Monday morning...

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Monday morning at the post office

This story is not a work of fiction. Names, places and incidents are not a product of the author's imagination, neither are they used fictitiously. Any resemblance with actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is far from coincidental.

It is Wednesday morning. Frank, about to leave the breakfast table:

"By the way... if you hear a loud bang coming from a southeastern direction within the next half hour, accompanied by a bright flash, don't worry. This is just because I have blown the supermarket off the face of the earth."

Immediately his wife's facial expression changes into a deep-felt pity.

"Package again, honey?"

Frank, grumbling, his facial expression resembling that of a Roman gladiator immediately prior to his first encounter with the lions:

"Yeah, package again!"

"Well... good luck!"

The impression that the corners of his wife's mouth have moved a fraction of an inch towards a hardly suppressed chuckle probably being not substantial enough for a divorce, all Frank replies is a clipped "Thanks," followed by an equally clipped "Bye."

"Bye, honey. Good luck!"

On the road Frank occupies whatever brain cells are not currently required for driving with an attempt to convince both his conscious and his subconscious mind that this time all is going to go well. Even though his local post office was closed forever last year and replaced by a counter in the local supermarket. Right next to where the vegetables are sold. Staffed with a never ending variety of former supermarket employees.

Frank enters the supermarket and makes his way to the counter next to the veggies. While the lady behind the counter deals with another customer attempting to buy stamps, he has ample time to watch both onions and carrots being restocked. Then it is his turn.

Frank, cheerfully: "Good morning!"

The lady behind the counter, looking like someone who has recently been forced to swallow half a lemon: " 'rning!"

"I would like to send this to the United States. Insured. Would that be possible if sent as 'small package'?"

Frank is of course perfectly aware that small packages can't be insured even if sent within Germany. This question is his standard opening to get an idea of his opponent's qualification.

"Ermmm... small packages can't be insured. Even if sent within Germany."

Obviously the lady behind the counter has been working there for more than a day. Maybe, just maybe this time...

"Ok, that leaves us with an insured maxi letter, I guess?"

The lady puts the package on a scale and eyes it suspiciously. Frank has the dj vu expression that she isn't aware of the fact that the added width, length and height of a maxi letter can be 36 inches. And that rectangular shapes are perfectly legal.

"That's no letter!"

"Why not?"

"It's too big."

"Excuse me, but the added width, length and height of a maxi letter can be 36 inches."

The lady starts hitting her computer keyboard vigourously.

"Oh. You are right."

Nothing else, just a measly "you are right". Considering the fact that Frank has just provided information that might well be an important step forward in this lady's career, Frank would have considered some expression of gratitude appropriate.

Meanwhile the lady continues watching the package on the scale. Maybe she is hoping that it will eventually gain the 6 oz required to make it heavier than the allowed maximum weight of 35 oz for maxi letters.
Obviously, this is not going to happen within any amount of time worth waiting for, so the lady starts attacking her keyboard again.

"You can't send an insured letter to the United States."

"Eh... why not, please? Your price brochure says that insurance for international letters is DM 3.00 for each 200 DM of insured value?"

"Yes, but..."

"And last week I was able to send an insured letter to England just fine? "

"... I can't find it in my computer!"

"But..."

"Ah! Here! This footnote says
Not possible to all countries! "

"I see. To which countries, then, is sending an insured maxi letter from Germany possible?"

"... I can't find it in my computer!"

"Neither was I able to find this information anywhere in your brochure. Does that mean that the only way to find out whether I can send an insured letter to a particular country is by coming here and hoping you will find it in your computer?"

"..."

Frank starts concentrating on his breath. Deeply and evenly. In and out. In and out. Deeply and evenly. Eventually the frantic urge to jump over the counter and do something terrible subsides.

A stifled snicker can be heard from behind. Frank turns around. About 10 people are lining up behind him, grinning more or less openly. This might explain the lady's growing nervousness and the tiny beads of sweat that have been forming on her forehead lately.
With a superhuman effort Frank manages to remain polite.

"So, there is no way of sending something to the US of A with insurance?"

"Oh yes, there is!"

After some seconds of puzzlement Frank realizes that the lady is not going to provide any further information on this topic volontarily.

"And which delivery form, please, would that be?"

"A value parcel."

"Well... how much would that be?"

After some more keyboard hacking the lady discloses the fee. As said fee isn't her fault, Frank does his best to suppress a hysterical fit of laughter. It would be way cheaper to reimburse the recipient with the original purchase price if the letter was lost.

Considering the fact that the queue behind him has reached the tomatoes by now, further considering that he is expected in an important meeting that is scheduled 40 minutes and 22 miles away from where he currently is, Frank decides that this situation calls for some kind of shortcut.

"Well, actually, I'm afraid this is not an option. So it will be a small parcel after all. How much would that be?"

"DM 19.00"

"Ok, that sounds good."

Clicketyclick. Click. Clicketyclicketyclicketyclick. Backspace. Click? Backspace. Backspacebackspace. Click!

"Do you want to send it express?"

"How much would that be extra?"

"DM 4.00"

"Great, then I'd like to send it express!"

The lady, obviously relieved that she was able to offer something helpful for a change, eagerly resumes her clicking.

"Do you want the recipient to confirm reception with his signature?"

Frank, hoping for the remote possibility that by now the lady might have become aware of his keen interest in prices, does not answer immediately. This conversation gap allows him to realize that the queue members that are out of earshot are beginning to show definite signs of hostility towards him, just like the customers who are trying to reach the bread counter which by now it is effectively blocked by the queue.

"How much extra would that be?"

Clicketyclick. Click. Backspace.

"DM 3.00"

"Sounds good!"

Clickclickclickdelete.

