Who and What We Are

Xerography Debt is a review zine for zine readers by zine writers (and readers). It is a hybrid of review zine and personal zine (the ancestor to many blogs). The paper version has been around since 1999. This blog thing is are attempt to bridge the gap between Web 2.0 and Paper 1.0. Print is not dead, but it is becoming more pixelated.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Post Office Newbies

Being an old man, I still utilize what is quaintly called “snail mail” by folks of my generation just catching up to the year 1999. Granted, I don't use it much for personal correspondence any more—for anything personal I tend to just shoot off an email, and I am enraged and annoyed by old friends of mine who don't check their email every fifteen seconds or so like a cocaine monkey. There are a couple of friends I haven't corresponded with in years simply because they don't ever check their email. Like I'll send a nice, detail-crammed email to them, basically an old-fashioned letter in email form, full of pictures and anecdotes and all, and then eight months later I'll get a weak response along the lines of “just saw this...sorry, never check my account”. And then I burn down a nearby warehouse in displaced rage.

I digress. It doesn't matter; from what I read email is already considered passe by the younger generation, who prefer twittering and IMing and such. They also think Red Bull is a good drink, and worse, they think mixing Red Bull with booze is drinking. Bastards. The world is ending.

Anyway, I do still use the old Post Office for my zine, which remains rather stodgily print-oriented. I do post PDF archives and there is a web site (a collection of static pages! that I have to update manually!) but let's face it, my zine is meant for paper, and I have no intention of converting it into a blog or anything like that. So I make my lonely trips to the post office, and over the years I've become pretty much an expert on the place. There are about three rules that will get you through any post office experience:

1. Never argue. These folks are behind six inches of bulletproof glass and you will die of old age before discovering the name of their supervisor, assuming they have one at all. If they tell you that you have to drizzle chicken blood on your envelope, just go find yourself a chicken. It will save you a lot of heartache.

2. Never assume they actually know the facts. This is kind of a corollary to #1. While you shouldn't argue, remember that postal workers are just as dumb as the rest of us, and if you hear something that you know for a fact is not true, simply displace: Walk out the door and go to the next nearest post office. You've got a pretty good shot of hearing the exact opposite over there.

3. Be prepared to stand in line. And don't whine about it.

I can spot the Post Office Newbies easily simply by observing who breaks these rules. While I find it hard to believe, the world appears to be filled with people who have avoided entering a post office until the age of thirty-eight or so; they walk in expecting. . .well, I don't know what. Efficiency? Friendliness? A transporter beam like in Star Trek that dissolves their missive into atoms and beams it across the universe? The very person they're mailing something to, standing there through some mixture of voodoo and Federal Government Mojo?

The mind, it boggles.

The newbies usually break #3. First are the ones who walk in, see the line of twenty-seven people, and stand there with their mouth open as if twenty-seven people is the most people they've ever seen in their lives, ever. Experienced Post Office customers sometimes walk in, see the length of line, and walk right back out again, but the newbies are always the ones who stand there in total shock, as if a line at a federally-associated service was a surprise.

If the Newbie decides to be brave and get in line, their resolve usually lasts about thirty seconds, at which point the neck-craning, foot-stomping, sighing, and general jackassery begins. A line is a line, folks—the reason there is a line at all is because a) the service being rendered takes a long time and people are arriving faster than the workers can execute their tasks or b) there aren't enough people working. Once you get in a line, you have accepted the fact that you are going to wait your turn.

Newbies fail to realize this, and their stay in line is usually an amusing collection of tics and short-attention-span theater. A lot of times they will complain to the people around them, as if anyone cares, and if the people around them are not responsive they will often pull out their cell phones in order to call someone to complain to. Every action of the postal workers will elicit a sniff of amazement, and they will also attempt to psychically suss out the work schedules and staffing issues of that post office, wondering aloud why all fifteen windows aren't staffed, why that postal worker is eating lunch while we're all standing there, why, why, why in the world aren't there more workers?

Sometimes I swear the newbies look at me as if insinuating that I should quit being a slacker and somehow slip behind the counter and start selling some goddamn postage.

Then, of course, the newbies confirm everyone's suspicions of them by slowing down the line with complaints. For example, after a half hour of sighing and foot-stomping irritation the newbie finally gets to the window and is told that their piece of mail requires a form. They're directed to the table with the forms and told they can fill it out and bring it right back without standing in line again, while the worker handles other customers. The newbie then breaks rule #1 and argues. Their argument generally follows this logic: They did not know a form was required, because they generally don't know anything, and this ignorance is somehow the fault of the United States Post Office, and thus they should not be required to do any such thing. The form should be filled out for them, or, better yet, waived completely.

Meanwhile, as they fight their futile fight, the rest of us stand on the line staring at their back wishing we could set people on fire with our thoughts.

Sadly, this Postal Wisdom is becoming obsolete, and soon I will have to turn to the younger generation to explain things like Tumblr to me. Until the final days, however, I can still stand in the post office and feel superior to the newbies who walk in with a 60-pound box marked VODKA AND TARANTULAS and watch them get all twitchy when they're told they can't ship it. It's great fun. Until someone, usually a postal employee, starts shooting, of course.


JDF said...

Poor Mr. Sommers, living in the population-strangled NY metro area where with every move you're bumping into someone and all services are overburdened. He should be commended for taking a wry view of what is, in short, the daily nightmare of living in a land where malls, roads, restaurants, DMV offices, officials of every sort, etc. make one feel as if they are nothing more than a flea on the dog of progress.

Here in rural New England the situation is very different. If the post office line grows to more than seven people a kindly and avuncular folk singer comes out of the back room with his guitar. Sheet music is passed out and we have a sing-along, raising our voices in unison to favorite sea shanties and soul-enriching (and relaxing!) tunes like Kumbaya.

At ten people long, line brothers and sisters (as we call them) arrange harmony parts for the tunes while enjoying steaming mugs of hot chocolate and warm cornbread, slathered in butter, courtesy of local organic farmers. The line seldom grows beyond ten (non-twitchy, tic free) people. But when it does a troupe of Norman Rockwellesque Boyscouts are dispatched to hold customers' places in line while masseuses roll in their tables to offer free relaxing massages.

And people say that classic "service with a smile" doesn't exist anymore. I disagree!

J.D. Finch

Jeff S said...

Boy Scouts? Dude, I was an Eagle Scout. Trust me--don't let a Boy Scout near you. They're more dangerous than Hitler.

JDF said...

So that's why we had to stop singing "If I Had A Hammer" and listen to Baden-Powell's boys' version: "If I Had A Hammer (And Sickle)".

But as you implied, Freedom's just another word for having to stand on line all the time.

Oh, and don't forget to exercise one of the gifts of that freedom -- voting. In the next election vote early and often!

Wesley A Bridle said...

And who could blame the postal worker. These are the same people who work in paperwork Hell for their 9 to 5, but they cannot fathom the logic of a postal form. Postal Workers should be served lighter sentences.