I used to feel like I wasn’t pulling my weight, Bar Mitzvah planning-wise. Not anymore. Yesterday’s stamp gymkhana was just a warm-up. The real heavy lifting came today.
The day wasn’t going well to begin with. By eight, I’d already spent fifteen minutes standing amidst a jumble of Legos, binders, discarded clothes and crumpled up pieces of paper, yelling at my son. His response as predictable as it was unavoidable. He moved into super slow-motion mode, displaying all the emotion of a cyborg.
By the time he left for school, I was about three EKG spikes away from a coronary, so I did what all people with multiple risk factors for heart disease do every Friday morning: I walked down the hill and had a blueberry muffin to calm down.
I almost didn’t go looking for the stamps today. Sandra Bullock had almost convinced me that 132 would be enough. By lunchtime, though, the heavy weight of failure was too much to stand. Surely they’d have Lunar New Year stamps at the Rincon Station. My wife’s co-worker Laura all but guaranteed it. And it was a short walk from work, on a nice, sunny day.
There was a line at Rincon, but at this point, the post office line was a novelty. So what if two women carrying packages decided to skip the line altogether and take up positions in front? People are going to do stuff like that. From my spot halfway back, I could only hope that karma would strike them later on. Perhaps they’d spend their next BART ride squashed up against a post.
In San Francisco, they staff post office branches with two types of people: elderly Chinese ladies and jolly, rotund hippies. At Rincon, I drew the latter, which worked out well, because I could tell it really pained him to tell me there were no Lunar New Year stamps at the Rincon Station. “Wait,” he said, eyes twinkling. He disappeared into a back room and came back with one sheet. Twelve down, 66 to go.
“If I were you,” he confided, his white beard clashing with his earring, a dangling Ankh, “I’d try the post office at Macy’s.”
“There’s a post office at Macy’s?”
“It’s used mostly for international mailing. If anyone has those stamps, they will.”
There are days when the weather in San Francisco is so good that it wipes away everything frustrating and/or annoying about the place. Walking back toward downtown from the Embarcadero, the joyous briskness of our weather took the angst out of me. I would find the stamps or I wouldn’t. Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency is so crisply outlined against the sky, it’s practically jumping out of its foundation.
The weather is so good that everyone is talking a little bit louder. I get bits and pieces of their conversations as I charge up Market Street. One guy speaks Tagalog into a cell phone. All it get is “(unintelligible) Corizon Aquino (unintelligible) Independence Day.” Another girl snaps open her phone, dials a number and barks, “Is this a bad time?”
It’s still hard to imagine I’ll find my stamps at Macy’s. The Sutter Station, located in my favorite San Francisco landmark, the Willis Polk-designed Hallidie Building, was on the way. Certainly they’d have a few Lunar New Year stamps.
The problem was that I was going about this backwards. I figured the larger the post office, the more likely they’d have my stamps, when actually, the opposite was true. I was halfway through the line at Sutter when a postal employee – I didn’t recognize her as one, because she was neither an elderly Chinese Lady nor a portly ex-hippie – came by asking what I needed. “Lunar New Year stamps?” I said with the uncertain whine I’d adopted to demonstrate that I knew I was literally asking for the moon.
“We’re all out,” she said. “You know where you should go?”
“They’ll have lots of them. It’s downstairs,” she said mysteriously, “near the pots and pans.”
Macys was a few blocks away, on the other side of a bunch of stores full of clothes I’ll never be able to afford or wear flatteringly.
Macy’s has two basements. The first one is an uncomfortable riot of sound and colors, a sensory assault of watches, perfumes, cosmetics and small groups of identically-dressed, stick-thin sales girls who know not to spray perfume at a slightly desperate-looking middle aged guy looking wildly around the room for pots and pans.
The other basement is down a narrow flight of stairs. Here are the pots and pans, the cooking demonstration counter (where two bored Macy’s employees were hanging out, talking about “chicks”) and the “Marketplace,” which is actually a food court. No sign of the post office.
That’s because it’s hidden behind the flatware, nowhere near the pots and pans, under a sign so small it seems embarassed. Since it was only slightly easier to find than, well, than Lunar New Year stamps, I figured it’d be empty. I was wrong. The line was eight people long and not moving.
Nothing had moved in this room since 1964. Somehow, without crossing the River Styx, I’d found Satan’s post office branch. His clever ruse of hiring standard-issue elderly Chinese ladies was transparent. Here I would stand, 66 stamps short, for eternity.
After fifteen minutes, ready to collapse, I approached the desk. “Hi,” I mumbled. “Do you have any Lunar New Year stamps?”
Beelzebub part-time worker smiled. “Oh, yes,” she said. “How many do you need?”
Without even negotiating for my soul, she produced several sheets. “Six, no seven!” I shouted. She counted them out with a good cheer that suggested she might throw in a nice hot bowl of soup, or a blanket, should I get chilly.
I wish you could have felt the euphoria. Walking back through the Macy’s basement, the pots and pans suddenly shimmered. The no-stick Teflon demo people smiled beatifically as I passed. I held in my hand eight sheets of Lunar New Year stamps. Add them to yesterday’s haul and I had 216 total stamps, all that I’d been asked to get plus six.
In a little over 24 hours, I’d been to six post office branches and stood in line for a total of an hour. But it didn’t matter. For once, I’d come through, and that was enough.