When we left New Rochelle for California late last year, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t miss was the local post office. Tucked in the corner of a nearby strip mall, it was gray, perpetually overcrowded and staffed by a front-desk employee who was infamous throughout much of the region.
Her name, I never knew. Nancy, maybe. Laura, perhaps. She was in her 50s, I’d guess, with baggy below-the-eyes and bleach blonde curly hair. She was, nearly every time I’d enter, a snapper. “What do you mean, ‘How much are stamps?’ They’re the same as the last time” or “Can you believe that guy? Doesn’t he know a package that big can’t make it to Tulsa by Wednesday! Some people!” It was constant and, at times, infuriating. Every so often, I felt like saying something. She’d berate a grandma, or an awkward guy, and I’d say, in my head, “Shut up—please.” But I never did, because … I just didn’t.
And here’s the weird thing: As time passed, I gained affection for her crankiness. She wasn’t really mean. Just grouchy. Oscar the Grouch in a post office. She also did, unambiguously, deal with lots of crap. Moronic questions. Inconsiderate and incompetent co-workers. I never saw her mess up, but I saw plenty of other postal workers mess up. She was sharp and efficient in a world of dull inefficiency. Also, the post office ain’t Disney World. It’s drab and hopeless and kind of stinky. She’d been there more than 20 years, which suggests she may well have spit in the face of Zeus in a past life. I could think of few worse long-term places to hang a hat.
Anyhow, we moved. New house, new neighbors, new post office. And it’s clean and big and relatively efficient. But it’s also dull and charmless. The clerks are blah faces, one easily confused with the other. They’re polite, but non-distinctive. I don’t know any names, or stories, or … anything.
In short, I miss the cranky blonde.
Two days ago, I returned to my old post office. I stopped in to mail a package, and there she was. I approached, and she acknowledged knowing my face. “How things?” she said.
“Fine,” I replied. “You?”
“You know, the same,” she said. “But there was this guy in here a few minutes ago, and you wouldn’t believe what he asked me …”