The latest reason I've warmed to my not-so-new-anymore neighborhood is that it's the first place I've ever lived where a line-jumping incident at the post office has the potential to turn into a Denzel Washington Oscar clip.
Outside of universities, the post office is the only remaining place where Americans can truly experience Communism. Even the Department of Motor Vehicles has whizzed past the post office in terms of expedience, technological innovation and customer service--a fact that must be very sad news to the many horrible stand-up comics and advertising copywriters who still make the DMV their go-to place of comedic drudgery.
I've been to some awful post offices (brag) but the Adelphi outpost on Fulton Street is the ultimate farthammer on your would-be good day. It reminds me of the hayseed bank Nicholas Cage, John Goodman and William Forsythe rob in Raising Arizona. The Adelphi USPS, like my neighborhood, is full of old-timers in linen shirts trying to cash government checks, and illegals with neck tattoos sending money orders to their kin. (I've noticed that money orders are really very popular in my neighborhood, and I'm still not totally certain why. I'm sure there is some profound middle-class ignorance on my part, lurking behind my naiveté. Do old and lower income people simply not have checking accounts? Do certain kinds of people really not trust banks, and store their savings in Mason jars?) The female employee--they are all female--commandeering 1/5th of the available windows on any given day roll their eyes and complain openly about their lives to customers who have been waiting in a 15-person deep line for 30 minutes just to buy some commemorative stamps. Once, I heard this exchange:
CUSTOMER TRYING TO SHIP FOUR HEAVY BOXES OF EQUAL WEIGHT, EACH LABELED 'WOMEN OF BRAZIL 2008 CALENDAR': "Careful. These boxes are heavy."
FEMALE POSTAL WORKER: "I don't do nothing but lift heavy boxes. That's the story of my life. The story of my life."
CUSTOMER: "I hear you."
POSTAL WORKER: "It's the story of my life."
Earlier this week, I was standing in a very long line of people waiting for an older gentleman to complete his social security check cashing/money order sending transaction combo, when the old man was approached by a young, robust black gentleman in a straw hat (not kidding) who I understood to be his son. It was very obvious the son was happy to see his dad and even happier to use his dad as an excuse to cut to the front of the line, in front of many ornery customers. Once the senior finished his business, the junior began his own, filling yet another money order. This injustice created a chorus of disgruntled murmurings from the line. A woman directly behind me clucked her tongue loudly, while a man who looked to be in his late sixties repeated over and over again, with steadily increasing volume, "don't give a DAMN about nobody." His pitch changed like a Pixies song, soft on either end, with a booming crescendo every time he hit the word "damn." Although I felt a kind of solidarity with his angrer, I decided not to echo his loud complaints because I am terribly allergic to being face-punched.
After a minute or so of boos and hisses directed at Straw Hat's wide and muscular back, he finally turned around slowly to face his detractors. He looked up and down the line and announced, "You gonna keep speaking out the side of your neck or you gonna face me like a man?" The old man in line immediately manned-up and took credit, and an argument followed, as Straw Hat stated his case and explained that he was joining his father in line and explained there was no difference between him asking his father to place a money order for him, and him placing one on his own. That would have been enough for me, but the old man held his ground and said, "but there is a difference."
Straw hat got his back up a bit: "Tell me what the difference is, then, if you a man."
"What you did is wrong. It's damn wrong," shot back the old man.
At that, Straw Hat turned his back on him, and went back to business for a moment, before interrupting his money order one more time. This time he turned not to the old man, but to all of us and said, his voice all bass and boom:
"There's too much out there in the world trying to bring us down right now, for us to be fighting over nothing. We should be down in the trenches together, like brothers, fighting for what's right.
"It was never my intention to offend you. It was never my intention to offend any of you and if I did, I apologize."
I don't know if he made all of that up on the spot or if he was quoting a speech from the film Glory, but it was a sincerely awesome moment and we were all hushed. Then Straw Hat extended his hand, and the old man met it, and they squashed their post office beef right then and there.
As Straw Hat finished his own business and left, I heard the old man mutter to the tongue-clucking woman in front of him, "He did the right thing." He nodded, with great respect. "He did the right thing." I nodded my head, too, thinking, "You are so wrong. That asshole jumped in line." Thinking, but not saying.