2006-08-10 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

The Canarsie Branch Post Office: A Learning Experience
By Charles Rogers


Mondays are always crowded at the Canarsie Branch Post Office. Located at East 102nd Street and Flatlands Avenue, it's just to the east of the center of the community and, in essence, stands alone, with no stores attached to it and only a new, never-too-crowded CVS Pharmacy across the street. I do the post office thing every once in awhile because I'd just as soon take a walk or ride to get out of the office and smell that wonderful Canarsie air.

Of course, Mondays aren't the only days it's crowded, 'cause there are always lines....except when there aren't.

Let me explain:

On July 31 - a Monday - I went to the post office at about 11 a.m. and, as I approached the bright red building, I could hear what sounded like moans coming from within. Actually, it was more like the sound of angry townspeople from an old Western movie getting ready to hang a bank robber - only muffled. Could it be?

As I opened the right side of the glass double door (why they always keep the left side locked is a mystery!), the moaning got louder; more of a steady hmmmm by this time. And in the quaint little vestibule the sound became almost an unearthly wail. Little did I realize at the time that the noise was coming from PEOPLE. Canarsiens! Adamant, snarling, barking, WAILING Canarsiens, all standing in a line that curled through the neat, chrome-based aisle posts set up to keep the line straight.

There were no fewer than 30 people lined up to take care of their postal business at one of the two teller windows that were open (out of seven). The other window was, as a matter of fact, doing the business that the United States Postal Service is supposed to do, namely, helping people fill out passport forms! The woman clerk who was working on the passports had to do the best she could, since she was obviously not a linguist and had a hard enough time keeping up with English. But she was trying her best, I suppose, under fire.

And the fire came from the angry customers who waited and waited,,,and waited in line.

"I've been here 45 minutes," yelled one woman, who, looked like she'd been in the line 45 hours. "Why don't they open another window?"

"Hey!" yelled a man at a clerk who passed behind the windows. "Can'cha get somebody to open another window here?" He was answered with a glance, a shrug and a muttered, "Everybody's doin' their job."

A little man with a mustache who was standing in front of me kept getting out of the line, after politely asking me to hold his place, so he could check on the large thing in the back that looks like a Coke machine but is supposed to automatically sell stamps. "Ya just puts yer money in and ya don't hafta stand in line," the little man said. Of course, the stamp machine was broken and the man dejectedly returned to his place - five times. He said he kept going back because he thought this might be his lucky day!

The nearly last straw was when a woman who was about five places in front of me got her turn at the window. She was so bedraggled after standing in line for an hour that she at first forgot what she was there for. Then she stammered and stuttered, "I, I, I want some, uh, post cards. Yes. That's it. P-p-p-post cards!"

"You m-m-m-makin' fun of me lady?" came the retort from behind the window. "S-S-So I stutter a little bit. So what? And besides, I don't think we have any p-p-p-post cards." The last sentence was said in a more muffled tone.

Now, the windows at the post office are protectively thick - similar to those at a bank. The answers from the clerks are usually muffled to anyone except the patron standing directly in front of them. But everyone in the building knew what the muffled answer was this time when the customer screamed at the top of her voice, "You WHAT? I've been standing in this (censored) line for 60 (censored) minutes and you tell me you don't have any (censored) post cards?" She had lost her stutter by this time. A miracle!

Finally, the person behind the window went through drawer after drawer and came up with a few p-p-p-post cards (See? now I'm doing it!) to stave off a possible frontal attack and the patron stormed out, but not before muttering a few more (censored) phrases to everyone.

Eventually, the wise powers-that-be at the Canarsie Branch Post Office opened a couple of more windows - one of which went to handling passports, of course.

The next day, things went smoothly enough. After the Monday fiasco, the U.S.P.S., in all its wisdom, decided to use "lobby directors" to help customers go through the experience faster and more efficiently.

It didn't work.

But that's for another column another time. Suffice to say that we all learn something from the many experiences of life. At least I can say I've now conquered the fear of crowds and, oh, yeah, I think I learned a few new (censored) words.

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