15 December 2009

A Christmas Rant

(Photographs copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

I have a confession to make. The photo on the bottom is from LAST Christmas. Yes, that's Sarah up there in that tree (slightly blurry because the tree is moving, of course) and she's a lot bigger now. We ended up with just lights on that tree because decorations seemed fated to hit the floor no matter what we did. Also, you'll notice that there's no topper on the tree. This is because the only one we have is glass. It's gorgeous...and I refused to allow it to be anywhere near tiny paws.

This year I was smarter about it. I got shiny plastic and tin decorations that are unbreakable and if they do fall, no kitty will be harmed. They can't climb the tree any more because the branches are too close together, which is a good thing. Maybe next year I can use the glass ones....However, the second photo is hot off the presses - my improvised disco-fabulous tree topper. It's all plastic all the time, and I fully expect The Boy to pick on me no end because of it. I think it's cute, so it stays.

I have to confess, I love Christmas. If you know me, you know it's not for religious reasons. We have no children and not a ton of family, so it isn't about family for us either. Generally we spend Christmas on our own. I happen to like it that way. The Boy doesn't work in the week leading up to the holiday and he certainly doesn't work between Christmas and New Year's, so we get that time to ourselves - the rest of the year, he's out of town all week and home on weekends only.

I'm a sloppy sentimentalist at this time of year and only this time of year. Even Christmas shopping is fun. Finding the perfect gift is something I love doing. I adore getting the tree and decorating it. I LOVE putting up the outside lights, and I usually do that on my own, too. None of these things are terribly important to The Boy, but I suspect he likes watching me have fun, so it's all good.

I'll grant you that for many, this is the MOST stressful time of the year. If that's true for any of you out there, I highly recommend spending a quiet Christmas. Tell the families you're staying home and relax! Take away all the pressure of travel, cooking, family fights, etc. and opt out. Even if you only do it for one year, it will help you reconnect with the holiday and truly enjoy it. It's lovely and you can visit anyone you WANT to see AFTER the day.

However...this was a rant.

Every year, my mother sends a Christmas box. It's full of The Boy's favorite jam cookies, a book or two and things like fuzzy socks and kitty toys. Nothing fancy, just some ordinary and useful things. She wraps the box in brown paper, covers it with Christmas glitter stickers and tosses it in the mail in early December. However, by the time she's done (and haven't we all done this), it's not such a small box. In fact, it used to be the size of an apple box - now it's reduced to about half that size.

Our postie is great, but there's a size limit to what she's allowed to put on the truck, so this package is invariably left at the post office for me to pick up. I never thought of this as a big deal, and the actual picking up of the box is never really out of my way, usually just a quick stop on my way to somewhere else.

But then we moved....here. And our local post office, the Ravenswood Station in Chicago, is a disaster area. It's a big station with only a tiny frontage. There's space for only four cashiers at a time. No big deal. The staff have been there at the same station for a long time - that's a potential problem. Now, post offices in Chicago have been rated as some of the worst in the country in terms of service, speed and accuracy in deliveries. This was last year, and they're supposed to be working on improving that. I haven't seen a lot of problems, myself. Like I said before, our postie is a wonderful lady who's generally in a great mood and the station where I go to get stamps and send things out is wonderful.

That Ravenswood office, though. Yeesh. Put it this way. One year I was picking up the Christmas box. At that time, you were meant to go to a door and ring a bell, whereupon a postal employee would take your orange ticket, look at your identification and hand you your package. That's pretty standard. THAT year, I went to the box and rang the bell and....nothing happened. I went to move to the regular line after I had waited about 15 minutes with no response. It was 9:00 in the morning and the line was already out the door, because there were only two people in front, but I figured this was better than standing in front of a locked gray door...

No dice. One of the cashiers pointed at me and said, "You don't get packages in this line! If you line up here, we won't serve you!"

So I went back to the door and rang the bell again, whereupon the woman sang out AGAIN, "We know you're there! The more times you ring that bell, the more time you'll have to wait!"

