Friday, September 16, 2011

The Niceness Voyage

The way I understand it, the Russians are sort of a combination of evil and incompetence... sort of like the Post Office with tanks. - Emo Phillips

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world - Bob Thiele 1968

Well, I call it a voyage as it has a beginning, and an end.

The beginning - I was remembering a long-ago meeting. A long-ago meeting with someone I'd known long-ago. Her name is Joy, and I'd known her as a child. Later, she had worked with my mother at a law firm in Melbourne. I hadn't seen her since I was twelve when some time in the late nineties, I bumped into her at a BBQ in Australia.

I didn't recognize her, it being a hundred years since we'd last met. She was striding purposefully toward me.

"You are Kate Juliff," she accused. "You and my cousin were mean to me when I was eleven and I've spent the last 30 years in therapy as a result." And then, without drawing breath (she is obviously not a smoker) she continued with, "I worked at the same place as your mother after I left school. Mrs Juliff was such a NICE lady!"

Why did I remember this long-ago monologue of long ago last Wednesday morning in New York? I have no idea, but remember it I did, and I decided to become "a NICE person". I'm always in for a change, and instead of redecorating or buying new clothes or taking up a new interest, I decided to become a "nice person".

And that was the beginning of the niceness journey.

It all went well. To begin with. I was really nice to the bus driver saying "good morning" on alighting, and "thank you" on departing. I asked the doorman how was his young son and he beamed, surprised no doubt that I remembered that his wife had given birth just two years ago.

Then today, I was nice to my dentist and his assistant, asking how they were and smiling throughout the agony.

On my way home I spotted a new store, "Kidding Around" in Grand Central. I went in and browsed and found some New York toys and books. The nice person thought, these would be good for my grandchild, aged five months.

When I was at the counter getting ready to pay for my New York kid things, the clerk asked me if I'd like to join their mailing list. Ordinarily I'd have just snarled and said no thank you, but today I was being nice. "Certainly," I replied with a smile.

"What do you think of my new store?" she asked. "It's delightful!" I answered. Nicely.

"Great, please accept this gift in appreciation," she said, handing me a mermaid doll replete with silvery tail.

I was all niceness. The sun was shining. New York, New York. What had I been missing in my prior non-nice life?

Pret A Manger, Lexington Avenue
I stopped at Pret a Manger, the English fast-but-healthy food place, for an egg sandwich and a cappuccino. I smiled as I ordered. The barista smiled back.

And then I decided to stop at the post office to mail my "Kidding Around" purchases back to Australia. There's a post office in Grand Central so it was convenient. Usually I buy my postage online. But the new "nice" me decided to interact with humans. Besides, I'd read that the US Postal Service was about to go under. Best to support the human postal workers, thought the new "nice" me.

On entering the hall-like interior of the Grand Central Post Office, I saw that human contact was being discouraged. Signs everywhere advised consumers to use "DYI" parcels. I looked for an international DYI section, and finding none, pushed the books, the toy New York taxi and mermaid from "Kidding Around" into a standard US Post box, I found a customs form, filled it in, and joined a line (queue).

There were only about six people ahead of me and a greeter-sort-of-US-Post-employee was wandering around looking as if she was there to help us.

As one of the customers finished her transactions at the counter and headed off toward the exit, Ms Greeter-Person confronted her. "People are complaining you took a long time!" she accused. The customer looked taken-aback. "But all I did was buy stamps," she explained, almost apologizing. "Don't blame me!" came the reply. "I am not allowed to hurry you up, I am just reporting the general consensus of your fellow customers."

Bloody hell! I decided to keep a low profile and stood dutifully for around ten minutes, when Ms Greeter-Person approached me and told me I was in the wrong line. "How could I know?" I asked, and then from the look on her face thought better of it, and joined the only other line in the place. There were around twelve people ahead of me.

Post Office Door, Grand Central
I kept reminding myself that I was now a "nice" person, and stood patiently. And then she appeared again. Ms Greeter-Person

"You need to tape that box up," she complained. I explained that I'd taken the box from a pile under a sign encouraging us to use them, and how could I tape it up myself? Upon which she thrust a roll of USPS tape into my hand and told me to go to the packing area and to tape it, and to then come back to see her before re-joining the line.

Well I tried. The roll was about 10" in diameter. I was trying to push the box flaps together while at the same time holding my handbag, my lettuce sandwich from Pret A Manger, the USPS tape roll, and the custom form. It was all too much.

I asked another customer if she could help me. Recognizing me as a "nice person", she readily complied. We got part of the tape stuck to the box but how to cut it? The helpful other-customer tried with her nails. Then with her teeth. There was no way!

I thanked her nicely and approached Ms Greeter-Person. "I'm sorry but I can't do this," I said. "I'd need scissors!"

"Well the PUBLIC (shudder shudder) STEAL the dispensers so what can we do," she replied.

And then my journey ended.



"No wonder the Postal Service is going broke!" I snarled.

Quick as a flash she New-York-answered, "EXCUSE me! But I wouldn't march into YOUR work and insult YOU!"

"Oh," I came back, giving as good as I got. "I bet you would!"

"And it isn't why we are going broke," she added.

I agreed.

New-York-like we both decided to call it a day. She said she'd apply the tape. And led me to a counter and apply the tape she did. Like a maniac. I am pretty sure my "Hello New York" book was taped to the wooden toy New York cab. As for the mermaid doll, as Ms Greeter-Person "cut" the tape by stabbing it furiously axe-murder-like with her ballpoint pen, I fear that she'll look more like a chewed-up pin-cushion than a magical silvery sea-creature...

I joined the line.

I waited.

Decades passed and then it was my turn.

A clerk with a head like a pencil snarled at me and made me wait while he translated my hand-written custom form into ASCII on his keyboard. After an eternity I saw the charge, $45, come up on the customer display pad. I went to swipe my credit card.

"Not now!" he screamed. I shrank back.

A few years later he commanded "Now!" I swiped my card. A dotted line appeared on the pad, so I picked up the stylus that was anchored to the pad, to sign my name. "NO NO NO!" he said. "On PAPER. With a PEN! THAT is not a pen!!!"

I complied. I just wanted out of there.

I remembered the American saying about "getting the hell out of Dodge" and suddenly understood it.

I walked slowly to the exit, trying to get the niceness feeling back.

But it was shivering, recoiled, hiding somewhere, shrivelled deep inside some safe part of my mind.

Never to return.

The voyage had ended.


chinamonty said...

But you are nice all of the time Kate!
China has the best idea -they won't accept a parcel that is taped -they have to do it so they can be sure there is nothing that shouldn't go through the post in your parcel. It is a pain if you want to send a CD or DVD back home as they won't allow it though.

Vanessa said...

Well it seemed the voyage was doomed from the moment you entered the post office. Should have given it a couple days practice before attempting that. The Post Office does make people "go postal" but is seemed like a good challenge.

"Nice" Kate is a good thing, but honestly, nothing beats sarcastic, snarling, condescending, "tell it like it is" Kate, which is infinitely more funny, adorable, and entertaining as all hell.

You are welcome :)

Anonymous said...

Glad you didn't step out of character for too long, Kate. Maybe age has something to do with it, but I suspect it's New York. Try southern AZ. It's very laid back; even more so than California. But then the median age where i live is probably closer to sixty and at that point, who gives a darn. Now if I could just put up with all those damn 'organ recitals' sans musical instrument

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