For the very first time, I see a sign crafted circa 197hmm-hmm that announces I can buy stamps at this window from 5:00pm to 8:00am. That’s overnight. From a live human being. In a United States Post Office. Who knew?
But I picked the machine instead, and fed in a ten dollar bill in order to get the precious second-ounce stamps: 23 centers that allow you to pass muster on a holiday greeting that could was tipping the scale. They all weigh something different, of course, because we had the assembly line set up for two weeks: children, parents, homeless, shoppers would sit down and make a holiday greeting card in the main gallery. The cards are all exquisite. They each represent a story about the maker that we’ll never be able to spend enough time telling. I would look at each greeting card maker as they worked and throw a big love light on them with my eyes. Only a couple of them ever looked up to see what had hit them.
Note to ’99: Let love be a little louder.
This particular machine was warning me it couldn’t make more than $5 in change. That was fine, because I needed 20 23 centers, and wasn’t bothering to do the math, but planned to make up for it in 55 centers for the cards I was taking home to address. The tenner I was feeding in was being regurgitated each time. Was it folded improperly? No. Was it upside down? No. Was it ancient? No. What was the issue? I gave up and went to the window and requested two five dollar bills.
The postal clerk was unable to make change. I had to make a purchase in order to receive change. So I requested 20 23 centers. There were none available. I requested 20 55 centers, but the total came to $11, and I only had $10, and needed some for 20 23 centers no matter what. Avoiding the math, I knew I was in terrible trouble when Betty Kano caught my eye from the faraway queue. I requested 20 55 centers and proffered an ATM card, which solved the problem of insufficient funds, but left my tenner completely intact.
Do you think waving money in front of the bullet proof window will guarantee service? she asked. Betty you must help me, I said in a calm voice. Nothing in this material world is making sense to me now. Think short term, she said, what do you need immediately? Change for a ten, I replied. She had seven singles. I took it and wished her well.
The machine accepted only one bill at a time, leaving me to four complete transactions to obtain 20 23 centers. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No. Did I want a receipt? No, but the machine became sentient and gave me one anyway. I’m looking at it now. I remanded to the table, where a woman furiously preparing an overnight package would not look up or rein in, and a man kept offering assistance to people as he searched for proper forms while barking the incessant caveat that he was just as confused as they were. With each 23 center I licked, I felt an intruder coursing through my blood stream, hurrying to catch up with his comrade. I think the agent of each stamp is laying low for now, until I’m standing in line to catch the plane that will take me within walking distance of Poipu Beach. By that time, each germ will be six feet tall, and waiting to get out of me because I’m three inches too short.
The assisting, but just as confused, man kept throwing paper through a hole in the table and not noticing that the hole led directly to the floor. Betty Kano was about to be ejected from the premises for not marking her package correctly, but was unable to obtain a pen from the clerk that would allow her to make the necessary mark. I handed her one that I had found on the floor. She used it, triumphing over The System, and returned it. I put it back on the floor where I found it. Betty ran back over and gave me three more singles derived from her properly marked transaction. The trade was even.
I don’t know how I’ll explain this over dinner, I said. We had everything we needed, but not exactly in the right order at the right time. Is that a sufficiency or an insufficiency? Betty Kano gave me a hug, holding me a couple beats longer than good-natured long time industry colleagues are supposed to hold.