I was seething. It took ANOTHER 15 minutes for someone to answer the door. Finally I heard the lock...and it was the woman who had been barking orders at me (and by this time, four other people). She seemed furious and delivered a long lecture to all of us in line that we were "mean" and that she didn't have to do anything for us. She looked me in the eye and informed me that if I ever rang that bell again, my package was going back.

Now this is only one incident with these people. I have been in there several times, and I have NEVER ONCE seen any of them crack a smile unless it was to a family member or friend. Several times I've been there during business hours and all four cash desks were closed at the same time. Seriously. ALL of them. On one memorable occasion, about half a dozen of us in line phoned the Post Office to complain at the same time. When someone finally opened their register 20 minutes later, we were all on the phone.


This brings us to today. I started the day in a terrific mood. All I had were a couple of errands to do, namely pick up the Christmas box and hop to Target to get one last present for a friend. No, I won't tell you what the present was. She reads this. There's some other stuff that needs doing - I have to make some cookies and do the big grocery shop for Christmas Eve dinner (game hens), but none of that needs to happen right this red-hot second. I actually had a really fun post to put up here this afternoon. Sigh.

But I went to the post office first.

As always, I went early enough so as not to hit the lunch rush - it was about 10:30 a.m. by the time I'd parked and got in the door. Again as always, the line was out the door, but there was a glimmer of hope because three people were there and they were actually taking clients. I went to the door right behind another lady who had already rung the bell. We waited for a minute or two, then the lady that I like to call "The Yeller" shouted that we had to get in line because things had changed. I took this as a positive development because the line seemed to be moving.

The three cashiers were talking to each other as always, and I've learned the hard way that they just don't exert themselves to push the line through. It was slow, but moving. There was an older Hispanic woman in line about three people ahead of me and when she stepped up, all hell broke loose.

Now this woman was obviously taking care of two grandchildren while their parents were at work. One of them was about six months old and sound asleep in a side-by-side stroller which was parked in a back corner out of the way. The other was a little boy of about three or so who was so bundled up that he could hardly move (think Charlie Brown). He was standing beside the stroller, waiting pretty patiently for a little kid.

When their grandmother got to the cashier, she had an orange tag like about half of us that were in line. The cashier took the tag and brought back the package, then demanded that the older woman sign for it and show some ID. This lady had no English, so it took a minute to get that across to her. It WAS a big thing to the cashier. She demanded, in English, a driver's license. Repeatedly, and getting louder with each repetition. Finally another fellow standing in the line translated, but it took a minute for them to get organized.

And this is where the fun starts. See, the grandmother, who had no English and was illiterate even in her own language, made her mark on the clipboard. She signed with an X. Signing with an X is perfectly legal. You can even sign a will that way. At one time, it wasn't even that uncommon. I clearly remember taking credit card slips that were signed that way. No, I'm not that old.

The cashier went skyward. She was demanding in English that this poor lady who didn't understand a word she was saying write her name. This cashier kept repeating "Write your name!" louder and louder while everyone in line looked on, getting more and more uncomfortable. She was oblivious. This was an inconvenience to her and everyone was going to know about it. It was obvious that she was starting to get out of control and didn't give a damn who knew it.

Meanwhile all the grandmother saw was a woman three times her size yelling things she couldn't understand. In about three minutes, this cashier, who was given a perfectly legal (albeit unorthodox) signature managed to reduce an elderly lady to tears. Finally the gentleman who had translated before stepped up to help. He somehow managed to get the ranting cashier to hand over the package and get the woman and her grandkids out the door without further incident.

The cashier settled down to take a few more people, muttering all the while about green cards and illegals (and if anyone wants to have this debate, let me tell you right now that it won't be entertained here). It took a few minutes, but it finally registered on her that about a dozen people would have gleefully thrown her in the snow and left her there, and she got angry again. NOW the muttering was about "doing my job" and "I don't have to take this shit" and whatnot. No apology. No acknowledgement that she might have been wrong. Nothing. She was just pissed because ... I don't know, people saw her lose it? Hard to say.

Naturally, when it was my turn, she was the free cashier. She looked me in the eye, put up her "next window" sign and tried to leave. It didn't work. She had to take me. I handed her my orange pickup card and when she went in the back to get the box, she pretended she couldn't find it. There was yelling out of the back room - she was claiming it was never there. She continued this game until I think someone put the box in her hands.

