Patchin Place Post Office on West Tenth is a block from Patchin Place cul-de-sac, formerly Bohemia central and home to literary curios e.e cummings and Djuna Barnes.
P.P.p.o. is usually a breeze-through but last visit I joined a long line rendered nearly unendurable by the unsavory customer queued just in front.
Now I’m post-office-patient.
I honed p.o. skills in India where outgoing packages must be tailor-stitched in muslin and sealed with wax.
Entering the post office, the customer interrupts a work-a-day coffee klatch; employees sip metal cups of hot milky Joe and give a rare sideways glance towards the swollen queue.
Once at the window, the customer must be vigilant, observing that purchased stamps are applied to the package, not slipped off for resale while the muslin bundle travels home tucked under an employee’s arm.
Incoming packages only leave the premises in exchange for sweaty palmed-off bakshish.
Or by a storm-and-seize operation through the back door while startled workers stare cups-tipped mid-sip.
Package in hand, the recipient finds it’s been previously opened, its contents ABC: already bitten and chewed.
In NYC, I can relax; no need to stand with elbows wide, tips pointy to defend against queue jumping wingmen. No need to wait for my change coin by coin until it tallies up.
But this visit taxes me. The agitated fellow just in front wears a Vegetarian Society of New York t-shirt. But his continuous hacking of thick mucus along his throat while spewing a snide commentary on postal mismanagement confirms to this here vegetarian, he ain’t no such society member. I hardly picture him gathering a basketful of berries in countryside utopia, or handing out tofu samples at the farmer’s market.
He turns to me for support. He assumes we’ll riff, that I’ll join his bombastic vitriol.
I look at him benignly; let him assume that English is not my first language, that I don’t speak pissed-off crazy. As I look, I wonder why his far-to-the side parting and 80s far-from-fashion glasses seem so unnervingly familiar. Do I actually know this man?
As the postal workers come into view and this madman prepares to step up for help, he shifts his package and I read his name off the return address.
In 1984 Bernie Goetz pulled a gun in a NYC subway car and shot down four threatening teenagers leaving one of them paralyzed. He carried a gun because he was sick of the homeless people, the drug addicts, the thugs.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell suggests Bernie couldn’t help it. He was a doomed victim of his environment, the crime infected graffiti afflicted subway. Bernie fought back like a gun-toting rat because he was down a “rat hole.”
Malcolm, darling, daily we all went down the rat hole. But we didn’t slip so far down to mistake it for Alice's rabbit hole, leaving our minds at the turnstile with our token.
Didn’t query, “Do cats eat bats?”
Didn’t pick up bottles that said DRINK ME.
Cakes that said EAT ME.
Or guns that said SHOOT ME.
We were commuters not criminals.
Yeah, some gonzos championed Bernie as a vigilante angel.
My mom said it then.
She still says it today.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I’m not saying I want to hurt Bernard Goetz, to put him out of his phlegm rattled misery.
But I wish I had a pistol.
I’d take aim, pull the trigger and let fly a tiny flag.
I’d demand he remove his Vegetarian Society shirt.
I'd offer him a Kleenex.
Then I’d peel the stamps off his package, carry it out front and give it to a homeless stranger.