"Do you want a written acknowledgement of the confirmation sent back to you?"

In and out. Slowly and easily. In and out. Frank does his best to block everything remotely related to package delivery from his mind for the time being and starts concentrating on something nice and peaceful.
After a few seconds of mentally hiking in New Zealand, though, the increasing annoyance level behind him brings him back to reality.

"How much extra would that be?"

"DM 3.00."

"Ok, great!"

Clicketyclicketyclick. Backspace. Clickclick.

"So... The total is DM 44.00."

"Erm... excuse me, but... DM 19.00 for the package plus DM 4.00 for sending it express plus DM 3.00 for the confirmation plus DM 3.00 for sending the confirmation back should be something around DM 29.00 I think?"

"DM 19.00 is only for packages with a weight of 25 oz or less."

Frank suddenly feels a distinctive wetness spreading over the back of his neck. This is the result of the fact that the guy immediately behind him has finally lost the fight for keeping up his self-control. Laughing hysterically, while at the same time trying to keep his mouth shut, he is giving an impression of someone slightly mentally challenged. Taking into account that '34.4 oz' has been shining in large green digits on the lady's scale for a considerable length of time already, his sudden outburst of humor is hardly surprising.

As to the wetness on his neck, Frank doesn't care. Neither is he afraid of the queue anymore, although a shy glance backwards shows that it has reached the entrance by now, making it impossible to estimate its real length. All of a sudden, things have turned surreal. Frank is floating above the whole scene, looking down on himself, the lady and the scale, its large green digits mockingly twinkling. The sounds are as muffled as they were when he practiced diving in his bathtub as a small boy, and all the colors are much brighter. Not many things more unimportant than packages, scales or ladies these days. What a perfect day for hiking.

"Sir? Sir?? Are you feeling well, Sir?"

While Frank is pulling himself slowly, inch by painful inch, back down into the cruel world of reality, the guy behind him quite unexpectedly decides to come to his aid.

"Look, lady, let me assure you that up to a minute ago I have enjoyed this little play tremendously, but unfortunately enjoying plays is not what I am getting paid for. And this gentleman's package is, in all likeliness, not going to change its weight in the foreseeable future. So would you PLEASE see to getting it on its way so that I might have a chance to buy my stamps before I get fired?"

Silence. Then more silence.

The lady slowly turns her head to look at the source of this unexpected intrusion - neither angrily nor defiantly, though. In fact she appears meek and subdued. Maybe Frank's continued politeness hasn't been a good idea to start with. There are people like that. People you get along with better if you adress them firmly and with contempt.

"Well... sure, Sir. We will take care of your stamps in a second. Sorry for keeping you waiting!
This will be DM 35.00, Sir."

It takes some seconds until Frank finally gets both his feet back on the ground, but eventually he realizes that the lady's last sentence was directed at himself, not at the guy behind him. Without a word he gets out his wallet and pays, making sure to fumble for the exact amount. Calculating any amount of change, let alone the correct one, might turn out as being a challenge that the lady might not be able to meet, and why take chances. A small bright ray of hope has found its way into Frank's otherwise still fairly clouded mind.

Clicketyclick. Click.

"What?!" Backspaceclick. "Ah!".

A label is printed. Silently and with utmost efficiency the lady sticks it on the parcel. Then she opens a drawer, takes out a list, puts it on the counter and starts studying it scrutinizingly, frowning and clucking the tip of her tongue against her upper and lower incisors with surprising speed.

Frank knows this list, and he has learned to hate it.
It contains instructions on how to reach different postage charges with as few stamps as possible, one of the very few remaining challenges for former supermarket employees these days. Frank, having once learned the hard way that it is a very bad idea to interrupt someone absorbed in this list, spends the time on contemplating if not showing up at a meeting he has convened and is supposed to moderate might possibly have any negative effect on his career.

Suddenly, the label is followed by an impressive row of stamps. The fact that the total value of the stamps is different from both the amount the lady has just mentioned and any postage fee Frank is aware of induces a growing feeling of panic in his stomach. However, the lady appears to be perfectly satisfied with what he finally pays, and the panic makes way for tremendous relief. Which would definitely be more than spoiled by Frank's pointing out that the lady has put an air mail sticker on the package although what he paid is only enough for surface mail. Strictly speaking, he doesn't care anymore whether the parcel will ever reach the addressee or not. Or whether the world will go up in flames tomorrow. His only concern is getting out of here as fast as humanly possible and trying to catch up with his sanity that he can make out just barely somewhere at the horizon.

"Err... Sir? Sir?!?"

Being interrupted so rudely in the pleasant conception of how to make sure it would look like an accident, it takes a little time until it dawns on Frank that a male voice from behind him can't possibly be the lady's.

"Sir? I think you are all set!"

Frank looks questioningly at the lady. Arching an eyebrow, not believing he can really be that lucky.

The lady nods, smiling benevolently. "Your package has practically arrived, Sir."

"Thank you so much, Miss!"

This is how people must feel when they stand on the summit of Mt. Everest after climbing it barefoot and without respiration gear.
Straightening his shoulders, he walks towards the entrance doors, ignoring the hostile looks and hissed insults from the people in the queue. If you have just won a war, minor considerations like this have a tendency to become utterly unimportant. When he passes the young woman at the end of the line (way past the entrance), he cheerfully informs her and her sulking teenage daughter that the traffic jam has dissolved a minute ago and that she can expect being served no later than two hours from now. Surprisingly, the woman doesn't seem to recognize this piece of information as the good news it really is.
Whistling under his breath, Frank walks back to his car. What a rare streak of luck that everything went so fast and smoothly today. Considering how it went last time, there's no doubt that today is his lucky day.

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