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Friday, Dec. 24, 2004
When’s the last time I posted twice in a day?

That’s a loaded question, and it’s a holiday. Try to contain yourselves.

If you were looking for relief from the horror of the previous post, as I most certainly was, let me try this story. Which is, as always, a true one with a little artistic license. The fact that it‘s only a couple of hours old makes it just the more remarkable.

I don’t mind running errands, even on Christmas Eve. Ally and I try to split up the mundane as much as possible. But she had to work for a while today, to man a post, even with the promise of goodies and ham and that winking sort of “Yeah, we’re gonna work a half day on Christmas Eve” that’s common in corporate America.

She told me, she gave me a briefing at sun-up today. “We need cranberry sauce, and some candy, and a little more ice. Oh, and there’s that certified letter slip that the postman left in the box. Can you get that done?”

I made surreptitious notes and clipped the postman’s slip to it all. “I got it. Call me from work if the food looks good, I might just slip by there and snag a plate.”

Well now. Driving on Christmas Eve.

I went to the grocery store and really, I tried. I tried to justify that a parking lot which typically held 20 vehicles but could hold as many as 200 would not be full. Not today. Not from just the grocery. All those cars must be the overflow from the liquor store, the drug store, the bakery. Merely a coincidence, it was.

Well it wasn’t, and I fled the grocery store parking lot with a backwards glance that suggested the very hounds of hell on my heels. There are many groceries to choose from here. Surely this needn’t be the only store to ply the cranberry sauce and candy trade on the 24th.

Post Office, right. This was a much more exclusive stop, there was only one suggested for me to retrieve the certified letter in question. And I knew it would be a certifiable pain the ass, and it did not disappoint.

I’m not sure what entitles the US Postal Service to be as adamantly backassward as they are. Here lies a semi-government agency which excels at the profound art of the asshat, the misdirection, the glacial advance of the literature of your life arriving in sodden clumps in a box at the end of your driveway. There is no hyperbole that can aptly describe the depth to which they can sink in the mindless approach to an ordinary task, and they upheld that proud tradition for me today.

I slunk into the perfunctory line which always exists at the Post Office. I’m pretty well convinced that a queue of dozen consecutive customers buying little more than a book of stamps apiece would still suck an hour out my increasingly shortened lifespan. Toss in a challenge of metered mail or the like and you’re guaranteeing yourself a lengthy stay in a place where the uniforms best suggest that of an under funded Confederate mortar platoon.

I was third in line and a gunner in the army cracked a secret door, a dutch door in fact, and loudly invited the denizens of the line to “Line up here if you have a chit for certified mail!” The fellow if front of me and I trotted over, glad (if not amazed) that something was being done to relieve the rapidly growing pile-up of a line which was headed by a gleefully bopping lady some 10 years my senior who was accompanying the piped in Christmas Musak by acknowledging LOUDLY, if a trace off-key, that she was indeed “Rockin’ around the Christmas tree tonight!”, replete with hip shakin’ and tingling from the bells sutured onto the toes of her elf shoes. It was bizarre only if you weren’t at the Post Office at the time, where such pursuits are not only normal for December 24, they are quite acceptable.

At any rate, I moved from 3rd in line to 2nd, and I’m all about advancement when dealing with beaurocrats.

The fellow in front of me got his package and pealed off like a fighter jet relieved of its’ payload. I stepped up eagerly, chit in hand.

And the bastard shut the door. Something about having to deal with the computer in the back, and I’d have to get back in line . . .

Which was, by now, a wandering and folded back upon itself sort of line some 30 citizens deep.

I went from being 3rd, to 2nd, to 30th.

And I really just love the holiday season.

By the time I’d donated a kidney, read every wanted poster and watched my paper chit turn back into a pine seedling ready for re-forestation, 45 minutes had just flown by. But I was first in line yet again.

The very minute I handed my chit to Father Time, his colleague opened the door back up and bawled “Certified mail? Let’s get that over here.”

I swear, if he’d made me switch lines you’d be reading about me in the paper.

A mere 15 minutes later I was out the door with a simple manila envelope in my hands. An envelope addressed to my wife. A return address that I recognized in a vague way, a postal sort of way. It was from a company that I’d heard of but just couldn’t place at the moment.

I don’t open mail specifically addressed to my wife, and she similarly respects mail addressed to me. So I tossed in on the passenger seat of the pickup and rumbled my way out of the seething mass that now packed the parking lot.

Once again, I tried. At a different grocery store some three miles down the road, and discovered the same premise: That someone had scheduled grocery shopping for Friday, and it was by golly going to be done on Friday. I skipped past that one too.

The only sensible thing at that point was to head for the Watering Hole.

I am a sensible man, and tend to follow the excellent suggestions that my mind suggests to me. I had a thoroughly wonderful visit with the regulars, I did. I had a visit that became a session, and a session that became legend. There were 20 of us in there, and every one of us had a grocery list, and not a damn one had been filled yet.

But by 2 pm, I figured that I better take a run at it or the cranberry sauce would be but a memory come Christmas Day.

And I won’t even comment on the state of the grocery store. Except to note that I wish I could have stayed in the relative safety of the Post Office.

I fought my way cross town and backed up the driveway, unloaded the groceries and sniffed the plate of goodies that Ally had brought home for me from her office. Handed her, in a disinterested way, the envelope from the strangely familiar address.

“Huh. This thing is from my old company, old P.E.S. Wonder what this is all about?” she queried, knowing that I hadn’t, and wouldn’t open that envelope upon pain of death.

“Yeah, P.E.S. upstate, I knew that sounded familiar.” P.E.S. had bought out her old company at just about the same time that Ally had retired, and we’d had very little to do with them from that point, of course. One of those anonymous corporate takeover type of thingy’s.

I was busy stuffing the fridge with cranberry sauce and a couple of post-Christmas Porterhouses and other staples, so I really didn’t hear the gasping sounds that were coming from my wife, sitting at the kitchen table with a sheaf of paperwork in her hand.

“Oh my God, oh sweet Jesus what is this?” She was genuinely flummoxed, but she’d gotten right to the heart of the matter, as only a good woman can do. She hefted a check in her hand and waved it in my direction.

It was a stock option buyout check. From a company she hasn’t worked for since August of 2002.

It was not a small check. I mean, you couldn’t buy a car with it, but you could buy a container load of cranberry sauce. Maybe two.

I am a jaded and grumpy human being. I believe in Christmas miracles about as much as I believe in Santa himself.

But if you were to come by my house tonight, you’d find a plate of cookies and a glass of milk set by the fireplace, and I’m thinking real seriously about a midnight service at the church.

Because, you know. I very well might have to repent here.

Or scrape my jaw off the kitchen floor. One or the other.

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