It’s Thursday morning and I head over to the post office to mail a package. I love the post office in my town. A stately edifice overlooking a traffic circle that revolves around a monument to the town’s Spanish-American War dead, the building looks like a post office straight out of central casting. When I walk in I’m happy to see there’s no line and two clerks ready to handle my business. But, in the hundred odd seconds it takes for me to check my PO box and fill out the packing slip for the item I’m shipping, one clerk goes on break and the line’s population jumps from zero to ten. What a difference a minute makes.
Clutching my package I settle in line and begin to wait. Of course, no one queued up with me is just buying stamps. The guy at the head of the line’s shipping a package to McMurdo Station or something. The next customer who shuffles up to the counter’s no better – an older gent complaining about missing mail. His lovely and slightly demented way of asking the same question a hundred times sends a collective shudder of frustration rippling through the line. But the next customer, a middle aged lady mailing out several packages, takes the cake.
The customer, a matronly looking woman wearing heavy framed DKNY glasses and wearing a lime green blouse, looks nice enough – but she’s talking on her cell phone and eating an apple at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I was taught that talking on the phone and eating is rude. As the woman shares details of her personal life with everyone in the post office, the clerk efficiently processes all her packages.
“Thirty-five dollars,” the clerk announces.
The woman on the phone doesn’t hear him. She’s just eating her apple and talking on her phone like she doesn’t have a care in the world. The clerk drums his fingers loudly on the counter to try and get her attention. She ignores him. I feel like asking this woman if it’d be okay to waste her time and eat an apple at her house. I resist the urge. We all have to put up with frustrations in life. It’s how civilized society hangs together. So, instead of saying something, I decide to see if there’s anything to this telekinesis stuff and try setting the woman on fire with the power of my mind. Damn, it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s just me.
“Thirty-five dollars,” the clerks says again, louder this time.
The woman looks up at the clerk. Then she looks at the line of people glaring at her. “Phylis I’ve got to go,” she says into her cell phone. “I’ll call you later.” She snaps her phone shut, scrounges around her cavernous purse for money, produces a credit card, pays her bill, and leaves.
“Thank God,” the elderly lady ahead of me says.
“You ain’t kidding,” I reply.
Twenty minutes elapse before I mail off my package. The process took entirely too long. I get back in my car and drive off to my next errand – buy a new pair of jeans.
I travel to a chain store that usually has the brand of jeans I like. After I park my car I gather up all the coffee cups, gum wrappers, and fast food containers threatening to compress into a sedimentary layer on the floor of my car and carry it out to the trash. The only problem? There are ZERO trash cans in the parking lot or the front of the store. I’ve seen this phenomenon happening at retail outlets throughout the country. Some bean counter somewhere figured out that the more trash cans there are in a parking lot, the more trash people will deposit and the higher the company’s trash removal costs will be. The cynical solution to save money? Get rid of the trash cans!
As I walk with my armful of trash in search of a garbage can some slightly fermented coffee leaks out of a cup and dribbles on my new leather jacket. I grunt angrily under my breath. What ever happened to all the corporate hoopla marketing wags put out about “protecting the environment?” For crying out loud, whatever happened to “Don’t litter?” Wherever large groups of people gather there’s going to be trash. The stores, especially now, want large crowds of people in their parking lots – but then they turn around and refuse to supply garbage cans to the public. That’s as about as cheap as not having peanuts and pretzels on airplanes.
I finally find a small garbage can hidden behind one of the pillars at the store’s front entrance. It’s stuffed to the rim with bio-hazardous looking stuff and, from the smell, I figure there’s a dirty diaper in there. Instead of a large useful trash can, this pitiful little receptacle is probably here to satisfy some local ordnance. If they didn’t have to do it, I’l bet the store probably would even have made this one available. I just lay my trash gently on top, praying my garbage will stick to the nastiness and won’t blow into the parking lot.
When I get inside the store I notice there’s a big sale. I also notice the place is packed with shoppers savaging the clothes racks like whirling consumerist dervishes. My heart rate immediately jumps into competition for resources overdrive. When I get to the men’s department I find out the store has every size and style of jeans available– except the ones I want. So I don’t waste a trip I go to the underwear aisle to pick up some boxer briefs. Of course, they aren’t on sale. Grabbing a three pack, I march over to the register and get on line behind a legion of shoppers with carts stuffed tighter than the garbage can out front. There’s only two cashiers on duty, people are making returns, the line’s moving slowly, children are screaming, and I can feel my blood pressure going through the roof. I decide not to go with the telekinetic fire fantasy. I recently read somewhere that anger will wreck your heart faster than a steady diet of Big Macs and caramel frappacinos. I close my eyes and do some of the deep breathing exercises I use with the patients at the hospital. “I am calm,” I tell myself. “I am mature. I am not turning into a Yuppie prick.” I visualize sandy tropical beaches and bikini clad redheads. I am more peaceful than the Dali Lama and Gandhi cubed.
My eyes snap open. “Fuck this,” I mutter.
I toss the package of underwear I’m holding onto a sales table and head out the door. Some people look at me strangely. Screw ‘em. I go back to my car and start driving home. A few blocks from my house I realize I’m running low on bread and a few other things. I don’t want to go all the way to the supermarket so I pull into a nearby 7-11.
“Ten dollars and twenty-three cents,” the clerk says after he rings up my items.
All I have in my wallet is a ten and a twenty. I have no change. Now I have to break a twenty over a lousy quarter. I don’t know what it is about 7-11, but no matter what you buy it it always costs several cents over the last dollar in the price. You always pay $1.37, $10.32, or $ 20.11. The total’s never 95¢, $1.75, or $9.86. You always end up with a pocketful of change you don’t want. It’s a fucking conspiracy. I hand the clerk my twenty. The clerk hands me a sheaf of ones and a handful of silver.
“Can I have a ten, a five, and some singles?” I ask.
“I got no tens, boss.”
“Hang on,” I say. Rummaging though my jacket pocket. “Maybe I have a quarter.”
“I got no tens, boss,” the clerk repeats tiredly. “All I got is ones.”
“Here it is!” I say, pulling the coin from the recesses of my coat. But the clerk has already started ringing up the next customer.
“Hey!’ I say. “Here’s a quarter!”
The clerk ignores me.
“I said I have a quarter.”
The clerk looks at me balefully. Suddenly I feel like asking him what’s the most he’s ever lost on a coin toss. I love that scene in No Country for Old Men where Javier Bardem scares the living shit out of a shitkicker gas station attendant. I feel like scaring the shit out of this gas station attendant. Goddamn it, there’s never a compressed air cattle gun around when I need it.
After the post office, the lack of trash cans, no jeans in my size, long lines, and now this dipshit clerk, I feel my gastritis acting up. Maybe I should take up yoga, but somehow I think giving this guy a piece of my mind would provide more immediate satisfaction. Of course, I say nothing. I take my change and leave. I have angry moments and get frustrated but I seldom lose my cool. Besides, my problems are trivial compared to others. We all have to put up with frustrations in life. It’s how civilized society hangs together. But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, when facing life’s myriad roadblocks, we all occasionally wonder what it’d be like to become uncivilized. Ever wonder why fictional characters like Dracula, Hannibal Lector, and Anton Chigurh fascinate us?
I don’t – friendo.