Five people at the post office

I open my post office box and on top of the week’s mail is a peach-colored notification slip. For most people, “Oh! I have a package to pick up!” would be a joyful surprise. But those people don’t live in my neighborhood. Here, the thrill of a pick-up is also delivered with no small measure of trepidation. (My local post office was once rated by the Postmaster General as the worst in the country.)

old school pobox

The post office, located on a busy Chicago street, still smells like the shoe store that previously occupied the storefront. I notice when I arrive that there are only five people ahead of me in line, which is pretty much like winning the lottery. The plexiglass plague shields, along with the mandatory face masks, require people to speak loudly, which lets me eavesdrop while I wait for my turn.

A twenty-year-old brunette is at the counter. She asks the clerk “Do I need to put a return address on this package?”

The clerk replies, “Yes, all mail should have a return address.”

“Where does it go?”

“In the upper-left corner, but you wrote the destination address up there, which is going to confuse everyone.” “Here,” she says, handing over a pen, “write your return really small above it.”

“OK, thanks. I thought it might need one, but I didn’t know where it went.”

As this conversation is taking place, another young woman arrives. She’s carrying a shopping bag full of small pre-paid packages. I decide that she’s an Etsy seller, shipping out orders. (She seems crafty.) She begins piling the packages on the far counter, which is the designated spot for dropping off ready-to-go packages, but she has so many that she has to carefully balance them on top of each other. The clerk notices this and yells at her for not asking for a bin to hold the packages. The girl sheepishly takes the bin she’s given and empties the bag, leaving the bin on the counter.

As she’s departing, she passes another woman, who is entering. This new woman approaches the drop-off counter, gingerly peeks inside the bin, then rudely interrupts the clerk to ask if it’s OK to add her single package. She gets a surly “That’s what it’s for” in reply.

The next person to approach the counter is an older Asian lady. I think she’s with the half-dozen young Asian women who are huddling just inside the door. The ethnic similarity between the old woman and the young group triggers something in the clerk. She yells across the lobby that the group needs to get out of the way of the door. The group, startled, timidly shifts around, then after a few seconds, exits en masse. Their reaction and movements remind me of gazelles being stalked by a lion. (I sure do miss Marlin Perkins.)

Meanwhile, the older Asian woman at the counter tells the clerk she needs to send something via “certificate mail.” I wince, presuming that the clerk will harshly correct her, but instead she points her towards the forms on the other side of the room. Then, noticing the woman is holding a loose stack of papers, she also directs her towards a rack where she can pick out an envelope to buy. (By the time I leave, the old woman will still be filling out the form. Her young friends huddling outdoors clogging the sidewalk, oblivious to the dirty looks from people leaving the nearby L station.)

I hear an exaggerated sigh behind me, I turn my head slightly to glance at the woman in line behind me. She’s impatiently shifting her weight from foot to foot, as if her fidgeting is a magical dance that will hurry things along.

The next person to approach the clerk doesn’t have an envelope either, but she wants to send Priority Mail and the clerk has a flat-rate envelope at hand. As the transaction is continuing, the customer removes a crumpled letter from her purse and asks why it was delivered to her home. The clerk takes it, compares it to the Priority Mail envelope that the lady has just finished addressing, and says, quizzically, “Because it’s addressed to you…?”

“Oh no, I sent this. The address it was going to is here,” she says, turning the envelope over to reveal its back.

The clerk looks at her in silence for a couple of seconds and says, “Well, that’s why it came back to you.”

“Oh, I guess I accidentally sent it to myself then.” She reaches into her purse again and removes yet another letter. “Well, why did this one come back to me?”

The clerk pauses for a longer time. Her eyes darting between the customer and the envelope. I think she’s counting silently to herself. Finally, she says, “This is a business reply envelope. You can’t cross out the ComEd address and send to somewhere else instead.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.” Her questions answered, and her transaction completed, the woman leaves.

The lady behind me clucks her tongue loudly.

Next is a young lady who pre-paid for her package online and believes, falsely, that she can just hand it over and walk away. The clerk stops her from leaving because she has used a Priority Mail box, but paid for First Class. The clerk tells her to repack the item into a plain box, which she must purchase, as only Priority boxes are free.

The next person to approach the clerk is a woman who has been busily packing and addressing an Express Mail envelope while she’s in line. My mind is wandering, so I miss the start of their interaction, but I’m jolted back to attention when the customer loudly exclaims “Twenty-Six dollars? You gotta be kidding.” The clerk says that is what Express Mail costs.

