The U.S. Post Office Will Steal Your Soul

Going to the post office is like going to the dentist minus the power drills. I hate it — but it’s a necessary evil. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s a fucking line. Apparently, when I need to go is the same time everyone else has to go. It’s like a goddamned conspiracy to inconvenience me.

I absolutely loathe standing in a line and lines are what the post office specializes in. Its lines are the worst because unlike regular lines they defy the normal rules of time and refuse to move. I’m sure the devil must be involved because if he offered to speed things up in exchange for my soul, I’d be seriously tempted to make that deal.

…when I arrived there were a million cars outside the post office. And inside was the line from hell.

This is why I was excited to discover a Hallmark store down the road that had an official U.S. Postal Service counter located in the back corner of the store. I was normally in and out in a few minutes. It was so efficient I thought there had to be something illegal going on, but I didn’t care. Call me selfish, but I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was afraid that word would get out and ruin that magical spot. It was my own private Eden.

Anyway, I’d just sold an item on eBay to some guy in Madrid, so I set off to Hallmark to send his parcel to Spain. However, when I got to the Hallmark store, it distressed me to see it had mysteriously gone out of business. What a blow to my morale. Mentally unprepared for this, I made my way to the nearest post office. I knew what awaited me and I had not budgeted the time for it. But I had no choice. My package needed to go out that day.

Sure enough, when I arrived there were a million cars outside the post office. And inside was the line from hell.

The maddening thing about that particular post office? Tons of stations. No clerks. I’m not joking. Every time I have gone in there, I’ve observed no more than two clerks manning the counter regardless of the length of the line. Christmas time when every procrastinator in the country is contributing to the rush? Yep, two clerks. Oh, it’s not because they’re short staffed — there’s an army of clerks in the back. I’ve seen them. They pop in and out like mechanical figures on a Renaissance clock tower. But apparently, they’re doing more important things in the back because when they breeze through, they don’t even bat an eye at the line.

Is this your union break?

Now, since my package was going to Spain, there were customs forms to fill out. However, I was prepared and took a pen in with me. I wasn’t going to fill it out at the form table and lose ground in the ever-growing line. And I didn’t want to be the dude who waited to fill it out until he got to the front counter. No, I’d fill it out in line. I looked through the post office’s collection of forms — they had every form imaginable, except for the customs forms, which were mysteriously missing. Great.

With a sinking heart, I was pretty sure I was never going to see her again.

Grimly, I took my place at the end of the sizable line, which, naturally, moved like a glacier.

Finally, after what had felt like fifteen hours, I had inched my way to the front of the line where the female clerk was wrapping things up with her customer. Then I noticed a civilian, who must have been a friend, approach the front counter and hand the clerk three pints of ice cream.

Uh oh…

Not to body shame her, but the clerk hadn’t missed many meals, and as she took the ice cream, a look of utter bliss came over her face. I also realized there was no way she was leaving the ice cream to melt at her workstation. In a panic, I started thinking Oh Dear God, no. No!  Nooooo!

She expeditiously finished up with her customer, and I waited for her to call me, but there was no summons. I tried desperately to make eye contact with her, to establish some basic bond with her so she would feel obligated to mail my goddamned package. But she avoided my gaze.

It would be a questionable move, but I was tempted to break protocol and just walk up to her counter to force the issue. But postal workers aren’t some high school kid working in the mall for minimum wage who you can try to impose your will on. They are battle hardened and don’t put up with that shit and will shut you down while loudly castigating you.

My forehead was beading sweat as she began futzing around, doing this and that. And then, sure enough, without a word, she picked up the pints of ice cream and walked out of sight into the back with them. With a sinking heart, I was pretty sure I was never going to see her again.

Please fill out all forms in triplicate

The last remaining clerk was apparently stuck in some kind of a time warp. Or he was just the slowest motherfucker on the planet. He was dealing with some asshole who didn’t understand how to mail a package or use the postal service. The guy had screwed everything up. The clerk was answering every question in such excruciating detail that the Postmaster General would have been proud.

I could feel his eyes boring into me, but fuck him, I no longer cared.

