Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Match

Michael Chandler
November 3, 2016

A Match

I don’t know who likes going to the post office. They have actually gotten a bit better since they are becoming obsolete.
  Back in the 1980s, when I was working at “the bookie joint,” and FedEx had not been invented, we were shipping to everywhere, every way we could. It was time-value data sent by bus to Maryland, to Jersey and Pennsylvania, by train to Florida, by plane to California, and on and on, several times daily, and we slung our staff all over the Port Authority points of New York City to get this stuff out to legitimate horsemen and degenerate gamblers.
  Everything was a deadline.
  Hurry up. Wait in line.
  On Sundays, days I typically worked, the big shipments for Tuesdays had to be brought to the James A. Farley post office at 8TH Av. and 34TH. It was the only game in town, and the postal employees were obstinate and slow. Carved in granite across the front of the building are the words, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
  Unions, obesity, lethargy, however, do.
  One Sunday, it was coming upon holiday season, and with two windows open for business, a cast of employees who just didn’t care about whom they probably didn’t even refer to as customers, the line was about fifty people deep, and it was going to be at least an hour’s wait. I settled in.
  A few people ahead of me was a very large black man. He had several packages in his arms. Usually what you do is set the boxes on the polished marble floor and push them forward with a foot as the line crawls along. This guy wasn’t doing that, and his body language bespoke a long, slow passive-aggressive burn. He knew, as well as everyone else, how long we would all be there, and he wasn’t enjoying that.
  Behind him in line was a tiny old woman. I watched the both of them, and I could tell that she sensed his rigidity. After quite some time, she reached up and tapped him on his elbow.
  “Pardon me,” she said. “Do you have a match?”
  He glared down at her. His voice was ice.
  “I don’t smoke.”
  He turned his chin forward, and her shoulders drooped a little.
  It took her about a minute, but she gave him another tap on the elbow.
  She said in the gentlest, sweetest of tones, “When somebody has their arms full, and you ask them for a match, it’s a joke.”
Into her upturned eyes, he growled, “I know,” and turned to the long line ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Perfect as is. What a window into the grind of pre-internet drudgery.