“Express Mail? I didn’t ask for no Express Mail! Just regular mail is fine.”

“You put it in an Express Mail envelope.”

“I didn’t know that meant twenty-six dollars.”

“Go put it in a Priority Mail envelope instead, then come back up here,” the clerk suggests.

The lady walks away waving the envelope at all of us in line — “you all watch out for these twenty-six dollar envelopes! They don’t look like they are twenty-six dollars but they sure are!” She cackles, “that’s one expensive envelope!”

At last, it is my turn. I hand the clerk my peach-colored notification slip and show her my identification when she asks to see it. Meanwhile, a second clerk opens her window and the lady from behind me rushes towards it.

She plops the package down on the scale and, with a voice dripping with frustration, says, “Priority Mail.” The clerk glances at the package and slides if off the scale saying “This is the wrong kind of tape, I can’t accept this package.” “What? Are you kidding me‽” The tone of the lady’s voice catches the attention of the clerk who is helping me, and she chimes in ; “You can’t use masking tape, it won’t stay sealed.”

“It’s the only tape I have.”

“It’s an FAA regulation, you have to use packing tape.”

“This is ridiculous!” She picks up her package and stomps out the door.

My clerk retreats to the back room to locate my package. While I wait, a middle-aged hispanic man approaches the other clerk with a dirty and dented Priority Mail box. He says “I’ve mailed this twice and both times it has come back to me. Why?”

Just then, my clerk returns holding my package. It’s a book sent to me from a magician in Singapore, so it requires a signature release. The clerk asks to see my identification again, I scrawl a “signature” on the touch screen with my finger, and I depart.

I guess I’ll never know why that guy’s package keeps coming back.

(Photo by Tim Evans on Unsplash. Thanks!)


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Dear future resident

Last summer, during landscaping work, we created and then buried a “time capsule” in our backyard. It includes some tchotchkes and surprises, but also some pandemic-related “new normal” artifacts. (Such as Trump’s ridiculous national postcard.) Hopefully, when it’s dug up many years from now they will think “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that viruses used to be a problem. Hey, isn’t this the ex-president who was imprisoned?”

time capule, so labeled

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A visit to Amsterdam's Oudmanhuispoort (2019)

Gordon Meyer Old Man's House Passage

Oudmanhuispoort (Old Man’s House Passage) was part of an 18th Century senior citizen’s home. We learned about the place during a late-night “ghost tour” and vowed to visit the ancient market when it was open for business. Not too long after, a rainy day provided the perfect excuse.

In the mid 1880s this passageway became a place for vendors to sell music, books, and prints. That’s still going on today, although during our Tuesday morning visit most of the stalls were closed. One booth that was open sold nothing but used dictionaries — of every kind imaginable, such as “Biblical Greek.”

It’s said that Amsterdammer Vincent van Gogh was inspired by the Japanese prints he saw here, forever changing the course of Western art. The print vendor open on the day we visited had many great pieces to choose from, at very reasonable prices. Two (a Pooka, and a Water Fairy) will be making their way back home to Chicago with us, which poses a new challenge for our luggage situation, but we’ll do our best. (Update: We visited again, and while more booths were open that time, it was still fairly sparse. Perhaps September is off-season for the market.)

Gordon Meyer Old Man Prints Purchase

The shop’s owner was a charming lady whose only U.S. visit has been to Los Angelas, so she had a few questions about Chicago, which she said was one of her best-selling old map prints.

Postscript: The passageway and surrounding buildings are now home to the University of Amsterdam’s School of Law, which makes clear their view of interlopers in classic passive voice:

Gordon Meyer Amsterdam Schol of Law

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A true story from Amsterdam (2019)

Gordon Meyer holding a guitar pick

We had a “date” to meet Kay and Flo for drinks the day after our joint nighttime dinner cruise of the Amsterdam canals. Gale and I arrived early and settled in at “Bar Americain” at the American Hotel. (The fact that we were early will surprise few of you.)

The walls of the bar are filled, corner to corner, with framed 8 × 10 photos of celebrities. Gale immediately recognized a few — such as Boy George — and as we waited for the arrival of the server we tentatively identified several more, including Slash.

Our server, Roger, confirmed many of our guesses and explained the photos were all taken in the bar. (I was wrong about Lenny Kravitz, it was a Dutch singer that Roger assured me I’d never heard of.) Gale and I were both surprised at how bad Billy Idol looked and would have never recognized him. And of course there was no mistaking the boys from Texas, ZZ Top.


