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The Post Office is a Farce

By Ben Fogler Recently, I took a trip to the post office with my mother. It was right after school on a Friday, and we had made a passport appointment, so I figured we wouldn’t be there for more than fifteen minutes. Much to my chagrin, it was almost an hour before we finally left that horrible place where dreams go to die. The United States Postal Service is one of the last vestiges of the old world. I suppose it was new and exciting in the time when people used messenger pigeons, but ever since the telegram, it seems that snail mail is on its way out. My trip to our local post office has only solidified my convictions that this institution has long overstayed its welcome.


Let me set the scene. As soon as we stepped foot in that uninviting, poorly-lit little building, I knew something was off. There was a sinister aura exuding from nearly everybody in the room. Using my finely-tuned, Sherlock Holmes-esque skills of intuition, I immediately perceived that I was in the midst of some of the most devious villains known to man, masquerading as entitled, disrespectful suburbanites with parcels to send and receive. Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe not. And maybe it was the cigarette smell that permeated the room. But all I could think was, I need to get out of here NOW


Our passport appointment was at 3:15. We arrived about ten minutes early, and a sizable line of people had already formed. Interestingly, quite a few of these people were there for passports, just like us. I wondered why so many people had an urgent need to leave the country; perhaps they knew something we didn’t. 


As I soon found out, the reason there was such a large queue was because the two clerks were ordering that people with appointments wait so they could prioritize customers with less time-consuming tasks. This is great in theory, except nothing about the system worked because a) it assumed that other people would be faster, which was not true, and b) seemingly no one in the room (clerk or customer) was able to realize that they are, in fact, not the most important person in the entire universe.


Allow me to explain: I believe that from a very young age, we were all taught how to “wait our turn,” correct? If a line has formed, you have to go to the back of it, because everyone else in the line has been there longer than you. Older people love to talk about how impolite the younger generations are, but of the few youths in line at the post office that day, not a single one tried to cut to the front. The boomers, on the other hand, acted like the line wasn’t even there.


I’m not sure how well I am concealing it, but that kind of behavior brings me an indescribable level of rage. Even as I write about it now, my hands are shaking. I should probably talk to someone about it, but that can wait. It was incredibly infuriating because every time someone cut the line, it felt like a challenge. Like, “Oh, what are you gonna do about it?” And really, what are you gonna do about it? If you call them out, now you’re the one who’s making a scene, even though they’re the one who chose to be a terrible person. Looking back on it now, it’s funny in a campy sort of way, but on that day in the post office, my God, was I close to violence. 


One of the first people to cut me was an older woman, who I soon found was the source of the aforementioned cigarette odor. It wasn’t that she was smoking; the smell magnified several times as she sidestepped the entire line and pulled up to the front. “Excuse me,” she said. “I want stamps.”


“What kind?” one of the clerks asked her. Which is absolutely not the correct response in this situation. Had I been behind the counter, I would have told her the true tea so that she could learn and grow from her behavior.


I would have said, “Ma’am? Hi. Do you know about yourself? Allow me to enlighten you. First of all, ‘excuse me’ isn’t some magic password that teleports you to the front of the line. There’s no FastPass here; you’re not at Disney. I have several other people who, unlike you, didn’t enter this building two seconds ago, and who I am obligated to attend to first because if we as people can’t even WAIT IN LINE, then there’s really no hope for society after all. And by the way, what kind of statement is ‘I want stamps?’ I want to speak to whoever raised you to ask for things that way. Now, kindly exit this facility, or I’ll be forced to throw you out on your heinie and send you to THE COUNTY JAIL. You MORON.” 


Unfortunately, the clerk did not say any of these things. But what he lacked in decency, he more than made up for in creepiness. The guy kept looking everyone in the line up and down and grinning at us. And he frequently turned to his fellow clerk (we’ll call her Trudy) and waggled his eyebrows at her. When we finally got to the front of Trudy’s line, I considered writing “blink three times if you need help” on my passport forms, but that would have probably invalidated them, and I didn’t ever want to come back if I could avoid it.

So anyway, Miss “I want stamps,” now enabled by the clerk’s inability to stand up for himself or others, started in on one of the most irritating customer service interactions I have ever witnessed. She said, “Valentine’s Day stamps. Do you have forty?”


