James Martur had just watched the “2016” episode of Broad City. He was a modern man and didn’t buy in to it when his more misogynistic friends insisted it was “a chick show.” Now, he was waiting for Abbi and Ilana to do a follow-up episode to the DMV one. Because the post office trumps this governmental institution by far with regard to instilling feelings of inadequacy and cutthroat competition against fellow queue dwellers, soldiers in parcel sending. There’s no better way to learn this than interacting with the “concierge” that helps you with any questions you might have while waiting in line. He or she–usually she, but if you’re lucky the former gender–will pretend to put on a front of pleasantness at first, but one false answer to their question, “What are you mailing today?,” can lead to a bipolar shift in mood on their part.
James had come to this nexus of stagnation to mail out a number of manuscripts to various “artists’ colonies” abroad, and was fully aware that it was going to cost nothing less than a mound for him to send the materials to cities that included London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and a town in Portugal called Pavia. He prayed to a nonexistent god that the old adage about spending money to make money would hold true. Though, in this instance, it was unlikely that he would ever make money off of being a writer unless he instead spent his meager earnings on taking the James Patterson MasterClass.
But no, “artists’ colony” was part of the five-step process of writer’s denial, the final step being: acceptance of death of dreams. He wasn’t sure where artists’ colony fell yet in said five-step process, but he was pretty sure it was toward the end, right there after mass sending of grad school application. Or was it working in a cubicle that came near the final death? He still had time to figure it out. Unfortunately, this dissection of how he was following the map of failure to a tee made him pause too long before responding to the female concierge’s demand: “What are you mailing today?”
“Hello? You in there sir? I ain’t got all day.”
James shook himself out of it and said, “Um, just some…papers.”
Apparently, this sounded too sketchy for Vaniqua to believe. He would not learn her name from a tag on her uniform, but rather from another regular post office goer who shouted lasciviously, “You lookin’ fine today Vaniqua.” Perhaps James should have tried a similar approach with her; then maybe he wouldn’t have been escorted out of the line to take his “papers” out of their packaging and show them to her. Or it was possible that he was doomed no matter what, and only semi-regular frequenters of the post office eked by without incident, rewarded for continuing to submit to the cruelty of tangible bureaucratic interaction when the digitized age had saved so many others from it. It showed that these were the people that mattered, the ones who came all the time of their own volition–not novices like James who only trudged in reluctantly when the fluke of someone needing a hard copy of a submission arose.
“Mmmm. Mhmmm,” she noted to herself as she read the title of James’ manuscript, God Is Everyone’s Bane. While he wasn’t sure she knew what the word “bane” meant, he didn’t want to be the predictable white oversimplifier and assume that she was unfamiliar with the term. This would explain why she kept frowning at it, seeing as how she was wearing a gold cross necklace and all. She glared at James. “These should be put in a box.”
James was skeptical. “Really? Because they seem to fit quite perfectly into that envelope.”
“I’m tryna help you…” she looked back at his name on the cover page. “…James.”
“Uh, right. Sorry, I guess I just always have bad luck at the post office.”
“You need to stop thinkin’ that way. We’re here to help you.”
He suddenly felt like he was Rosemary Woodhouse among the Castavets. “Right. Of course.”
“Now, you’re gonna need some packin’ tape for the box. You can buy it right now from me for $3.90 if you got a debit card.”
“Sure. Okay,” he said, at her mercy as he rotely extracted his debit card from the worn paper wallet in his back pocket. “Here it is.”
She blinked at him condescendingly, miffed by the obviousness of his statement. “I see that.”
No matter what he did, it was going to be somehow offensive, and his stiff, uncertain body language probably wasn’t aiding his cause. She had it in for him because he didn’t believe in the post office. How could he? Especially in the abyss that was 38th Street between 6th and 7th. He began to feel perspiration in the crevice of his back, what people sometimes call “the small” for whatever reason. Oh god, would Vaniqua never release him from her overly appraising gaze?
The response to that seemed to be no as she slowly swiped his card, listening intently to two black female friends behind her talk. “I’m gonna take a picture of myself anyway. I look good,” said one of the girls. Her friend tittered in a mocking sort of way to indicate she disagreed. Vaniqua was put into immediately good spirits by this.
“I gotta turn around for this. I just think that’s great. You don’t listen to what anybody else says. You look good, girl.” The girl in question smiled back at her as she snapped a selfie. Vaniqua turned back to James. “So many kids these days, you know, they got these self-esteem issues. My two sons, they got ’em too.”
James felt it would be best not to mention that no one usually gives a shit about male self-esteem and that if kids had so many issues, maybe they wouldn’t be so narcissistic in putting up a barrage of images of themselves in varying degrees of the same pose. But then, James couldn’t deny that self-obsession was a form of self-hate. He knew all too well.
After Vaniqua handed him the packing tape, she watched him vigilantly as he carefully placed God Is Everyone’s Bane into four different small boxes and then put an excess of tape at the top and bottom of each.
“All right, now we can get you back in line,” she confirmed as she put her hand on his shoulder and guided him back like an escaped mental patient from the appropriate ward. She barely raised the barrier from the stanchion to let him back into his “place.” It was almost the last form of control she could wield over him as she made him essentially limbo underneath it. “You take care now James,” she cooed in a way that oozed undertones of malice.
Relieved to have passed the first portion of the post office test, James waited roughly another twenty minutes with nothing to entertain him as a result of his box-heavy arms and the fact that something about entering the post office vortex imbues one’s mind with a zombie haze that is non-conducive to productivity of any kind.
At long last, James finally reached his turn as the next person in line, at which time he paced rapidly to the other side of the room where his clerk, a man named Vaneet (V names were popular here, evidently), awaited him with a neutrally vitriolic expression.
“Hi,” James offered.
Vaneet motioned for him to place his parcels on the scale after lifting up the partition in the seesaw manner that would only let one side open if the other was closed. James couldn’t believe the amount of hurdles required just to be considered for the artists’ colony scene. The death of dreams couldn’t be as bad as what he was going through now; he imagined it was a similar sort of dull emotional pain.
Vaneet pored over the parcels with a disappointed countenance. “These are international.”
“Yes,” James confirmed.
“You need to fill out a customs form for each one,” he returned matter-of-factly. Vaneet then slipped James four customs forms that seemed to laugh at his misfortune with their endless sea of queries regarding the details of his parcel. “You’ll need to go to the end of the line again. I’ll hold on to these packages until you come back.”
James was utterly broken inside now. He happened to catch Vaniqua out of the corner of his eye, her face all smiles, as though she knew he was fucking him over by not warning him about the accursed paperwork necessary to get something out of the United States. It was then he realized he would not be going to any artists’ colonies. This was a sign. They were not going to be moved God Is Everyone’s Bane. He would sooner have better luck getting discovered in the subway by offering to sell poems.
Then again, it could have all been so different. Perchance if Henry Chinaski was his go-to mail liaison instead of goddamn Vaniqua and Vaneet, he could have had a writing career in the bag (so long as it wasn’t a mail bag). But he wasn’t about to oblige the current landscape of administrative sadism facing him in order to achieve it. Thus, James concluded that the final step in the acceptance of the death of dreams was an unsuccessful trip to the post office.