I’ve written before about my love-hate relationship with my local post office. Love because it’s right across the street from a restaurant I adore and a visit there is an excuse to have a fine fish lunch. And hate because I often have to wait so long to pay my bills that by the time I get out of there, lunchtime is a dim distant memory.
Friday was most definitely a hate day. I had some bills to pay that were rather overdue. I meant to pay them last week but when I was packing up my bag to go out, I put the bills down on a wet counter by mistake and they got soaked. There’s a little machine at the post office that they run the bills through when you pay them and I knew I’d get yelled at if I presented a sheaf of sodden paper so I decided to wait until the bills dried out. I trudged over to the post office on Thursday only to discover that it was closed for the day, due to some emergency electrical repairs. It was an unpleasant trudge: it’s a long walk and I have painful feet that I need to get looked at. One thing at a time. I went back on Friday and the place was absolutely teeming with people whose average age looked to be about 80. I waited over an hour to get served, mostly of it standing on my (painful) feet. When I got to the front of the queue – at last! – the clerk fussed about the state of my bills – no longer wet but a bit crumpled from having spent a week in the bottom of my bag. She then informed me that my bankcard had somehow gotten demagnetized and that I would have to go find a bank, somehow extract money without my card and come back and pay with cash. By the way, I just read a previous post about the P.O. where it said that the exact same thing happened with my card exactly a year ago to the day. What’s up with that? She reassured me that I could come directly back to her, rather than waiting another hour in the queue. This was all mildly irksome but I managed to find a bank and get the funds I needed.
When I got back, all hell had broken loose. There were even more old codgers in the post office than when I left and the machine that spits out the numbers assigning the order of service had broken down. Hordes of blue hairs surrounded the machine yelling at the teenage boy in charge to fix it NOW! Both the exit and the entrance were blocked and tempers were running high. Just then, a little old man at the front of the post office started screaming, “Respect your place in the queue or I’ll call the cops! I’ve been waiting here for hours! It’s an outrage!” Apparently, one of the clerks had let someone jump the queue and the old guy was incandescent with rage. He’d scream for a while, then regroup, thinking of more insults to hurl before starting all over again. Pretty soon everyone was yelling and waving their fists in the air. Since I was about to jump the queue myself – to all appearances at least – I feared the worst and I frantically started trying to remember all of the words I would need to explain myself. My Italian inevitably deserts me when I’m being yelled at, which happens more often than one might wish. Sure enough, the second I presented myself to my original clerk, a little old lady bore down on me, eyes blazing and nostrils flaring. “Let me see your number! Have you waited your turn? Who do you think you are? Speak up!” Fortunately the clerk dismissed her out of hand and I lived to pay bills another day.
As you might be aware, we have a little situation over here these days with a huge debt crisis and Signore Bunga Bunga at long last out the door. I don’t know if the current political and economic anxieties helped to turn a post office full of nice old people into a room full of apoplectic banshees or if it was simply that — like me — they had been standing on their feet throughout the lunch hour. Do not deprive an Italian of lunch. Whatever the reason, I think I need to find a new place to pay my bills.