Finally, the clerk summoned me to the counter where he proceeded to hassle me for not having my customs form ready. I gritted my teeth and as politely as I could, I pointed out that there were no customs forms available.

“They’re out there,” he said gruffly and waved vaguely in the direction of where every other form produced by the U.S. Post Office resided. Annoyed, I was, however, not about to argue with the one guy who had the power to make my package magically disappear. He handed me a form and told me to step aside while he helped the next person. I did as requested and started scribbling like crazy.

When I finished, I jumped back in front of the guy who was next in line who was approaching the counter. I could feel his eyes boring into me, but fuck him, I no longer cared. Besides, this would only take a minute. I mailed international packages all the time. The clerk would zap the form with a scanner linked to OCR technology, and I’d be done.

But no, not this time.

“We just got new rules this week,” lamented the clerk. “Gotta enter this all in by hand now.”

Holy shit.

Unfortunately, when it came to typing, the clerk was a hunter and pecker and slower than the Second Coming of Christ. And it didn’t help that Jose Ignacio Hernandez Polo Rodriguez not only had a formidable name, he also had the longest and most convoluted address in all of Spain.

I glanced behind me — the line had kept growing. It now stretched out to the outer lobby, and I could feel its hostility bubbling below the surface. I pulled out my credit card and stood there with it in hand as if this would somehow absolve my sins in the eyes of the line. Really, I knew it wasn’t speeding things up, but I wanted to show the folks shooting daggers into my back that, hey, I wasn’t the douche bag holding things up, that I too was a victim of the bureaucracy. But I was pretty sure they didn’t care, and I felt lucky that mob justice wasn’t fashionable — at least for the moment — though the slowest clerk in the fucking history of clerkdom, was pressing our luck.

Finally, he finished, and I paid up.

As I started to slink away as fast as I could, the clerk called out loudly after me:

“Next time, fill out those forms before you get to the counter, and it’ll speed things up.”

Under my breath, I cursed his slow ass all the way back to the car.

Interested in more of my work? Read a sample of Not Helping, a tale of addiction and the importance of communication! (It’s a work in progress)

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7 thoughts on “The U.S. Post Office Will Steal Your Soul

  1. The Greek post office will steal your soul too. So will the bank – any bank. And every civil service you need to visit. If you have to go to any of these places, you’d better wash and perfume yourself like a Spartan before battle, because you are going to die in there.
    Loved your post, Sean!

    1. Sean D. Layton

      Haha — that’s a great description, Basilike, and thank you for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I think we all face this in one way or another wherever we live, though some countries are probably way worse than others. But to each of us, at the time, we feel like we are stuck in hell.

  2. Lisa Porter Cordovana

    You have to be an asshole to work at the Post Office. It’s a prerequisite. Hey, you could live here, where they deliver mail by canoe and then donkey! I could tell you stories that would shrink wrap your brain! Oh, and a huge, live, extremely fussy rooster lives in our post office – not even kidding. So you get to listen to “cock-a-doodle-doo” while you wait in line, in cuffs and leg irons, head low, trudging dejectedly. Certainly clears up where the phrase ‘going postal’ came from! Only the DMV beats it for misery. Excellent entry, Sean!

    1. Sean D. Layton

      Oh man, the DMV. Don’t get me started! Man, that’s hilarious that you have a rooster in your post office.

  3. Michelle Cool

    I feel the same way about the DMV..went there yesterday to get Cameryn’s driving permit only to be told we could use her notification of a birth abroad certificate. After explaining that this was in fact her birth certificate we received when she was born in Germany and how we have used it for every other official purpose, they said, “No, can’t use it. You will need to apply on line and it could take a few weeks depending or return rate.” I was livid. Cameryn was bummed. I called your sister and she said to try the other one down the road . I didn’t think anything would go better there, but we went. 15 min. later, walked out with Cameryn’s permit. They didn’t have any issue with her forms and were very friendly and even wished her a happy birthday.

    1. Sean D. Layton

      Oh God, the DMV is another nightmare place for me. I’ll have to post one of my experiences there. Glad you guys got everything worked out!

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