper. Just in case, I’ll wear it to other drama settings. Who knows what adventures still lay ahead?