The clerk (let’s say his name is Burt) responded, “They’re in the back.” Then he just stood there. Which is super helpful, Burt. Now if only someone had a way to access the back. At this point, Trudy stopped helping her customer get involved.


“Yeah, they’re in the back.” Trudy girl, keep up. I don’t know what new piece of information she thought she was adding, but at least she took the initiative and actually went to the back to secure the stamps. Of course, that meant she left all the people in her line, further prolonging the amount of time we were forced to stay there. When Trudy finally did return, she said, “I have stamps in sheets of 24 or 48. Which do you want?”

“I need 40.” 

My God. How does this person function as an adult? What part of “24 or 48” did she not understand? 

Trudy attempted to set her straight: “I don’t have sheets of 40. I have 24 or 48.” 

“Really?” The woman looked so ridiculously disappointed. Yes, really. Did she think they were hiding the sheets of 40? I could tell Trudy was exasperated, but unfortunately, she took this opportunity to make it about herself because, I guess, in her mind, everyone in the post office both had the time and cared. 

“Listen, ma’am, all they give us here are sheets of 24 or 48. I am just one person. There is supposed to be a guy in the back, but we are short-staffed. In the past 30 minutes, I have had to do FOUR things for people.” 

I looked at my mom, and we made eye contact. Neither of us could believe what was going on. Listen, I am very sympathetic to the plight of those working in customer service. They endure terrible people like the “I want stamps” lady every day, and it must drive them crazy. But someone needs to tell Trudy that a) complaining on the job, to a customer, is unprofessional, and b) no one is impressed by you doing four things in thirty minutes. It’s not like people asked her to do their taxes or negotiate a company merger. People were there to just, you know, send stuff in the mail, which, in most non-post office situations, isn’t supposed to take that long.

Thankfully, Burt finally stepped in and did his job so that Trudy didn’t have to, and his line moved up. (Trudy’s line did not because she decided it would be more beneficial to help someone else’s customer). The next guy in Burt’s line was even more irritating. He brought up a package, and while Burt was helping him, he thought it would be a great time to strike up a conversation.

“Hey, ah, has anyone ever told you that you look like Tim Allen?” I should mention, this guy had a really thick Boston accent.

Burt looked flattered. “Oh really?” He put the package down and started chatting as I screamed silently.

“Yeah! Like a young Tim Allen! Have you ever gotten that before?” 

Burt giggled. “Nope.” The package now lay forgotten on the counter. The reason Burt had never been told he looked like Tim Allen is because, news flash, he didn’t. I couldn’t help but wonder if what I was seeing was real. I felt like I was in The Truman Show, and they were really trying to ensure that I never got my passport. 

“Well you do. Are you related to him?” YOU’RE A MONSTER, I wanted to shout at the guy. How could you do this to us?

This little back and forth continued for several minutes as the dwindling number of normal customers waited in vain. Finally, Burt remembered that he had a job, and was able to complete it in less than a minute. But the entire interaction took about seven minutes. He could have handled seven different customers! I wondered if he and Trudy had the same problem, and that was why she thought that four tasks in thirty minutes was a lot. 


“We are!” My mom, normally a pretty polite, “no, you go ahead” kind of person, was at her wits end. “We have an appointment. Our appointment was at 3:15, which was about ten minutes ago.”


“Um, excuse me,” a woman ahead of us said. She had several children milling about her, including a pre-teen son, who I had a hunch played baseball (it was just a guess, but he really fit the mold). “We have been here since 2:45.”

Damn. I was so unbelievably ready to get this over with, but I couldn’t deny that they’d been here longer. 

“Do you have an appointment?” Trudy asked. 

“Well…no, but you said you were accepting walk-ins until 3:00.” 

“We don’t. And it’s not 3:00 anymore. I’m sorry, I don’t know where you got that information-”

“I got it from your website!” The lady looked pissed, and I felt for her, but I was also immensely pleased. For once the crumbling, inconsistent bureaucracy that is the government was working out in our favor. 

Trudy sighed, the great heaving sigh that came not from exhaustion but from a desire to let everybody else know that she had a lot on her plate. “The website is wrong, ma’am. You need to make an appointment. We are incredibly busy today, and I can’t do walk-ins right now.”

The woman stared Trudy down. “We have been waiting a long time.” She planted her feet, and for a second, I thought she would win this little confrontation. But thankfully, Trudy held her ground. With a huff, the woman pulled her children to the side. “We’re leaving.” She stormed out the door. I thanked my lucky stars.

