It was right around 2:56pm PST, and the Post Office closes — or, at any rate, bars new entrants — promptly at 3 on Saturdays.
There were perhaps 40 folks fidgeting in line; five vacant stalls adorned with plastic NEXT WINDOW pyramids, and a single, surly clerk on duty.
In the foyer, one of the twin stamp-dispensing machines had apparently expired. Most digital crawls on the other advised SOLD OUT. I had a crisp sawbuck, though, confident I could procure a score of first-class self-adhesives. As a bonus, I’d leave toting three brass Native American dollar coins in change.
A fellow citizen, meanwhile, was experiencing dire distress.
“Just one stamp. One. I only need one stamp. And I can’t even get that. Man, this sucks. What am I supposed to do? They’re gonna close. Their machine’s worthless. So, I’m screwed.”
This was delivered in the form of a lamentational pronunciamento, indiscriminately directed. I looked over at the narrator.
Once-black hair, bleached an unnatural lemon-lime blond. Cargo pants, lineman’s boots, deeply sunken, hollowed-out eyes.
He was pacing in a narrow-radius, agitated circle, gripping and fanning an envelope. An unstamped envelope.
“Hey,” I addressed citrus-head, in a mild undertone.
“Hunh?” Recoiling, he bristled, and back-pedaled.
“You only need one stamp?”
“That’s all, man. One stamp. But I can’t get it; can I?” He adopted a crucifixion pose. “This machine’s busted. Not as if that matters; ’cause there isn’t anyplace where they’re gonna sell you one stamp. Should I stand on that line? They’ll shut down before I ever come close to the counter. And all I want is one stamp.”
“You’re going to get one. No problem.”
“Here’s the deal. I’m about to buy 20 of them. Should say I hope to. Right after that; I’ll give you one.”
He gaped at me. I inserted an old-school, small-face Alex Hamilton and stabbed C-4. Three tacky dollar coins, two dimes, and one slim folder of “Apple & Orange” 34-cent stamps tumbled into the tray and slot. You push plastic to claim your goods.
Fishing the coins out, I tore the perforated top of the postal parcel. The Man Who Could Not Mail remained motionless and mute, staring at me in confounded consternation.
I displayed my $6.80 purchase. “You want an apple, or an orange?” I asked.
“Oh; no, dude. I mean…That’s not… Whichever one you pick.” He was considerably more anxious than angry now.
“Might as well select the fruit you prefer. Only two kinds to choose from.” His mood shifted again, becoming thoughtful.
“Actually, I think I’d like an apple.”
I peeled off a pippin and stuck it onto the crusty knuckle of his closest index finger.
“I really appreciate this, man.” He shot me a grave look. “Hard to believe that you would, you know, give a shit.”
“My pleasure,” I demurred, watching him shakily transfer the paste-on postage, affixing it to a no-doubt overdue bill.
Can’t recollect another good deed I did that day. Skies were overcast and I wasn’t in circulation much.