Just a ridiculous morning at the USPS

I'll have you know that my fine spirit cannot be tamped today, BUT if something had been able to have popped my mood, it would have been this morning. Scene: A pale orange card from the post office sits on my counter, beckoning me to pick up a Delivery Confirmation letter from Mom. I've procrastinated for a week, do have other packages to mail and thus decide to take advantage of the few hours of relative warmth we're enjoying -before round 2 of the polar vortex sweeps through- by heading off to the Cleveland Park station (not my usual station) listed on my orange card.

I'm juggling three boxes, all just light and slick enough to make the tower in my arms decidedly unstable. "Whew," I think to myself as I make my way inside the post office, "thank god for the self-service kiosks. I can get rid of these and then quickly fetch my letter." After visually scouring every corner of the joint, however, I realize that the Cleveland Park P.O. has no self-service kiosks; it must be the only DC location without them. This is a terrible idea on their part, and it must be remedied soon.

Into the line of now seven patrons I go. Per the usual Post Office decor, dust bunnies and the peel-off portions from adhesive packing supplies litter the floor while shelves of philatelic merchandise I can't imagine anyone ever buys line the walls. One handmade cup of pens sits listlessly on the central island whose various forms -customs, delivery confirmation, insurance, tracking- are all askew. I wonder why employees creating communal pen cups always tape giant feathers to each utensil. Is there a note in some ancient customer service manual about the importance of taping bright plumage to writing implements?

One woman seems so nervous I wonder if she's trying to hide from a collection agent. Another is speaking to her stroller-bound daughter in a tongue I can't place. An elderly man who's left his dog in its own canine stroller in the post office foyer finishes mailing and reunes with his furry companion with such sweet glee that I smile widely and am warmed. Finally it is my turn. Each of my packages is weighed, stamped and sent on its way. I hand over my pale orange card, Deb heads to the back forty of the office to retrieve my letter and then, the hammer drops.

"Mrs. Gross" (not my name) she calls out, "What's your zip?" As I tell her, she nods her head apologetically and says, "I thought this was wrong. You see, your carrier must have picked up the wrong stack of these cards because your letter is at Friendship Heights."

People, had I not just seen that old man and his dog shake with joy when they laid eyes on one another, I might have felt awfully bummed out that I'd just spent 25 minutes in line, paying a meter and then a small fortune in postage because priority boxes were all the office had left. However, this was not Deb's mistake, I didn't have my children in tow and I wasn't running late for anything, so I simply smiled, shared the requisite, "Oh no!" with Deb and headed off.

At Friendship Heights, the line is mercifully short but as I approach that station's central island o' forms and feathered pens, an oddly-dressed woman with glassy eyes swoops in front of me. She is mid-40s, make-up fully done, green baseball cap on backwards (you know, bill down over nape of neck), a nice bag and sleek black coat and then baggy gray sweatpants tucked haphazardly into green and white ski socks and shearling-lined brown ankle boots with a slight heel. I just do not get this look at all. Also, she appears to float. Is she high? I'm not sure. The whole situation is weird so I just let her do her business and when my turn comes, passed my pale orange card to Mr. Dickens.

Mr. Dickens is the slowest-walking postal worker in the history of the world. If I opened the Hoover Dam floodgates in front of his desk, he would not consider increasing his pace at all. It's actually quite remarkable. However, his molasses speed means that I will wait even longer for this damn letter so I settle in. Again. And then, Mr. Dickens says, "Well, this letter is at Cleveland Park. You need to go there."

"Sir," I say, breathing deeply, "I have just come, literally just, from Cleveland Park and they insist that my letter is here despite the card stating it's there." Mr. Dickens walks glacially to the computer and says he'll call the station. His fingers freeze at the screen though, as if he's considering his words: does he really want to make a call? What sort of walking will getting to a phone entail? This reconsideration gives him time to clarify my zip code again. "Oh, well then, I think your letter is here." And it is.

Thank god.

Happy to have this flimsy letter in hand after 50 minutes of effort, I nearly skip out to my car, get in and turn it on. Immediately, a fist begins pounding angrily on my rear, passenger-side window. I start, my heart thumping, and turn to see a grizzled man, mid-60s, staring at me with hating eyes. As best I can gather, he's been picking something off the ground between our cars (we were in a cramped parking lot) and my motor startled him. Understandable but A) why does he assume I saw him when he was by the ground on the other side of my car, B) accidents, and C) as I am not in any way moving, is he really so terrified that I am going to flatten him?

As he stomps and storms away, I try to laugh things off, slowly reverse and then eagerly leave the lot.

Did I mention the tire on the drivers-side was half-flat?

It's always something.