I went to the post office today with a giant box of car parts that I sold on Ebay. As I kicked it forward along the linoleum floor I watched, along with a dozen other customers, a guy at the counter argue with one of the two clerks taking care of the long line that I stood toward the back of. “My wife has important legal papers in that box that she needs!” he yelled at the clerk. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you this mail,” she said as she stood holding it inches from his face. “Your wife didn’t pay the box rent,” she went on. He motioned to pay it but was rejected. “Even if you do pay it, I can’t give you the mail over the counter, I can only give it to your wife.” He proceeded to yell at her again about the “important legal papers,” and she reiterated that he could not have them. He turned from the counter and mumbled to himself, then I could feel it coming. “Bitch!” rolled off his tongue. Then, in-between a few more steps and a startled look on the clerk’s face, the word came out again, only louder this time. To which the clerk retorted with a “hey, that’s not appropriate!” followed by an even louder outburst of the word. The other clerk who was busy taking care of the long line of people that I was still at the end of left her post. “I’m calling the cops!” she yelled at the man. She went around the corner and came back, tied to a phone cord that, although it reached pretty far, stopped her short of her register. We all stood and watched her while she waited on hold for 911.
The man left the building, leaving one last outburst of the “B” word behind him.
I thought about what I had just seen in terms of how relationships sometimes go south for folks and thought also about how I controlled myself from getting involved. I had an urge at one point to interfere with an attempt to silence the man. His use of the “B” word was rude and out of place, and for a moment I felt the need to make him take it all back. But at that point it was just an intangible word. My involvement may have escalated the situation, ultimately causing me to, given the man’s state of mind, defend myself. Hands and feet would fly. Then packages. An all out brawl at the Sunnyside Ave. United States Post Office may have broken out. People could have been hurt. But to that point it was still only words. And hurt feelings, as the face of the clerk, who is never nice to me, by the way, showed.
So I silently nudged my box forward. The accused clerk left her counter and went behind a wall. When it was my turn I said something nice to the cop-caller clerk. Something like, “I hope that doesn’t happen often.” She said it did. So I told her that it was just because some people think they know her job better than she does. She asked me if I wanted extra insurance on my box and I declined. It should arrive by next Tuesday.