I was in the post office with my four year old daughter. I had about twenty review copies of It’s A Mall World After All that I was mailing out to various school librarians in the state, you know, doing that self promotion my editors are always asking about.
Taking my four year old anywhere that is not strictly child proof--complete with ball pit--is always a risky venture. If the place doesn’t have a jungle gym, my darling daughter (hereafter referred to as DD) will find a way to create one. Clothes racks, tables, shopping carts—they all work.
But I’d been trying to get to the post office for days, so I had a little talk with DD about the behavior I expected from her and off we went to wait in a line behind two dozen other people.
I don’t know why the line is always so long at the post office. Any time of the day it’s like that. I don’t know why they don’t just hire another worker. They probably would earn more money in the long run because people like me wouldn’t do everything in their power to avoid the place. But there we were. For the first fifteen minutes DD was good. Oh sure, I had to tell her not to swing on the door sensor that beeps if you try to do something evil, like steal stamps, but that’s manageable behavior. Then she took the stack of Change-Address-Requests and began drawing on them. I didn’t stop her. I figure hey, if the post office is going to make small children wait for long periods they can forfeit some paper.
When I was the second person in line, DD informed me that she had to go to the bathroom. I informed her that there wasn’t a bathroom around, and besides, I was almost to the front of the line. This conversation went on for a few minutes and then I smelled a bad smell. And yes, it was what you think it was. Apparently surprised herself, DD put her hand down there to check out what it was.
I spent the rest of the time in line looking for Kleenex in my purse and telling her DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. NO, STOP TOUCHING THINGS. GET OFF THE FLOOR. DON’T TOUCH ME EITHER.
And we were in line for a good ten minutes after this happened because the three people at the counter (who were all getting passports done) were reading the fine print, or waiting for foreign governments to change heads of state, or I don’t know, maybe just being really slow because that’s how the post office is run. One of them was complaining about something (although I didn’t feel sorry for him because hey, he didn’t have to keep a poopy child occupied). He kept saying things like, “Well, if I went into the passport office in San Francisco would they have the same policies? Can I get an appointment there?”
By this time I was about to have a nervous break down, and DD was on the floor making poop sculptures.
Finally it was my turn. I went to the counter telling DD to come with me but not to touch anything, including herself.
I told the lady at the counter that I needed to mail these books but I wasn’t sure if it was best to mail them first class or media mail. She went into her, Is-there-anything-flamable-hazardous-or-that-could-be-used-to-make-explosives-speaches.
In one of my books? I wish. Maybe I’d get some attention in the literary world if my books could be used to hijack a mail truck, but no.
“They’re books,” I told her.
“I’m still required to ask the questions,” she told me.
And I wondered why things took so long in the post office.
So I told her no, my packages were perfectly safe and then we went through all the rates until I decided that first class was better than media mail after all. I also told her that I was sorry, but she was going to have to disinfect the entire post office after we left, because my daughter had an accident and kept touching things. (I’m sure none of the patrons behind us wanted to lay a hand on the counters, the pen, and especially the Change-Address-Request sheets.)
It took the post office lady a long time to print out the postage stickers for my packages, and I was constantly checking to see where DD was and what she was touching. It was then that the post office lady noticed the addresses on the packages. “Are these children’s books?” she asked.
“Young adult books,” I said.
“Are you a teacher or librarian or something?” she asked.
“I’m a writer,” I said. “They’re review copies.”
And then she asked what kind of books I wrote and all of those kinds of questions. I admit I didn’t appear to be very jolly for someone who writes comedies, or you know sophisticated, competent--any of those things writers would like their personas to be. In fact, I’m really hoping she and everyone in line behind me has completely forgotten my name.
Sometimes it pays to be an unknown.