The writer Charles Bukowski once said that it's not the big traumas in life that kill you slowly, but the little ones--snapped shoelaces when you're trying to get out the door, spilled milk while your dry cereal sits waiting, lost money when you get up to a register to pay for groceries. These are moments in which life literally falls apart in your hands, and you have to sort of paste the jagged moments together and move on to the next. Sometimes, though--especially in L.A., where everybody expects their life to work on some level all the time-- you simply come unglued. You stop, but cannot move on. Maybe you don't want to.
I am in the post office, middle of the day, mailing a birthday package. There's hardly anyone there when I arrive. I have to find the proper box for my package, one box among many stacked along the wall with various labels--overnight, express, regular. I take my selection to the window. The clerk calculates the postage and I pay it. She pauses, then says, almost to herself, that I could have gotten a cheaper box that would take about the same mailing time. Really? I say fine, I'll get it.
With a new box in hand, I have to wait a bit, behind a couple of several customers who are now starting to fill up the small post office. I get up to the window. The clerk looks at me through the Plexiglas and points. "You're not ready," she says. " You didn't fill out the label. Step to the side, please."
Exasperation is rising in my chest like a sea level. There is no pen to fill out the label, so I search around for one. None. I start digging in my purse, muttering. The line is growing. It strikes me that what was supposed to be a brief break in my work time at home is turning into a project. My project is home, not here, yet I'm being held hostage by the dicta of the post office, by a crowd I didn't expect, by my own ineptitude. I find the pen--aha!--but then have to wrestle with a roll of packing tape that seems to have no beginning or end. I call through the Plexiglas for help from the once-helpful clerk who put me back in line, but no one comes. I've been in here 20 minutes already. I start to feel the lips pulling back from my teeth in a full snarl: the world doesn't work alright, especially in this one, this damn world in Inglewood, everything's broke down, has been for a long time, and everybody's ignorant and nobody comes to help, even when you scream..
I look up to see a couple of people in line behind me staring. One man steps towards me and offers to help me peel the tape with his pocketknife. A woman with a Caribbean-style head wrap studies me with a mix of wariness and concern.
"Sister," she says, "It's going to be alright."
I believe her. I don't believe her. Of course I'm going to get the package mailed. But the world, our world, whatever its redemptions, will stay broken. I can't put the jagged pieces together, and neither can she. She is asking me to let my frustration go for sanity's sake, for mine and hers and everybody else's. A little thing to ask, but the stakes are as big as possible. I don't know that I can.
The image associated with this post was taken by Flickr user JohnnyRokkit. It was used under