Recently, I entered the magnificent James A. Farley building around lunchtime with a package and a feeling of dread. Three hours later I left New York City’s main post office with a renewed sense of humanity.
Immediately, I had to choose which of the five lines full of misery to join. Within seconds, an older lady in a postal uniform approached and directed me. I was to fill out a label on one line and then wait in line number three.
As my patience wore thin on the label line, I asked the man in front of me if he was still writing. He shook his head “no.” The man in the royal blue tracksuit and New Balance sneakers wasn’t filling out forms, but rather mid-way through reading a romance novel (“Reclaiming His Pregnant Widow,” if you’re scoring at home).
Johnny Tracksuit didn’t look homeless. Obvious by the slightly disturbing grin on his face, he was literate. Does that mean he was here solely for the atmosphere? Are there others “just hanging out”?
I took my package to line three and looked for more people enjoying Club Postal. At the next table, a man was feverishly counting $1 bills. There must’ve been 100 of them. I’d guess he was an exotic dancer, but the fact that he looked like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos said otherwise. He wore a trench coat, a button-down shirt, slacks, and New Balance sneakers.
Uncle Junior stopped counting to say hi to a man in a Russian hat walking the perimeter of the room. The man in the hat also wore a winter coat, jeans and…New Balance sneakers! Whoa? Do Uncle Junior and his Russian comrade know Johnny Tracksuit? Are New Balance sneakers the official footwear of USPS groupies?
After being helped by yet another cheerful postal employee, I mailed my package and faced a dilemma. Do I reenter society with its stresses and problems or do I find a way to stay in this New Balance cocoon? Like any responsible person, I decided to cancel the rest of my afternoon and try to join the gang. Would my Nikes be the equivalent of driving into a Crip neighborhood with a red doo-rag?
While exploring the rest of the building, I literally stumbled upon a girl who was propped-up against a row of PO boxes, crying. For 45 minutes, the weeping lass typed dramatically into her phone while blubbering to herself. Maybe somebody decided she wasn’t worth “forever” stamps. Finally, a woman in this crew! Sadly for me, she was wearing Converse. There goes that theory.
For the next few hours, Teddy KGB continued to do laps in his bushy. Uncle Junior counted his money over and over. Johnny Tracksuit rifled through his Harlequin romance novel like a man possessed.
Aside from the girl falling to pieces and an inconsequential shouting match about who could yell their zip code louder, it was a rather pleasant afternoon. The entire staff was more comparable to the loveable gang at Cheers than the term “going postal” would imply. There was lots of chit-chat and a surprising propensity for 8-step handshakes between the staff and the regulars.
Most of the hostility in the post office simply comes from impatient people thinking they are more important than the 20 customers in front of them.
So maybe the next time a visitor wants you to show them a real slice of The Big Apple, skip the overdone Andrew Lloyd Webber shows, bypass some overpriced tourist trap restaurant, and forego waiting two hours for the rocket ride up the Empire State Building. Go to that lovable Corinthian-styled building on 8th Ave between 31st and 33rd. But don’t forget your New Balance sneakers. (Photos: too_logical?/flickr)