I have to admit that I couldn't resist. When she finally handed me the box, I asked if she wanted me to sign. She paused and said no. THEN she closed her window.


This is not a rant about the Post Office in general. Working with the public is never easy. The job is boring, they're on their feet all day and I'm sure that there are a lot of nasty people in that line up per HOUR, let alone on a daily basis. I know all this. I've worked my share of retail, I've waited tables, and I know how it can be. I've been there. I also know that if I had EVER treated a customer the way that poor woman was treated today I would not only have been fired on the spot, I would have deserved it.

We've had terrific postal service for the entire 9 years we've lived in the States. I have to admit that I'm still agog that people get mail on Saturdays here, because I don't think anyone else has that. One of the ladies that works in the station near us in Texas went a long way out of her way to help us get our mail when we moved here. The station in Chicago that I go to for stamps is also amazing. The staff are universally quick and pleasant and truly nice to people. They hustle because they know that if they get people through the line quickly they'll be dealing with happy people instead of cranky ones. I've never had to wait in line there for more than ten minutes, and that's during the Christmas rush. To everyone at the Graceland Postal Store at 3024 North Ashland Avenue here in Chicago, happy holidays - you guys are great.

No, this was one person, in one station where I suspect everyone has worked together for far too long. They seem to have made a collective decision that customers are nothing more than an inconvenience to them, put on Earth to get on their nerves. I've seen that staff displaying all kinds of behavior ranging from deliberately slow to rude to (today) downright mean. There was no excuse for what happened there this morning. None.

A message to you ladies: Being polite to customer is NOT a favor. It's your JOB. Deal with it or get out. No one wants to be treated badly.


I didn't just post this out of the blue. I DID contact the Post Office about it. Eventually I got a local customer service number. The folks at that office deal with complaints like mine and worse all the time. I told the woman I spoke to there about what happened and told her that I was going to put it in this blog. She was very nice about it, took my name and number and let me know that a Public Relations person will probably be calling me. I have no problem with that. In fact, if they contact me, I'll post about that conversation right here.

(This just in. I just got a call from someone in Public Relations. He listened, he told me that the retail manager was heading over to that station this afternoon and...we'll see. Like I said I'm not holding my breath. However, he DID say one thing that's interesting. Apparently, they've started a new initiative to make it easier for customers to report problems. There's supposed to be a telephone number posted in all of the post offices in this city that people can call to report problems. Obviously, it wasn't posted in that office, or I would have called it and saved myself some work. For any Chicagoans that want it, that number is 312-983-7800. He'll be checking in to see what I've written here. I gave him the URL and let him know that I was happy to have him comment.)

At the same time, I'm a cynic. I know that nothing is really going to happen because of this. Questions will be asked, none of the cashiers will have seen anything, and the one that lost it will claim I was seeing things. There will be no disciplinary action taken, no one is going to be put on notice to behave themselves and things at Ravenswood Station will go on as they always have. I don't really care. It's not as if I have to go there more than once a year anyway. It's clearly a localized problem

I'm still angry, though. How is it that anyone can feel free to abuse someone like that woman was abused today? Who does that? What kind of twisted logic makes that all right? What's with the racist crap? What kind of society do we live in where someone in a public position can be that nasty and her co-workers watch this and do nothing? Does she get some kind of sick thrill from hurting people?

This appalling behavior is not all that unusual. I know that. My own great-grandmother never learned to speak English well, even though she was born in Canada. This sort of thing happened to her all the time. There are jerks all over the place who seem to think that they can force someone to understand them just by yelling loud enough. They don't understand (or choose to ignore) that this can be frightening, especially to non-English speakers who don't understand what they could have done wrong, but it is terrifying to someone who is elderly.

Oh well. So much for the good mood of this morning. I guess I might as well sit down and pay a stack of bills, right?