“Okay, who was next in line?” Trudy turned her attention back to us. 

“Us! We were. We were here!” If you’d wanted to take our spot, you would have had to do it over our dead bodies. Trudy beckoned us over, and we pulled out our papers.

“Do you need to take the photo as well?” Trudy asked. But before we could respond, a new player entered the ring.

“Excuse me? Excuse me? Oh gosh, sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt all these lovely people in line, but I have a problem.” An elderly man came from around the corner. Before we even knew what was happening, the tricky bastard had slithered up next to us. “I have a package that was supposed to be delivered here, and it seems it may have been redirected to…Alaska?”

“When was the package supposed to be delivered?” Trudy’s attention was now entirely diverted to this man. 

“Well, I had ordered it several months ago off of eBay, and it was coming all the way down here. Then I checked yesterday—I’ve been very excited about my package, you see—and it’s been redirected. Now I think it may be in a shipping plant somewhere else in Chicago, but it was right here, and I don’t know why they would have done that…” 

A long beat. Trudy nodded, and then said, “Okay. So when was the package supposed to be delivered?” 

“Well I’ve been tracking its progress every day, and it was right here-”

“I understand that, sir. But when was the package supposed to be delivered?” 

“...Tomorrow.”  

I happened to make direct eye contact with Trudy, and even though she was a major contributor to our holdup, in that moment I felt a kinship with her. We were both thinking the same thing -- if the package isn’t even supposed to be here yet, then WHY are you so anxious? I must commend Trudy’s handling of the situation, though, because I can say that I was pretty close to throwing hands. But Trudy soothed the man like a pro.

“Well,” Said Trudy. “Sometimes, the mail redirects things to different plants, and it’s not necessarily efficient.” 

“Is there someone in the back who could help me look for it?” 

Trudy sighed. “We don’t have anyone else helping us, sir. I’m very sorry-”

“I see someone right there!” The man pointed an accusatory finger. Indeed, there was a guy behind Trudy, who looked up bewildered.

“No,” Trudy said. “He’s from FedEx.” You might have been able to tell because his jacket actually says FedEx, which I wanted to add. “Listen, sir,” Trudy leaned in, “I am terribly sorry. It is possible that your package may have been lost in the mail, since it is a little abnormal to redirect to that plant. But hopefully-”

“Oh really?! Oh gosh, oh no. I’ve been waiting for so long! This means a lot to me, you see. It’s a very important package, and I was just so excited to receive it!” Okay, now I was suspicious. In the age of online shopping, no one should be that excited for a package to arrive. Plus, his continued lack of specificity about what exactly the package was led me to infer that something fishy was going on. 

“The bottom line is, your package isn’t here-”

The man cut Trudy off again: “Could you look in the back?” Oh no, I thought. She’s gonna leave her line AGAIN to help this guy. But fortunately, it seemed Trudy only left her post when she wasn’t asked to do so.

“No sir, I am terribly sorry, but these people have been waiting here a long time.” “Oh, of course!” The man finally seemed to notice that he wasn’t the only person in the world. “My apologies to all these lovely people!” He turned and addressed my mother directly: “I won’t hold you up any longer, miss. It’s just…well, ugh, this package, you know…” I didn’t know, not in the slightest, but at least he gave up and left. At long last, we had our appointment. 

Now, if you’ve ever been to the DMV (Or RMV, if you live in Mass), you know that they require an absurd level of documentation to do anything official, and they are merciless if you don’t have every piece of paperwork. You’d better hope you remembered to bring the thumbprints of your 6th grade teacher’s mom, or you’re cooked. These rules are only slightly less severe for anything important that has to be done at the post office. I thanked my lucky stars that my mom was thorough because if we had been turned away after all that, I think I might have become an anarchist right then and there. 

So, all in all, the moral of the story is that the post office must be avoided at all costs. We spent about forty minutes in line, and about ten minutes to finish our appointment. By the way, I mentioned the RMV before, and that’s because I actually went there recently to complete my learner’s permit test. I expected a similarly long wait, but this was most definitely not the case. I was in and out in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. You know it’s bad for the post office when even the notoriously slow Registry of Motor Vehicles is faster. Shame. Shame! From now on, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.

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