Columns 2003

Post office line gives time for reflection

Do you ever feel as though life is the time you spend in line at the post office and all else is simply a dream?  I do.  I spend a lot of time in post office lines. 

There was a point where I thought I had beaten the curse when I realized there was hardly ever a line at the post office in the Dimond Center.  Then other people discovered my little secret and now there are lines there too. 

Of course, standing in line at the Dimond Center is made a little easier if you go to the Thai place next door and order some take out while you’re waiting. At least that way dinner is ready when you get through the line.

In Barrow, waiting in line is more of a social thing than it is in Anchorage.  You pretty much know one out of every two people standing there so some desultory conversation is always a possibility.  Of course, if you’re not careful, the conversation can quickly turn ugly as people become a vocal mob complaining about the long line at the post office.

Once, while standing in line in the Barrow post office, I had a stranger about four people behind me in line, tap me on the shoulder and ask me if I was Elise Patkotak.  It was not something I could deny even if I wanted to since everyone else knew me so I reluctantly acknowledged my identity.  I did so reluctantly because I had some notoriety in Barrow that left me always a little off balance about whether admitting my identity was a good idea or not.

The woman said she recognized my voice from my radio show.  I thanked her but still had all my guard up.  The fact that she listened to the show didn’t necessarily mean she was a fan.  One of the things I have learned repeatedly is that the fact that people consistently listen to your show or read your column does not mean they like you.  Some of them do it just to work up a head of steam that they can vent the next time they see you.

In this case though, the reason for her question was not something I would have expected in a million years. She looked at me and said, “I’m friends with your cousin Johnny Casino. When I told him I was coming up here, he told me about you.” Johnny is actually my cousin’s son, which makes him my cousin on some sliding scale.  I had probably ever seen him 5 times in my entire life.  His family lived in upstate New York and the last I’d heard he was living in the mid-west growing mushrooms for science.  (Actually, I may have his career a little confused but I know it involved growing mushrooms because whenever I went East and drove upstate to visit his parents, they had a box of dirt with fresh mushrooms he’d just sent them.)

I was more than a little startled to hear this woman say my cousin’s name.  It’s not something you expect to run into in a post office in the Arctic.  But it was a fun moment and everyone in line had a good laugh at the look on my face when she made her statement.

I’ve missed that when standing in line in here in Anchorage.  Recently though, I found myself at the post office before the mailing window opened up. There were about 6 or 7 of us waiting together.  Two men started a conversation.  The woman next to me ventured a remark. One of the men said that he believed in the old saying “To thine own self be true”.  He said he didn’t know where it came from but it was what he lived by.  I was able to chime in with the source of the quote.  As it turns out, being a nerd in school has some advantages. 

For a moment, there was a brief sense of camaraderie and it felt good. Then the door opened and we all fell silently into line and went back to being strangers.

And no, I’m not telling you the source of that quote.  Look it up. A little learning is good for the soul. And you never know when it will come in handy to break the ice in a post office line.