  1. Hey Messy. Too bad people didn't whip out their handy dandy iPhones and BlackBerries and other wireless bling and start filming that bitch. One post on YouTube of this woman raining down her terror on a defenseless grandma, and the URL to the PR guy, and you've got a fired or seriously in-trouble postal worker. I'm guessing the former if you can get that video to go viral. You never know? :-)

  2. I haven't the foggiest what's going to happen here, but I DID talk to someone local about it. It's amazing what a response you get when you tell someone what happened and tell them it's going into your blog. Instant callback.

  3. Fancy that! I wasn't aware that blogs carried that much weight!

    My local post office is notorious for bad service. So notorious that I have the 800 number in my phone book to report them. The latest?

    I got a new P.O. box for one of my businesses. Checked the box the first week, no mail. This went on for a few weeks. After a few weeks, I went to the window to make sure I'd filled the paperwork out correctly, and I was assured I had. Next week I checked the box, no mail. Same thing next week. Finally, it had been six weeks and I had no mail, so I went to the counter and explained to the woman that something was amiss, I hadn't gotten so much as junk mail. She asked me for my box number and went in the back room. She came back out and assured me that my box was chock full of mail. Thinking they'd just been tricky and filled it, I left the counter and opened the box. No mail. This time I went straight back to the counters and politely interruped the customer who was being served by the woman I'd just spoken to. I said, "Ma'am, I've just checked and there is NO MAIL IN MY BOX." She said, "Yes there is, I just checked it!" and I said, "No, there's not, I just checked it!" We both apologized to the customer at the counter and the postal lady came around to the front and walked with me to my box. She did a double take as I opened the box to reveal ~ you guessed it ~ no mail! Then she told me to meet her at the counter and she went in the back. And came out with a basket full of mail and a very red face. Seems some new postal worker had mislabeled the boxes on their side and they were putting my mail into the empty box below mine.

    I had the postal supervisor write me a letter to send to my creditors who were barking about not getting paid, to explain the delay.

    I've gotten orange slips for packages and been told the package is "gone" or "not there" when I go to pick it up, and I've lodged complaints. I have had a postal employee sit out in front of my house and write three post it notes to explain to me that an envelope must include a street address for an envelope that was addressed to the IRS (which doesn't have street addresses, idiot) and put my envelope back in my box and refuse to take it to the post office, causing me to miss a deadline for mailing. (It's not their job to critique mail; if the postmaster has a problem with the address, he'll stamp it that way and return it to me, thereby at least giving me proof that I mailed in in by the deadline. I don't need them to make judgment calls on how I address my mail, thankyouverymuch.)

    btw, The postal worker that threatened you with sending your package back if you rang the bell again was guilty of a federal offense. It's called tampering with the mail (intentional interception and interference), and I would have nailed her butt to the wall for it.

  4. What is it about the post office that causes so much angst? I'm guessing that it's so monolithic and so threatening that no one dares to complain. I was ticked off, though, and that definitely came through when I talked to them. I also threw down the racism card, because THAT'S WHAT IT WAS.

    It was a black female postal worker berating an elderly Hispanic lady ONLY because she couldn't speak English. Given the neighborhood, it's hardly unusual for a customer to speak Spanish, which leads me to believe that customers are being abused like that all the time...at that particular postal station. To do that and then mutter all the other stuff was nothing more than racist garbage.

    So yes, I told the guy that I was posting this on The Fly and gave him the URL. I told him that I was going to mention the exact postal station and explain exactly what happened and when. I also told him that this was not personal, that it was an incident that concerned and offended me and that no matter how few people read about it, it was worth putting out there.

    To their credit, everyone I spoke to told me to go ahead and post. Everything here is nothing more than the simple truth, and if something like this happens again and I'm there to see it, I will post that here as well.

    I have to reiterate here that I am most assuredly NOT bashing every postal worker or office in the city. Just that one. Just because her behavior was utterly unacceptable, which it was. I'm fairly sure she feels pretty safe. After all, she's a unionized Federal employee and highly unlikely ever to be fired, no matter what she does. Her pension is no doubt safe. As I said before, all she has to do is accuse me of lying and there's nothing anyone can do.

    It's too bad, though. She and the few people like her are the ones making every postal worker in the system look like a bunch of idiots, and I know they aren't. I won't even go into what I think of the co-workers who watched this vile behavior and did nothing. Complacency is as ugly as action in this case.

