Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Land Where I'm Forgot

There is a land where time moves more slowly than it does here.

Once in this land, time becomes elastic and things that would normally take 5 minutes will take half an hour. Communication follows suit, as sentences that might once have been short and succinct begin to crawl at a leisurely pace, allowing any number of digressions. It’s a universe of slow motion where movement becomes almost imperceptible, a slow dripping of time that feels as if gravity itself could give way at any moment, spinning everything off this cosmic top into the deep freeze of space.

This place is called the post office.

One of the charms of living in a small community, certainly, is the intimacy of it. There’s something reassuring about being familiar with most of the folks in your neighborhood, and knowing they can be depended upon to keep an eye on your place when you’re not around. You can stop and talk with people you know when you go for a stroll and catch up on neighborhood gossip. Things generally move in a more relaxed way, without your feeling the need to check your watch every few minutes.

But there’s slow and then there’s slow.

And then there’s sloooooooooooow.

Our local post office is manned by two nice enough older gentlemen who we have nicknamed Frick and Frack. Frick is the taller of the two, his hair gone completely white, and he peers at us from behind a pair of coke bottle lenses. Frack is built shorter and stockier with a salt and pepper beard. Both of them have been there so long that they apparently know every single individual who walks in, and they take the opportunity of these meetings to do as much catching up as possible. Everyone seems to be under the impression that this is a General Store and we’re all sitting around the pot belly stove. All the place needs to make it complete is a spittoon.

The end result is that the buying of a stamp or the mailing of a letter becomes an endurance test that the wise consumer has learned to bring a picnic lunch to. They should probably just adopt the method that they use to sell tickets to stadium shows now and hand out bracelets to mark your place in line.

It’s not so bad if you walk in and there’s no line. Under those conditions you’ll only have a 20-minute wait, as Frick and Frack wander back and forth from the service counter to the back of the building, the pair looking like they’re trying to remember what it was they’d started to look for. Eventually they will notice you standing there and slowly, cautiously make their way towards the counter. It’s best not to make any sudden movements at this point lest the entire process start again.

But if there’s a line – just turn around or be prepared to hear more than you ever wanted to know about your neighbor’s kid’s soccer team or the local mechanic or the upcoming car show. Your brain will wither in frustration as you wait patiently for this endless vocal meandering to aim at a particular target or circle with the intention of making a landing. Frick’s slow, lazy drawl stands in sharp contrast to Frack’s more staccato attack, but both approaches result in Beckett-like dialogues that sound as if they would be better suited to the scorched and barren backgrounds of the late master dramatist.

Usually their conversations with the customers are kept separate, but when they begin to cross over, a sort of apotheosis of meaninglessness is reached:

Frick: So…the boy’s graduated, then…

Customer: Oh, yes…in fact…

Frack: (looks over) Graduated? What boy?

Frick: You know…the boy who used to come in with the…

Frack: Boy with! What?

Frick: …had the…you know…the thing with…

Customer: You remember Frankie…

Frack: Frankie boy?

Frick: Sure…Frankie boy…where’s he been?

Frack: Frank! I remember him! Frankie boy!

Frick: Sure…that’s him.

After enough of this, you’ll wish you were waiting for Godot. Chances are he’d sell you some stamps quicker than these guys. But you can’t put a price on local charm, so most folks are happy to let things remain the way they are.

After all, you got some place to go?


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