You know how every once in a while you hear about someone who is mentally handicapped, with, say, the mind of an 8-year-old, but they are living on their own, maybe in a little apartment in town? Don't you wonder how they do it? Wouldn't you think it would be dangerous or scary for someone with limited mental faculties to run a household alone? Make dinner, pay the bills, go to the store and make it back safely? Yet somehow they do it, and we are often a bit awestruck that they are capable of so much despite being technically handicapped.
That's me, folks. You should have seen me at the post office today. It would have made you clench your fists in rage at the ineptitude of the public school systems that are responsible for educating our youth. Either that, or it would have made you shake your head sadly that I was so lazy in school as to let my perfectly healthy brain stagnate and bloat like a diseased liver rather than taking the opportunity to learn a thing or two.
Yes, it's true, I hate the post office. I avoid it at all costs. I'd rather remove my own appendix than go to the post office. And at this time of year, it's the worst-- every time I've driven by one in the past week or so, the line has been so long it looked like a Hands Across America photo shoot. But this trip would be a relatively painless one, because I was driving out of my way to go to a location that was equipped with plenty of gadgets to prevent people from having to negotiate the surly cashiers and the snaking lines. This particular post office has a digital scale with a vending machine attached, so you can weigh and post your own packages, paying by credit card if you prefer. If that machine is busy, there's a regular scale for weighing, plus two other vending machines that sell stamps by the book or individually, although you can only pay in cash at those machines.
While the scale and stamp vending area is nowhere near the cashiers, the lines were so long that they coiled back well past the stamp vending area, so I felt a certain sense of glee as I excused myself to step between the people slowly decaying in the eternal lines so that I could get to the do-it-yourself area. The listless people in line turned their dead eyes toward me, sadly jealous that they still had approximately 42 more hours to go before completing their transactions, while I would apparently skip in and out of there like a child playing in a department store's revolving door.
I had a few Christmas cards to buy stamps for, and a book I needed to mail to someone who had purchased it from me on Half.com. It was The Dr. Drew and Adam Book, if you're dying to know what a deep thinker and intellectual reader I am. Although I didn't end up reading it, now that I think about it. I tried, but it was really very silly. I love the radio show (Loveline), and thought that must mean I'd like the book. But I learned a valuable lesson: Hearing a free-running conversation between 3 or 4 people can be interesting. Reading that exact same conversation verbatim on paper is more tedious than reading this blog. But I digress.
I plopped my cheerful infant on the clean-looking floor in front of the vending machine. (I know, you're thinking, "Ew." Hey, I'll tell you what: Next time, you come with me and hold him for me, okay? He doesn't crawl, having deemed that "too babyish" for the rock star image he's trying to cultivate with the ladies, so I didn't have to worry him putting his hands on the floor as long as I gave him something to play with. So I handed him my wallet and went about getting book of stamps from the vending machine. Normally when I come to the post office to use the self-serve area, I spend a certain amount of time digging through my purse while clutching the baby by one or more of his chubby limbs, so this time I left my purse in the car and carried only my wallet and keys, so I'd have less junk to contend with. I think ahead, my friends. That's my middle name. Karla-Think-Ahead, they used to call me in prison.
I put stamps on my letters and fed the letters into the letter slot. Now it was time for the package. I set Jake's butt on the counter and pinned him there with my body while I weighed the package. He attempted to grab everything within his 12-inch armspan, as I struggled to block his pinwheeling arms with my body and navigate the digital scale. To send this package Media Mail, it would cost $1.84. Sounded fair to me, so I began peeling stamps off my new book of stamps. Here's where the action stopped. Hmm. Stamps are 37 cents. How many times does 37 go into 184? I stared blankly at the book of stamps. Seriously, if there were a video recording device in my head, you would have seen snow on the screen, like when a TV station goes dead. Seconds ticked by as I stared. Okay, let's do it this way: I know 37 plus 37 is 64. Wait, that's not right. Okay, 40 plus 40 is 80, minus 6 makes it 74? Okay. Now how many times does 74 go into 184? Blank stare. That didn't help at all. Normally, this is where my cell phone would come in handy. There's a calculator function on my cell phone--probably on yours too, but you wouldn't know that because you never use it, right? Because you can add in your head, like every other normal person on the planet. The calculator function on my cell phone is perhaps the most important feature, with the calling feature coming in at a close second. But remember, because I'm Karla-Think-Ahead, I had left my purse in the car and brought in only my wallet, so I could minimize the amount of things I had to juggle. Now here I was, not juggling anything but the helium balloons bumping up against each other in my head.
I looked up. I was inches away from roughly three thousand people who were standing line. I looked them over. All with working brains, all of perfectly normal intelligence, I guessed. Any one of these people could answer this Super Duper Advanced Level math question for me. Some of them were looking right at me anyway, making funny faces at Jake, having nothing else to do while waiting. And I might have asked one of them for help, too, if not for the fact that I was holding my cute baby with red cheeks and a funny blue hat on his head. If I revealed to them that I was operating on a 2nd grade intelligence level, the crowd would have closed in on me in mere seconds, snatching my child from me and whisking him off to Child Protective Services, where he would go into The System, and eventually be placed in a home with fully functioning foster parents. I had to play it cool. "Look smart," I told myself, "Pretend you're capable of raising this child."
I decided to just put a ton of postage on the package. I figured I'd just plaster enough stamps on there that it'd be guaranteed to make its destination. But here again was something I wasn't smart enough for. I had idea that 5 stamps would be enough, but I wasn't sure, so I added a sixth one just for good measure. As I started to drop the package in the slot, I thought, "Wait. Maybe 6 isn't enough, either." I stared at the package. Should I add a seventh stamp? Should I buy two more books of stamps and just put them all on the package, covering every inch of space except the address label?
In the end I gave up on the whole "thinking" thing, and just went out to the car and got my cell phone. Turns out 5 stamps was enough. Back into the post office I went for a second time, defeated, meekly excusing myself to get between the people in line so I could slip my package into the slot and then speed away in my car before anyone caught on to what I had been up to for so long in there.
So yes, this is a sad tale of a halfwit trying to make it in this great big scary world, getting by largely on luck and the kindness of strangers. But there will eventually be a happy ending to my sad tale of unchecked stupidity. The good news is that in few years Jake will be able to tell me how many stamps to put on my packages. If I can just make it that long without someone taking him away from me.