  5. Oh and mermaid, what do you think of my disco-fabulous-completely-unbreakable and non-toxic tree topper? I thought of the paillettes as tiny scales when I was putting it up there.

  6. You know I love it! Anything round and shiny, I'm worse than a magpie. I need one for my own tree, as evidenced by the story I got back on here specically to tell you.

    Bandida Santanico Pandemonium de la Pistola (aka Femlin) is about 16 months old now, and every inch the Siamese. I believe "Siamese" is French for "she who runs the house", is it not?

    We have a crystal footed bowl sitting on an antique dresser in the front hall; the "key bowl" where everyone throws their keys in when they come in, so they'll know where they are when leaving. It makes a distinctive sound when you toss your keys in, and even if you don't hear the front door open when someone comes home, it's hard to miss that TINK sound of metal hitting crystal.

    I was sitting in my office typing and I heard someone come home... TINK. I went out to the front hall to see who it was. No one there. I went back to my office and sat back down and started typing again, and again I heard it... TINK. I waited a minute, listening, and when I heard it again I threw open the office door and there was Femlin on top of the dresser, with her paw in the key bowl, lifting my set of keys in the bowl and letting them drop.

    She's figured out that Mom comes out of the office when she hears keys in the bowl. And she wanted Mom out of the office!

  7. Oh Messy, I love the Christmas tree topper! I don't think anything says merry like a glittering mass of color. I actually feel the same way about Christmas, and get the most joy out of watching others open their gifts.

    As for the post office incident, that is really disconcerting to read. While I haven't had many problems with any of my local posts offices, I live in WA state, I have no trouble believing your story. I've seen people behave that way when they think they can get away with it, and it always makes me angry.

    There's this chip on some people's shoulders that somehow convinces them that not only are they better than "x", they're in fact a perfect, special little snowflake that shouldn't even have to work hard for their money. Any insistance from outside forces to make them actually do their jobs or act like human beings are considered hostile, and possibly insane. There are "other" people to do that for them. It's a sickness that spreads across nationalities and race, and it never has made sense to me. (I'm thankful now that I only have to work with a few of them right now. I've been in whole offices full of people like this.)

    Ironically enough, my most recent experience of this was a couple of American aquaintences that could do nothing but complain about how horrible Canada was, and how they couldn't wait to get out of Vancouver BC. I'll never get their gripe, because I would have LOVED to live in their little basement apartment in their adorable neighborhood. *sighs*

  8. If they were miserable in VANCOUVER, of all places, then they are probably just nasty people all the way around. I'll grant you the winters are rainy, but nowhere near as bad as most of Washington State....

  9. This just in.....

    Last night I had dinner with a friend who used to live in my neighborhood. She used the Ravenswood Postal Station a LOT more than I did for the sake of the walk. I admit that I'm more of a wimp. That place disgusts me so much that I will get in the car and drive to another post office.

    According to my friend, this business of abusing Hispanic clients is a regular thing. She told me that she's been in there many times and the same person who was so mean when I was there seems to have made being rotten to Hispanic customers a hobby. She yells at them, makes cracks about "illegals" and is generally evil towards them. The other staff members look on, doing nothing while one person spews their vile hatred every single day.

    This is deliberate and calculated racism, condoned by the staff at that postal station, and it's been going on for YEARS. There is NO WAY that others, including her superiors, don't know what's been going on.

    So why is she getting away with this? How is it that this can go unnoticed and ignored for so long? Do her superiors think that it's all right because the targets of this hatred don't complain? My friend says that she, like me, was sickened at this behavior. She called to complain about this individual, but nothing was ever done.

    Now, the people that I spoke to in Chicago have this URL. They know that I've been posting about the Ravenswood Postal Station here for the past few days. If any of them read this, then I have a challenge for you. Send various staff members to Ravenswood posing as customers. Watch what goes on there. After you've done that for awhile come back and tell me that what you saw.

    How long is this going to be permitted to continue?

