My bank doesn’t have any physical locations. Most of the time this is a nice thing, because I don’t ever want to go to the bank. But when I am paid in cash, as I sometimes am, I have no real way to deposit the money into my account without getting a money order made. The best place to do this is the post office. I have done it at gas stations before but it makes me feel uncomfortable to hand over $700 in cash when there is a line of shady wasteoids behind me.
So: about once a month I walk to the post office in Emeryville to get a money order. The day I decide I need to do this is usually not the day I actually do it. This is because going to the post office is a miserable, hour-long affair that involves putting up with other people’s insecurities, selfishness, rudeness, and lack of spatial awareness. Therefore I put it off for two or three days. I’ll attempt to wake up before 9 a.m. so I can get there before everyone else and avoid The Pain of Being In Public, but I never succeed. No, not once!
Today I got there just before 2 p.m. There was a line out the door. An older couple in front of me was picking out greeting cards from a rack. They told me to go ahead of them so I did. They kept talking about cards. “I like this one!” said the woman. “This one is so cute. It says, ‘Happily ever after.’ Isn’t that nice?”
I looked around and saw that everyone in the room was taking cues from the toddler playbook: they were huffing and sighing and theatrically throwing their arms up in the air every so often to inform everyone around them that they were upset the line was long and moving slowly.
Immediately I shut down everything in my brain. I stopped feeling things, because the only things I would have felt would have been bad things.
Just like every other time I have ever gone to the post office, a middle-aged man in front of me whipped around and said, disgusted, “There’s twenty people in line and they only got two people working the window. Can you believe that? What the hell is going on here? What a fuckin’ joke.” I didn’t say anything. This happens everywhere, man, I would have said. The world is too small and there are too many of us. Why get bent out of shape about it? There ain’t a god damn thing either of us can do except wait here until they call us up. This would all be a lot less painful if we were quiet and patient. But instead I dulled my eyes and ignored him.
Three cell phones rang at the exact same time. Three different ring tones, all of them ultra-loud and hideous and awful. Three different people answered their phones. Three different one-sided conversations began.
“Yeah, hey, I’m at the post office.”
“In line at the post office. Uh huh. Yeah. The line is taking forever.”
“Just at the post office. Yeah. Big line. It’s unbelievable.”
The woman behind me, one half of the older couple who had been looking at greeting cards, was dictating what to write to her husband. She was getting angry with him because he wasn’t writing fast enough. She pulled out a Japanese fan and began fanning her face and neck. “It’s so hot in here! Why they gotta make it so hot in here?” Every time she flicked her wrist, her gaudy charm bracelet smacked against the plastic guard of the fan. “I’m gettin’ so sweaty! Why can’t they turn on the AC?”
She shook her head and her huge fried nuclear-blonde hair smacked me in the face. She didn’t notice.
The middle-aged man in front of me tapped his foot and went about ordering the stack of papers in his hands. “Un-fuckin’-believable. Two people working the window and they got a whole crowd out here.”
A third post office employee came out of the back and removed the ‘NEXT WINDOW PLEASE’ sign from her register. “I can take the next customer at window two.”
“‘Bout damn time,” said the man, shaking his head. “‘Bout damn time. Shiiit.”
When it was my turn I revved up my brain again. I gave it instructions to walk fifteen feet toward the smiling woman at window one. I had it take a wad out cash out of my back pocket and set it down on the counter. “I need a money order for”—I glanced at the number I had written in ink on my wrist—”six hundred and seventy-five dollars.” She began counting the bills. She told me the money order cost a buck sixty-five. I took seven quarters out of my pocket and made a neat little stack on the counter. She put the bills in the drawer, handed me a money order, a receipt, and two nickels. She said “Thank you!” and I said “So long” and out the door I went in the direction of home.