Be reluctant to declare victory in the war on difficult emotions, my friends. It is important to remember that battling our powerful lowest impulses is a constant wrestling match. I had a nice reminder of the hubris of claiming victory yesterday, and the letdown in vigilance such hubris often causes, when I momentarily lost my verbal shit in the post office yesterday. This came a day after delivering learned comments about recognizing the signs that you are about to get angry, taking a breath and pulling yourself back from the explosion.
My rent check, in the printed mailer provided by my landlord, was returned to me several days after I mailed it. It was postmarked and returned with no reason for its return anywhere on the envelope. I brought it to the Post Office today to have its delivery expedited. The woman at the window studied it for a long time, turning it over and over in her hands, peeling back the stamp, turning it again, her lower lip hanging down pensively. After a few minutes of this, and before she could reach for a magnifying glass, I pointed out that she was not going to find any further information. I told her it was a rent check, returned to me in error, and that I needed it delivered as soon as possible. She asked what day I had mailed it, when it had been returned to me. She looked blankly as I told her “I mailed it Tuesday, it was returned Saturday” then consulted her phone, presumably for a calendar. After a long pause she looked up at me without expression, slid the envelope back to me and sent me over to her supervisor.
The supervisor looked at the postmarked envelope, turned it in his hands, shrugged and told me maybe the printed address had not been read through the window. I pointed out that it was quite legible, printed in caps, in fact, and in the place where every business correspondence is addressed. He countered with “machines, these are read by machines, which sometimes make mistakes.”
He told me he could not expedite delivery of this erroneously returned mailing, then, when I appeared dissatisfied with this answer, asked me if I had never made a mistake. I told him, of course, we all do, but that in the case of this properly addressed, properly posted letter I hadn’t made a mistake, the Post Office and its sorting machines had. I was asking him to correct this mistake. He said all he could do was send it again, by regular mail, and that hopefully it would go through this time. He told me he would draw arrows directing the machine’s attention to the place where the address is on the business envelope, that hopefully it would be properly routed by the machine this time.
“Arrows,” I said, “directing the machines to the ordinary place for an address. Presumably these arrows will get a postal machine to remove its head from its mechanical ass and sort the envelope properly this time.”
“Those are your words,” he said, unnecessarily.
When I still appeared unsatisfied, realizing he was dealing with an angry, implacable dick, he slid a postal form, PS Form 3849, under the glass and told me if I had a complaint, to call the number on the form. The move removed any doubt I had about being in a conversation with an immovable asshole, in this case one named Umar, but I managed, for a time, to maintain a grim cool.
This was the time, as I urged my friend the other day, to notice the signs that this was going badly, not going to end well, the physical signs that fight or flight chemicals were flowing, the familiar, climbing feeling that generally happens when I find myself confronted by a robotic attitude, by some insistent jerk sitting behind bullet proof glass who won’t back down no matter what. This was the time to walk away, there was clearly nothing to gain in this interaction.
All he could do, he told me again, was “overstamp” it and draw arrows on the envelope pointing the machine to the address, and hopefully it would get there, by regular mail, in a few days. Unless I paid extra, there was no other option available to me, nor anything else the post office would do, or had any obligation to do. “Feel free to make a complaint,” Umar told me, giving me his name. I told him to overstamp it and send it again. He did. I thanked him for his time, through gritted teeth.
Walking out of the post office I was steamed. After walking about a block I realized I should have gotten a receipt of some kind of the re-mailing, in case of future trouble with the landlord (and to avoid a $25 fee to stop the original check, in the event the letter didn’t make it the several miles to my landlord’s office).
As I turned to go back to the Post Office I passed the ongoing standoff over a parking spot. On my original trip to the Post Office, fifteen minutes earlier, I’d seen one car backing in to parallel park as another nipped in quickly from the other direction. Neither car could get into the spot now, and neither driver was willing to concede an inch to the other. The two drivers were locked in their positions, neither one backing down, while a traffic jam built up behind them, a bus trying to make a turn was now blocking all traffic on Broadway. Horns were blaring. “The human condition,” I thought, as I entered the Post Office again, to enact my part.
Umar would not come to the window, though he saw me standing at the window. I called him and pounded on the bulletproof glass with my fist as he disappeared around the wall. I continued calling his name in a loud belligerent voice. When he returned, affecting the unflappability of the perfect asshole, he refused to give me any kind of receipt. Impossible, he said, unless I paid for it. I then exploded.
“This place is fucked up and you are the fucking supervisor of it!” I snarled idiotically, if also accurately, and stormed out, banging the door hard enough to break it. A moment later it occurred to me that his next move would be to reach into the bin, retrieve my letter with the rent check, rip it neatly in half, ball it up and toss it into the garbage.
The “complaint” number he gave me had no option for complaints. It was not a complaint number. The wait to speak to a human was “40 to 50 minutes”. I found myself flooded with fight or flight chemicals as I searched the web for how to make a complaint against customer-relations challenged civil servant Umar, to protect myself if he did the angry thing and destroyed my payment to the landlord. He could also simply have left it on a shelf, to sit for a few weeks.
I called the federal agency that oversees the Post Office, spoke to a very sympathetic woman (whose name I foolishly did not take, though she gave me my case #) who assured me this will be investigated and an email would come back to me within 3 business days. She told me it was a good move on my part to have photographed the returned envelope, and that I should hold on to the photo.
Odds are Umar didn’t rip it up, the landlord will have it the day after tomorrow, cash it by 3/20 and done and done. In the odd event that he did ‘go postal’ on my check to the landlord, there is at least a record, a complaint with the federal office that investigates alleged improprieties by postal workers. For whatever that might be worth.
But if that impenetrable wall of glass hadn’t been between us, and Umar had stepped toward me, I can’t say for sure, in spite of not being a fighter, in spite of my conscious attempt to remain peaceful, that I would have been able to resist what nature would have been imploring me to do. I’d had fair warning as things went from fartlike to actual shit, but it was no help in this instance.
This is one reason anger is such a dangerous thing. It is waiting, always, particularly for those of us who were victimized by angry adults when we were children, and anger can almost always convince you that you are 100% correct in your reaction. Umar had probably had a shitty day himself, didn’t feel like being reprimanded by some snotty, disgruntled customer for a simple mistake he had nothing to do with. When the customer poured salt on his shit-sandwich of day by telling him “if you had said ‘this shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry for the hassle, we’ll get this over to your landlord ASAP,” Umar could only claim he had said that. “I told you I was sorry,” he said sullenly, then slid the fake complaint number under the glass by way of saying “lick my unwashed, crusty asshole, sir.”
There is no winner in this kind of transaction. It is best to keep them short and to the point, though that is far more easily said than done. Remain humble, do not proclaim that you have surmounted the ugly thing that will soon be ready to bite you in the ass again, hard, and with very sharp teeth.