Instead of stamps, let’s negotiate some consideration for others.

6 09 2006

If one of my problems is my overactive imagination that leads to a rountine of irrational overthinking, my other problem is my liklihood to make my ownself sick and angry with stress. This morning was a prime example of this exact behavior. I simply needed to go into downtown New Haven to have something notarized, and then to drive to Manhattan to drop it off. It’s not really a big deal, albeit a hassle with all the driving, but I got myself sick over it and couldn’t eat breakfast until almost 2 o’clock today.
It all has to do with timing. The Brazilian consulate in New York is open for only two hours in the morning–from 10 to 12 to drop papers off, which is what I had to do. But first I had to go into New Haven to have the papers notarized, otherwise the Brazilian consulate wouldn’t accept the papers. But they open at 9. So that meant I had to definitely be out of New Haven by 9:30 so that I could make it to Manhattan with enough time to spare. Dennis was still sleeping so I asked my mom to drive me down. She did.
But not fast enough.
And there are so many lights from Woodbridge to New Haven.
And every person was headed in the same direction I was.
Every person in the world.
All at the same time.
And they all went very slowly.
I had not had a single cup of coffee.
Not even a sip or even a smell of it.
And I was in the passenger seat with my palms sweaty and chest cavity crunched together because this whole afternoon and hence my time at home depends on the success of my trip to Manhattan to get my visa finished. And if I couldn’t finish up by 9:30, I would be screwed.
And it took a half an hour to get downtown.

But then, by the grace of god, the amazing woman at the Town Clerk’s office, May who rocks my world, finished up what she needed to do for me in about eleven seconds. And then it was onto the post office in Woodbridge. I swear it was like karma or something. All the stress I’d piled upon myself during the drive over and negative thoughts I’d accumulated on the ride downtown kicked me in the face when I stood in line to get a money order, the second thing I needed before driving to Manhattan.

No joke:
I am first in line, there are two customers being served. I can overhear their conversations. One woman, who has a stack of probably 40 envelopes–all of which are partially stamped to varying degrees–needs to mail them and certify each. So she is standing there and will apparently not move for the next year. Fine. My only hope is the other spot where a gentleman seems as though he needs simply to mail a small stack of letters. Fine. I can wait.
Not the case.
Because then I can hear him say to the post office guy,
“I need to negotiate some stamps with you. Do you have any with…” and goes into a long description of the kind of stamps he wants. Maybe with a black background with flowers and a gold trim and frills and Oh, do you have the kind with the hearts that say Love? No? Oh, you mean you only have them in a roll? I really want them flat. Tell you what. Let me see all of your commemorative stamp collection. Okay, no I would like to have five sheets of these and five sheets of these. And can you tell me if I could find somewhere the flat sheets? Could you give me a list of all of the stamps that you have here? No? I could call the post office? But this is the post office. Can I have the phone number for the other post office? No, no, I said five of these and five of these. Maybe someday you’ll get the kind with the motorcycles or the cars. You didn’t have those before? Yes, five of these. There’s only four here. One more. You don’t have the number? Where is the phone book?

Time passes, the line in the post office grows longer, sweat is streaming down my back and my face turns red. I begin sighing and slouching over and I give the two customers nicknames: Commemorative Stamp and Elastic Waist Old Lady. Elastic Waist continues chatting nicely with her post office woman as she filled out her certified letter sheets one by mind-numblingly slow one:
Oh, that’s a lovely necklace. Lovely! How did you do that? What kinds of beads did you use! Can I have another sheet? I’m so sorry. I made a mistake on this one! So anyway, I was tellinlg my son…

I glance back at the faces in the line that is becoming longer, and they all register bewilderment and frustration. The guy behind me actually calls out to one of the employees a “hello,” as if to remind her that there are literally tens of people waiting. Meanwhile, all I can think about is how these few minutes and Commemorative Stamp are ruining the possibility of my returning to Brazil on time when my imagination takes over and I run through the conversation I will have with my administrators about how they will have to push my flight back at least three days because I couldn’t get to Manhattan on time thanks to some Chatty Cathys at the post office in little Woodbridge. As I sit in my head grumbling and panicking through my side of the anticipated conversation, Commemorative Stamp gets his things together and says his polite farewell as the post office guy is calling “Next!”
Within a minute, I’ve got my money order and am out in the car while the stamp collecting moron is just arriving at his own car door.

Listen. I know it’s a free country and people can have as many conversations as they want for however long they want. But come on. Let’s have a little consideration for people’s busy days. Today’s episode reminded me of a time when I was driving north from New Jersey and I was stuck behind a car in a two-lane highway…the guy in front of me didn’t even LOOK behind him to see if maybe there was anyone who might want to get by. With minimal effort, he could have glanced in his rear view mirror and seen my angry little red face behind him. Likewise in the post office this morning. A simple glance back at us from Commemorative Stamp and he would have known that maybe now was not the best time to ask for a lecture about the history of stamp collecting and negotiating. (Who “negotiates” stamps anyway? COME. ON.)

I guess my point here is that today taught me that people acknowledge only what they see and very few people choose to consider others; we are a forward-looking society. My other point is to say, in the most long-winded fashion possible, that everything should be alright with my visa because I actually did get to Manhattan on time. God apparently thought I’d gotten enough torture for the morning and made the ride to mid-town traffic free and actually very pleasant. Thanks, God.

And here’s the kicker: Turns out I didn’t even need to get the paper notarized, even though it said so on the instructions. The consulate lady told me I didn’t need to go through the trouble…which means that if I’d known that, I wouldn’t have needed to go to New Haven, nor would I have been in the post office with Commemorative Stamp and Elastic Waist Old Lady at the same time and probably would have saved myself a little stress and a whole lot of frustration.
Ah, but it is what it is, right?




4 responses

7 09 2006

I wish I could tell you that as you mellow into the wisdom (and lassitude) of old age, that these “world-conspiring-to-make-insanely-stressful-something-that-should-be-easy” experiences would not happen. But you probably know already — it’s a rule of life: the other lane of traffic always moves faster; when your child is waiting for you in the car, the cashier at the grocery counter is wearing a “This is my first day” pin and can’t ring up a bottle of milk; the Xerox machine only jams when you’re on deadline. I won’t even BEGIN on the plumber who managed to BREAK the upstairs toilet three weeks ago instead of FIXING it when we had company coming for the weekend and then came back the next days with a new toilet which proved to be BROKEN. You catch my drift.
I do ask myself sometimes: Where did my hair-trigger impatience come from? How did we become a society that believes everything must happen this-very-second, no waiting? This doesn’t excuse dolts like Mr. Commemorative Stamp or Ms. Elastic Waist Lady. But I am trying to teach myself to take a deep breath and (sorry to be trite) remind myself that whatever the delay is won’t matter in 20 years from now (or probably 20 minutes from now). As I feel everytime I buy an airline ticket — it’s now in the hands of the gods, and I’m just along for the ride.

7 09 2006

Miss it was no waste of time since you learned that people are more ignorant and selfish than what we imagine. Say something next time just make sure the person is no threat.

9 09 2006

Goodness. Harsh.

10 09 2006

I never learned what waiting and impatience was until I left for the Army. SInce then I’ve learned to put it aside. If you open your eyes to a slightly broader perspective, we always waiting for something to happen, and it almost always resting on somebody else to do it for you. Likewise, people are waiting, (possibly impatiently) on you. Amazing things can happen when you don’t expect them to happen right then and there. I just happened to think of teaching children as I’m writing this… Definitely more rewarding when your expectations are not immediate, wouldn’t you agree 🙂

I hope the lines at the airports were tolerable!

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