One of my favorites, which Gale spotted, was a young Dweezil Zappa.


Dweezil Zappa photo

Kay and Flo — who were staying at the hotel — said they heard that it was soon to become a Hard Rock property. Which makes sense, given the rock star appeal. A guest book in the lobby displayed the signatures of UB40, who were playing in town that weekend.

Roger did a good job of keeping us well served and told us, when asked, that he was a true native, having been born just a few blocks away. He also offered Kay and Flo a couple of tips for their next destination, Barcelona.

As we left I gave Roger a Bucktown pin, and he gratefully reciprocated with a Bar Americain guitar pick.

We had a great time visiting with Flo and Kay. We left them well after dark (despite intentions otherwise) and had a long walk back to our canalboat, in a heavy rain. But it was worth the experience and friendship, both new and old. I’m hoping we get back to see Roger again before we leave.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A true story from Shetland's only town

gordon and goat

Standing outside the Lerwick store that specializes in goat’s milk soap, Connor the goat and a ruddy one-toothed man raise money for the regional hospital to buy an MRI machine. Last week, Connor raised nearly £2,000. Connor’s human friend loved the Bucktown pin that we gave him, after dropping some coin in Connor’s collection plate, of course. In retrospect, Gale observed we only assumed that Connor and the man were together. He might have just been standing nearby.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A true story in which I become an object in a scavenger hunt


coffee at Tate Modern

As we were leaving London's Tate Modern, a British woman approached. “Sorry to bother you. We’re on an office scavenger hunt and need a photo with a bearded man.” She added “It’s a competition,” likely as clarification in case “scavenger hunt” was a foreign concept.

(Gale and I exchanged amused glances. Five years ago, in Antwerp, a young woman who was participating in a bridal scavenger hunt sought us out as I was writing in my notebook because she needed to take (and keep) a ballpoint pen from a stranger.)

I told the lady that she was in luck as I happened to fit both her criteria. She snapped a quick selfie with me, then departed with thanks. Behind us, Gale noticed that her colleagues, watching our exchange from a few yards away, were shaking their heads and waving their hands. “You have to shake hands!”

She had left out that requisite characteristic, so she apologetically asked for a mulligan. This time Gale snapped a photo as the two of us posed with clasped hands and big smiles.

I quickly gave her a Bucktown button before she scurried off to join her coworkers for their next discovery.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A true story from Liverpool

“Can I ask you a question?” The ruddy mid-thirties man said eagerly, waving as he approached across the busy Liverpool town square. I don’t know what expression I gave him, but he quickly added “I’m not going to hit you, you’re bigger than I am!” Now within normal speaking voice range he asked Gale and me “Have you got a sense of humour?” “No” and “Yes,” we answered respectively and simultaneously.

Taken back only a moment by Gale’s response, Paul introduced himself and proceeded to tell us about the self-published humour magazine he “and his mates” were selling. He had a lot more to say, but I was lost in his verbal freight train of familiar syllables that only occasionally coalesced into recognizable words. Trance-like, I smiled, nodded, and decided I liked him.

After exchanging a fiver for two issues (one pound in savings!) I presented him with a Bucktown badge. As we parted ways with handshakes all around Paul leaned in and whispered to me “they’re good bathroom reading.”

Gag Mag Covers

A few steps away, we turned back and Paul was approaching another couple, now wearing our pin on his chest. Gale said “Too bad that he lost his job after the brain tumor.”

What? Apparently, I had been smiling and nodding throughout his sad tale.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

A true story from Wales

In the ruins of the old Roman fort called Caer Gybi stands the 13th century Saint Cybi’s Church. A sundial on the face of the chapel is inscribed in Latin, “Life though long it stay will end in night and day.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Saint Cybi

As we explore the medieval grounds a middle-aged Welsh couple approaches and the man warmly asks “Are you locals?”

The woman’s name is Ann, we learn. The man’s name will remain a mystery, after two repetitions and my unsuccessful attempts to say it back he kindly lied “Yes, you got it!”

We continued to chat, with a few more linguistic puzzles being brought forth, then Man offered us a religious tract. “We are Christians,” he said, then clarified when asked, that they are not members of the church where our impromptu meeting was occurring.

tract

I immediately remembered the Hare Krishna we met on Portobello Road and offered one of our Bucktown buttons (“badges,” they call them here) in exchange. This time, it was accepted.

Later, in the town of Holyhead, we see Man and Ann across the street. We exchange waved hellos.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer