Friday, October 26, 2007

In which she increases her incredibly crappy karma

Only two people ahead of me in the line at the postal outlet – just in front of me a young black woman with a notice of delivery in her hand. I’ve already fished my notice out of my purse. “She Bop” is blasting out of my head phones. The customer at the desk is an elderly lady who is gesturing broadly, waving what appears to be an empty Purolator Courier envelope. The very young clerk is registering barely contained distress. “Time After Time” starts. Finishes. “I drove all night” becomes “Hat Full of Stars.” Five, ten minutes. I unhook my headphones.

Something about a letter to the passport office not being picked up until 5:00 o’clock, after she paid twenty dollars and thousands of dollars are involved here and what did she pay for if the letter is still there at five o’clock and her son needed that passport and…

You get the idea. I’m not without empathy. I’ve had those days on a regular basis, when everything that can screw up, will. When you hit the wall of bureaucracy and I’m- sorry- but- I- can’t- help- you at high speed, with your face. Where the wheels fall off and the universe seems to have roundly cursed your every effort to stay sane.

Loop loop. Echo trap.

We are now up to “True Colors” though, and there are six people in line. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes. The woman spins through the same story over and over. The clerk, who is too young and good natured to have any idea how to stop it, proffers her best explanation and advice over and over again.

The man behind me explodes, “Jesus Christ!” Everyone else is sighing heavily and shuffling, including me.

Finally I work up my nerve to say, “Ma’am, I’m very sorry to interrupt and I know you’re having a bad time, but there are five of us waiting now.” She whirls around, five feet of grey-haired, tired-out, fight and frustration.

“I have as much right to be here as you do. I have a problem and I’m not satisfied with the answers and my son needed this to be delivered and I paid twenty dollars….” and it’s none of your business!.”

This is a finger on the trigger of the rather large man behind me.

“It’s our business when none of us can get our business taken care of. The lady has answered you. She can’t do anything else. There's a one-eight-hundred number you can call….”

And so on. Raised voices. The air is shuddering with crappy energy. Full moon. Loop, loop.

The woman steps aside. It’s the bass voice that does it. The testosterone voice.

As I’m leaving I comment sheepishly to him, “I guess we both get Creep of the Week for that, right?”

“Somebody had to stop it,” he replies. He thinks a second. “You started it but I was only too happy to finish it.”

Hell hath no fury like that of the powerless. I consider that she’s a generation before mine and most of her life, complaint has been met with actual assistance. By a human. No one gave her a 1-800 number and told her to get lost. Certainly no one charged her twenty bucks for the privilege.

Someone had to stop her. She was stuck, looping. There was no foreseeable end to it. But I don’t think that made either of the creeps in question feel a lot better.

Drink, anyone?


12 comments:

herhimnbryn said...

I admire your gumption lj. And like you I sympathise with the elderly woman. I hope her problem was resolved, but it all made for a good post.

LJ said...

Thing is, from what I could tell - the package actually would arrive on time. She just couldn't get past the fact of where it was at one stop on the way. And honestly - at some point empathy gives way to insanity if you don't speak up.

jessie said...

Having been on the other side of the desk, LJ, I'm betting the clerk thought you were The Goddess incarnate.

beadbabe49 said...

yes...I'm wondering what you would have done differently, now that you've had time to reflect on it?
I don't see a lot of other options for you....
My only move in these kinds of situations is to call for the supervisor (who had probably gone home for the day..;)...this is the kind of hell they get paid big bucks to deal with!

LJ said...

BB - I think it had to be done. Her Supervisor had gone home for the day (the young woman kept saying that, helplessly)- and although I had a lot of sympathy for this woman's frustration, venting endlessly at someone who can't do anything (but is trying so hard to be nice)is a form of bullying. People have done that to my student assistants and I just hate it. The minute they don't hear a calm, firm voice - it's off to the races - and it isn't about the actual situation, but always about a host of grievances that have little to do with the poor public assistant or postal clerk. Once, I got a woman like that on the phone and after 45 minutes, I had to hang up on her. She wouldn't last ten minutes with me these days. There was absolutely no polite way to stop her or help her and no answer was acceptable. We all can get into these horrible loops, but most of us learn that it is unfair and not useful to hold someone (who can't do anything more)hostage to our toxic mood. On reflection, that's what I think.
There's the tyranny of youth and also the tyranny of old age - and none of us would have felt much sympathy if it had been a younger person, so....I don't think there was a choice - other than waiting another half hour until she fainted from exhaustion.

zhoen said...

Here's to shutting down bullies. Bravo.

Edvard Moonke said...

ah but it's all good material... x

JoeinVegas said...

Stuck, looping, happens a lot when the government's involved.

Darkmind said...

Jessie makes a good point. Don't think of it as you made an old lady feel bad. Think of it as you put into place a sequence of events that resolved everyone's problems. The clerk was set free from the loop, the old lady got her question answered on the 800 number, the man behind you was given the opportunity to beat his chest a little (seems like the kind of person who likes to), and everyone in line was thankful for the forward movement. Good Karma abounds, and with a fairly decent sound track to boot!

LJ said...

Hi Everyone!
Thanks Zhoen. Yeah. Still, it doesn't feel great, you know.
Edvard - true enough
JoeinV - government is a four letter word
D - You liked my soundtrack! I don't why - but that surprised the hell out of me.

Darkmind said...

Well, caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new...

Ariel said...

Well, what else could you do? Most people are only content to sigh and do nothing...