At the Post Office, wishing a Merry Christmas; at home, a Happy New Year ahead?


Wednesday, December 15, we attended Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis…

Friday morning, December 17, I was at the Post Office early, the better to beat the rush.

Even given the good timing, there were still a dozen or more of us in line, with one postal worker on station (two stations vacant).

We were a quiet bunch, and I struck up a conversation with the guy behind me, who identified himself as working in a lab for a major corporation. Nice guy.

The small talk drifted to snow removal after the blizzard the previous weekend. Minneapolis and St. Paul were still not dug out. I commented that the cities were already suffering budget problems due to the amounts of snow thus far, and it could really be a problem later.

The guy responded with the mantra: “there isn’t a revenue problem, there’s a spending problem” and dragged in the entire state and federal budget. We didn’t go further. My guess, though, is that he knew about as much about the complexities of the state and federal budgets as I knew about his lab job: nothing. As a taxpayer, he had a right to complain, whether or not his complaint made sense, or if he any data to go on beyond somebody’s talking points.

The line continued to move at a normal rate (I’m a regular there. I know).

A woman a few folks behind me loudly complained to the postal worker behind the counter about those other counters with no postal workers behind them. Get workers out here — now. The obvious inference was that there were supposed to be people out there but they were likely gold-bricking on company time. She, the customer, was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait.

The counter lady likely had heard this complaint before. “They’re back helping sort mail for the route carriers,” she said, quietly.

The rest of us just continued quietly waiting our turn. As I’ve come to expect over many times in the line, my/our wait was perhaps 15 to 20 minutes max. It SEEMS longer if you think about it. Left to its own devices, the line moves at a regular pace.

The next day found me back at the post office once again. This time I was in another line waiting for the automated postal device where you can process your own items and pay by credit card.

This time the lady at the front of the line offered, grumpily, that she didn’t like the grumpy people at the counters so she came to the machine. I know this post office well. The lady was grumpier than the grumpiest counter person on his or her last nerve facing an unreasonable customer. I’ve watched postal workers at work. I know.

It takes all kinds. If there’s a grumpy quotient, it’s more likely some unreasonable customer demanding service that cannot be instantly provided.

A couple days later, back at the post office one more time: the postal worker helping me was a bit upset. Apparently, not long before I’d joined the queue, someone in line had collapsed and, he thought, had possibly died. He was concerned about this unknown woman — he guessed she was in her mid-30s. He just didn’t know.

I suppose in the three postal visits I describe I was in the company of 30 to 40 of my fellow citizens in my town.

A couple of the folks were downright unreasonable, but the rest were just people, understanding that we were all in a small community and that service took time, and that even the post office might be trying to do things right.

Even with all the ample insanity that passes for public political conversation these days maybe, not so deep down, as a whole we are okay as a society. But we’re too timid.

To have a Happy New Year we need to get far more engaged in the politics that determines what kind of society we are going to be part of.

In the New Year we’ll have a chance to witness in our government, state and national, the ascendance of the politics of anger. Watch out.

Happy New Year.

…In the Guthrie audience with us was my wife’s son and 6th grade grandson. Her son is basically unemployed, working a part-time job which is by no stretch adequate.

I’ve seen A Christmas Carol before, at the Guthrie.

This year I tended to see our American society as akin to good old Ebenezer Scrooge. While we suffer from high unemployment, 90 percent of the work force is employed, most retired people like myself are doing very well indeed (you don’t go to the Guthrie for nothing these days). Compared to the so-called Third World, even our poor citizens are well off financially.

Still there is a Scrooge-like tendency that we have: while we consider ourselves a very generous people, we are very stingy when it comes to letting loose of what we consider to be “our” goodies.

The next day, my wife asked my grandson what part of the performance he liked the best. “Christmas Present,” he said without hesitation.

Perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to “Christmas Future,” which is what caught Ebenezer Scrooge’s attention…