My Story: Special delivery

The postal revolution started slowly enough. I had to pay a license fee and, wanting to save the bank fee, I headed to the post office.

post office cartoon 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
post office cartoon 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The postal revolution started slowly enough. I had to pay a license fee and, wanting to save the bank fee, I headed to the post office. With a book. A very thick book. And a magazine. And some food. I kissed my loved ones good-bye and headed off If you look closely, you'll probably notice that the deer in the Israel Postal Company logo at my local branch in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood is limping a little. Not that he isn't trying, mind you. After all, things have only gotten better in the past 31 years. And lately, he's been put through his paces. When we first moved to the neighborhood in 1978, one had to travel all the way to Ramat Eshkol to pick up a package. A herky-jerky bus made sure that the contents of any box you brought back ended up shared with the rest of the passengers. But all that's changed now. Just walk in, saunter up to the counter, and get your business done. Not. To be fair, things used to be worse. When a notice indicating a package arrived at our house, we would all try to ignore it. After all, it meant going to the place we all dreaded more than the dentist. The place where you walked in, but you never knew when you'd walk out. The place where simple, ordinary citizens disappeared for hours. It seemed harmless, from the outside. Red door. Nice guard. Peer inside and... hell awaited. At first, there was a simple line. You stood behind dozens of people and simply waited your turn, wondering what could possibly be taking the bald-headed gentleman in front of you so long to pay one electric bill. First the bill was presented. Then the clerk stared at it. Then there was a sheepish exchange, sometimes in a couple of languages. Then someone behind in line offered to help. Then someone else offered. This only delayed things further. Meanwhile, the person in back of you tapped you on the shoulder and asked if you minded holding their place. Zip, they were gone - heading to the supermarket to do their shopping, then returning and setting off a new argument when they returned. "He was behind me," you'd say to the other guy now behind you, earning you scornful glances usually reserved for those taking the empty bus seats from little old ladies, or candy from babies. Not too long ago, they added something new - outrageous charges for receiving boxes from the US. A small box full of basically junk from my sister-in-law ended up costing about NIS 200. Talk about the great mail robbery. The clerks themselves didn't work slowly. By comparison, slowly would have broken the sound barrier. They worked with such awesome languidity, interspersed with coffee breaks, it could drive a grown man to tears. Each inquiry, each transaction went on for what seemed like decades. The clerk would get up from her seat. Come back. Stare at the forms. Realize she was missing the needed one. Got up again. Stopped to chat with a coworker who was heading to the pick-up package line, where a confused man with a box to mail to his son in the army "only wanted to ask a question" and was about to be pilloried by the crowd. Meanwhile, one was left to ponder how almost at no time during any visit were all four counters staffed. It was philatelic hell. And then, about a year ago, the revolution happened. It started slowly enough. I had to pay a license fee and, wanting to save the bank fee, I headed to the post office. With a book. A very thick book. And a magazine. And some food. I kissed my loved ones good-bye and headed off. Walking in, we noticed... benches. Red benches. Wow. I was impressed. And at the entrance to the post office, a dispenser like the one at the bakery or supermarket chicken counter, where you could take a number. There would be order, at last. And there was a screen flashing the number and which of the four desks you should approach when it came up. It was incredible. It was beautiful. It was progress. It didn't work. Sure, it was more comfortable. But the puzzled looks on the customers' and clerks' faces stayed the same, although we now had TV monitors set up around the place advertising post office services, and footage of yacht races and extreme sports. Plus exchange rates. I blinked for a moment and imagined that the woman on the yacht had stamped my form, but alas, it wasn't to be. Eventually, some 45 minutes later, I emerged with the form, thanking God that I was a free man, breathing fresh air, and was welcomed back home like a great white hunter. And then, the real revolution happened. It was like something out of a science fiction movie, and I'm still not sure I didn't dream it - though my friend Lynn claims she saw it, too. Walk into post office. Much larger, metallic, threatening-looking machine spews out number. Keeps spewing out numbers as a little boy who's gotten away from his mother keeps pressing the button. Authoritative female voice comes over microphone system, apparently newly installed. "No. 24, station 2!" it commands, sounding like something out of Blade Runner or Total Recall. The customer dashes to the stall, but before she even takes a step, the voice is back. "No. 25, station 3." Another customer rushes up. The clerks react madly, totally unprepared to move from Ice Age to Space Age. "No. 26, station 4," intones the voice. By now, total frenetics have set in. Clerks and customers are running willy-nilly from bench to stall, grabbing forms and trying to keep up as the ticket machine spews out more and more, and the voice reaches No. 100 in about 20 seconds. It's The Sorcerer's Apprentice gone postal. Or that scene from Modern Times, where Charlie Chaplin chases after a woman with buttons on her coat shaped like the items he's meant to tighten on a conveyor belt. We have seen the post-post office, and it's out of control. We're practically stampeded, noticing the little boy is still pumping the button, sending more and more notices out, and pushing the crowd faster as the numbers announced grow higher and higher. The clerks are exhausted, rushing around like Keystone Kops. Even the X-games players on the TV screens are rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Carried outside by the push of the crowd after we finish, we laugh. It is as though some God of Post Offices has heard our prayer and struck the place with a lightning bolt. Finally, service. At least, that's what we hoped. Another package came the other day, and expecting the Brave New World of the last post office visit, I grabbed it and took it in, not even bothering to take a book. Bad move. The ticket machine was gone, replaced by the old bakery system. The voice was gone, replaced by the old light-flashing routine. But the classic inexplicable wait, as the person one number before you took endless time sending a fax or paying their national insurance, was back. All was right again in the post office world. Did I dream it all? I'm still not sure, but I could've sworn that deer on the wall smiled at me. And then I asked the person in front of me if he'd mind holding my place in line...