Who's crazy now?

I went to the post office yesterday, home of the original postal employees. Our P.O. employees aren't postal. They're usually patient and helpful, and they’ve memorized everyone’s name and address; it’s a small town, but not that small. At least the people in the post office are like that.

The delivery people, on the other hand, are a rogue, passive aggressive bunch, who’s motto doesn’t involve anything about “neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night blah blah blah”, it’s more like, “I’ve got your mail and I doubt if you’ll ever get it.” Mail delivery didn’t occur at my house on about 25 days in the past 2 years due to weather, and that doesn’t even count the days where the mail carrier looked deep into the postal code, found problems with the mailbox, and refused to deliver until the problem was corrected.  Not just to one oddball box, but to her whole route. No, I won’t go into that. I won’t go into the part about how I can be standing in the driveway waving at her, and she’ll leave a, “tried to deliver a package, but no one was home” notice in the mailbox.

That’s not what this post is about.

Because where I was going with this is how I get it, I get how they turn into postal employees.

The man in front of me in line said he was expecting the package to be delivered to the private mailbox store, but they were closed, so he thought he’d check here.  The woman went away to check, and came back.  "Nope, no package."

“um, no package? Are you sure?”

“I’ll check again,” she says patiently, using Strategy #1: Even though you already know the answer, double check, because it makes the customer feel like you care. You care harder. She goes off, looks around, comes back, “nope, I don’t have anything for you today. Check back Monday.”

“Hmm.” He stands there, and it’s clear that he doesn’t really believe her, and he’s not about to go anywhere until she looks further. “I’m pretty sure you should have the package.”

The employee turns to the other person working, and says, “Have you seen anything for so and so?”, using Strategy #2: Ask someone else, as if you perhaps made a mistake (even though you know you didn’t), demonstrating again that not only do You Care Harder but you are also quite humble and willing to be wrong. The second employee checks, and comes to the window and says, “no, sorry, there’s nothing here for you today.”

He continues to stand there, and he’s a big guy, who, by the way, is wearing a puffy snowmobile suit -- big fluffy pants, oversized pillow-like jacket -- which is out of place, given that it’s about 70 degrees out, the first sunny day in what seems like a year, and most of us are excited to take off a few layers. He’s so big that she can’t really do that trick of looking past him to help me (Strategy #3: “I’ve helped you all I can, and now I must turn all of my humble, caring harder attention to the next person in line”), because he’s blocking the whole window.

They do the stare down thing, her not saying anything, and him not leaving. After a minute or so of silence, she wins, and he leaves the window, muttering.

He walks over to the recycling bin, and starts pawing through the discarded mail, which there’s a lot of because it’s a post office, and he starts pulling envelopes out of the bin, studying them, and talking. Talking a lot, and loudly. Mostly unintelligible, but I get the idea that he believes they threw his package in this bin. He opens an envelope, glances at the contents, crumples it up, and moves on to the next envelope, muttering all the while.

It dawns on me that he’s not quite right. The snow mobile outfit (it hasn’t snowed here in, oh, maybe a year and a half), the muttering, the whole thing. I know. It took me so long. When I write about it, it seems obvious, but it’s hard for me to tell the difference between crazy and normal, which is a pretty big problem.

The incident was familiar; I deal with dozens of people every week like that.   My scenario goes more like this:

“Hi, I’m looking at a piece of property, and I just wondered if there are any issues that you know of.”

I look it up, and say something like, “Hmm, it looks like we’ve done some review on this lot, and it’s all wetland. It will be difficult, time-consuming, and costly to develop, and you may not end up with what you want.”

“Oh, I don’t really think it is wetland.”

“Hmm. I’m looking at the information we have, and there has been a study done by a wetland professional. Here’s the map, and as you can see, the entire site is wetland.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s right. It’s mostly just trees and stuff out there. I don’t think it’s a wetland.”

I dig a little deeper into the file. “Hmm, it says here that health approval was denied for this site due to a high water table.”

“Oh, I think it’s fine. It doesn’t really seem that wet to me. I’m sure I could get a drainfield on it.”

I don’t want to get all high and mighty about my job, which, as my boss says routinely, “Trained monkeys could do”, to which I always reply, “But they wouldn’t,” but anyway, people come in with no experience developing property, or identifying wetlands, and argue about the information we give them.  This happened recently, and when I asked the person what he does for a living, he said he's in training to be a forensic autopsy technician, which, in case you’re interested, requires one year of experience as a phlebotomist.

We do a few more polite rounds, and then they sit there, giving me the stare, and I sit there too, trying not to be stare-y, but rather, trying to project patience, which doesn’t always work because I’m often not feeling it. I’m not sure what else to do, because I’ve given them the answer six times now, and they don’t like it, and the answer is DO NOT BUY THIS PROPERTY. Do you get why it’s so cheap? Do you get why a bank owns it now?

If they were to get up and start rummaging in the recycling bin, muttering, it would be clear who’s the crazy one, but in real life, it’s never quite that clear. It seems equally likely that I’ll be the one doing the rummaging.


  1. It's too bad all of the "troubled" people don't wear snowmobile suits, for ease of identification. Many of them wear suits and drive late-model Volvos.

  2. Oh, PC, I'll know there's been a diagnosis if someone recommends I start wearing a snowmobile suit...


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