Betsy Shebang - Column for 10/23


We can only put up with so much. I mean, today more than ever, everybody else's problems really are way worse than mine, but we all have limits; and it's the regular approach of those limits that result in many of our culture's treasured rituals. An expectant father, for example, frightened for the life of his spouse and for the children he must welcome unknown into the world, relaxes in celebration afterwards by passing out the traditional cigars. I've slowly discovered, however, that it's less a gesture of glee than a formal declaration to the world that we all have a breaking point: "IT'S A BOY! AND I'VE TAKEN UP SMOKING!"

So, yes, once again I woke up at 4 am and lay awake, daydreaming about defending my plane against three guys with box cutters. I'm considering counseling, although it's not as bad as it was a month ago. So I got up, put off writing for another morning, fixed a bunch of stuff on my website ( and left early to go by the post office on the way to work. Car's broken and has been donated, so visit to post officto get money order for poorly-timed ebay indulgence can be done only at rare moments between distant commutes between isolated home and isolated work.

Treated myself to a donut, glanced at headlines about a postal carrier in DC contracting anthrax and carried a few packages to the post office, trying not to get any foreign substances from the donut on the packages so they'd be held up under suspicion that my apple fritter goop was part of a terrorist plot. Stood in line behind two people, a third at the counter who had several packages he couldn't figure out how he wanted them to go and they wouldn't take his credit card or something. The fat woman at the front of the line, wearing skin-tight shorts, whined about how she was in a hurry - what kinda moron goes to the post office in a hurry? - and got up to the counter saying loudly, "Twenty minutes - a new record!" Then she bitched her way through her transaction and left, announcing to the new customer in line behind me "Twenty-two minute wait!" just to get maximum wattage out of her moment of suffering. The nice man next in line went up and also couldn't figure out how he wanted his package to go, saying it was sound recordings and it had to be sent media rate, and he asked how much it weighed, out of curiosity? As if it fucking mattered how much it weighed, asshole, so he also had some credit-card problem and after ten minutes or so he meandered off and now I was the impatient customer who was running late despite getting there early, blah blah blah. I was nice and polite, put my packages (I'd been carrying them around for three days - no car, remember?) in the little bullet-proof turnstile thingie (this is Oakland) and said I also needed a money order. She said "We're out of money orders." I said "You're out of money orders?" She said "Yes, we were open Saturday, and there isn't a manager in yet." I said "How can I get a money order?" She said "The next manager will be in at 8:30." (Another hour.) She said "I don't run the place, I only work here." I said "I can't get a money order?" She said "No, we're out of money orders." I was disappointed. I was confused. I lost my shit. I pounded on the counter, theatrically, not out of rage but exasperation. I started crying. I said "I NEED A MONEY ORDER! MY CAR IS BROKEN, THIS IS THE ONLY POST OFFICE I CAN GET TO, AND I HAVE TO GO TO WORK! I'M SORRY EVERY OTHER CUSTOMER YOU'VE HAD HAS HAD A DIFFERENT REASON TO BE ANGRY, BUT I NEED A MONEY ORDER!" I wasn't throwing things, but I'd entered that state a character in an old movie enters just before singing or getting into a swordfight. I could have not pounded on the counter, but I chose not to not do so. Perhaps my infant brain knew that calm negotiation would not work and pounding on the counter was my only available option. Perhaps my infant brain recognized that the plexiglass walls that separated us from the employees was a response not to the crime that occurs in the post office, but to the service.

I was tired. That was a factor too.

The lady called some other worker who was wandering around and said "This man desperately needs a money order." She directed me to the other counter, where the man was slowly booting up his cash register. Finally he said "Money order?" (actually, he said "Moneh orda?") and I told him the amount and gave him the money and he gave me the money order, then I apologized to him and left to send the money order.

So, I continued on to work, feeling positively ashamed of myself. I'm very sorry to have made another postal workers' day that much worse; it'd have been bad without me. But I was also disappointed. If she'd have insisted that she was sorry but they were out of money orders, I would still have acted like an idiot, but it would have been my fault and I would have fled in shame. As it was, I was rewarded for acting like a maniac and the only possible lesson is "Huh - I gotta remember that one! Act like a lunatic...get what you want!!!" Why did she have to say there were no money orders if there were money orders? After I'd already waited in a long line? Huh? This, reader, I rhetorically ask you.

So, was that the real me? Pounding on the counter behind bullet-proof plexiglass in an Oakland Post office? My eternal soul finally released from its cage? Ugh. Somehow I thought, deep down inside...I was prettier.

Then again, look at the times. It's October 2001. Nobody's pretty. Unless, of course, you're a brand new dad. Or, you know, you don't pay attention to the news.

Columns by Betsy Shebang