  10. What an awful thing to have to endure, Messy! Every customer there had to listen to the bile. That postal worker should be fired, for sure, but your take on the situation is probably exactly what will happen.

    I'm glad you added that you were talking about specific people at a specific station. My experiences have been so much the opposite.

    We moved from our home in the Finger Lakes region of New Yuck 15 years ago but my parents still live there. We still visit our old post office when we're in the area just to say "hi". Even though we did everything right to change our mailing info the occasional letter still ends up at that PO. Instead of sending it back as undeliverable the postmaster puts it in with my parents' mail, just in case it's important.

    The new PO had contract employees to deliver the mail and our mail lady lived across the street from us. She kept our mail at her home when we were out of town so it didn't accumulate at the PO and she always delivered boxes instead of giving us a notice to pick up from the PO, no matter what the size.

    We've since moved to yet another city and our branch PO is very small. It's open M-F from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed on Saturdays. I've never seen 2 people working there at the same time. Yes, it's a little inconvenient because of my work schedule but it's worth the effort to get there because I'm always treated promptly and courteously, even when there's a line. I've never seen the postal worker there look even a little upset.

    A suggestion ~ have you ever thought about getting a PO box at the Graceland Postal Store and using it only for packages? I don't know what a small box would cost but if it's not too much it might be worth the expense to not have to deal with crude, disgusting idiots even once a year.

  11. Messy - please keep us updated on what happens!

    It absolutely infuriates me that people get to act this way with NO CONSEQUENCES. It makes me see red.

    I'm in the same boat as you - worked retail in many stores, most of the time throughout the holiday season. I've found that people are more inclined to get out of my hair faster when I'm nice to them. It can get difficult on Black Friday when you've got 7 teenage girls and their mothers all looking for 3 different pairs of shoes in 2 sizes each (have lots and lots of coffee on hand).

    But if you simply do your best with a smile on your face and help them as much as possible, I've found that 9 times out of 10, everybody will leave happy.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go strangle the copy machine, verbally abuse the fax machine, and kick the supply closet.

  12. I'm with Aqualad: with all the shit that gets randomly taped and posted on YouTube and the like, somebody, someday, has got to record her.

    And then of course they'd find out the hard way that there's some federal law about filming on federal property, or what-the-fuck-ever. Sorry, that was just me thinking of the worst-case scenario that would save the Perpetually Postal Postal Worker from a well-deserved termination.

    I'm not a frequent customer of my own PO, but I've never seen any of the employees go ballistic (or close to it), or any of the customers be pains, either. But the folks working airline ticket counters - My God! The abuse I've seen from customers is incredible. And yet we have the term "Going Postal" because of Uzi-wielding mailmen??

    And I, too, wish to be... kept posted!

  13. Messy, what an upsetting story about that post office1 It gives a new slant about going postal, this time by a customer or two1

    I do hope that something does happen. A bit of scrutiny often helps, but who knows... I'm with the other posters who suggest filming the shrew in acton.

    I love that tree topper! When it first caught my eye I didn't realize it was on a tree. The photo is so beautiful and luminous, you know it could be a Monet....

  14. ...and of course the cute kitten on the tree makes another perfect topper!

  15. Kati, if only cute kittens STAYED cute kittens! I think if she got to the top now, there'd be one unholy mess. It's a good thing it's a fir tree this year so the branches are too dense for her to scramble through!

    Right now Nina (aka Nini, Kitten of the Bizarre Skyward Leaps) is bouncing merrily around the tree, apparently dancing with joy. Or is she? So far, even though the tree is decorated starting about three feet from the floor, I have collected three plastic stars and a tin icicle and hung them on higher branches.


  16. Messy: Living in Chicago, I have also had my share of nightmares with the PO. I have never, thankfully, seen racism enacted, but oh. The missing mail. The invitation to an event mailed 2 months before the event and arrived 1 month AFTER the event.

    Most often it's which PO actually delivers my mail? Who has the package I got a slip notifying me to come pick it up, & when I get to that PO, they say it's another 1. The other 1 sends me back. Most often, they miraculously have it then. I've tried to explain it to people too. At least you and I arent' in the neighborhood where they found the dumpsters full of undelivered mail!