About 30 years ago, after a spate of violent acts by US postal workers, people started saying “going postal” to mean getting angry and going crazy. The term referred to aggression by postal workers, not postal customers. But that was in the US.
* * *
I made an appointment at the post office to pick up my renewed Israeli passport. When I got there — as instructed — 10 minutes early, customers were spilling out the door. I squeezed in, punched in my mobile number, and got a slip: A66. I found a seat and sat down to wait.
The mood in the room was ugly. The screen that displays which number is being served was not working. NUMBER…2005…TO POSITION…1, said the robot voice. And then, NUMBER 2006…TO POSITION…3. And then: A…41…TO POSITION…5.
This was going to take some time.
A woman went over to Position 1, which was momentarily free. “I’ve been waiting an hour,” she said. “Why did people who came in after me get served first?”
“It was their turn,” said the clerk, not looking up.
“What are you complaining about?” said a man to the woman. “I’ve been waiting longer than you.”
“My number is lower than yours!” said the woman.
NUMBER…3025…TO POSITION…4, said the robot.
I looked at my stub. It still read A66. I called home. “I’ll be a while,” I said.
The tension in the room rose. The customers being served seemed to have complex issues that were taking a long time. One of them finally finished her business and left. The clerk at her position got up and left too. She came back a few minutes later and handed a cup of coffee to her colleague at the next position. Then he got up and left.
A man’s voice at another booth, around a corner and out of direct sight, grew louder. He was angry. Very angry.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T GIVE ME WHAT I CAME FOR?” he shouted. “I GAVE YOU ALL THE DOCUMENTS THEY TOLD ME TO BRINGI”
The answer was inaudible. Also unsatisfactory.
A…42…TO POSITION…1, said the robot.
“I’VE BEEN WAITING AN HOUR,” screamed the man. “I TOOK TIME OFF FROM WORK. I AM NOT LEAVING AND COMING BACK!”
Another unsatisfactory response. Then the man, a trim fellow in his late 30s with thinning hair, slammed his palm onto the counter with a jarring bang. He turned and stalked through the crowded waiting room, his jaw rigid with fury.
A frail older man in a wrinkled cap was standing nearby. He turned toward the younger fellow.
“Listen, kiddo,” said the older guy, “I could take you anytime.”
Some of the others who were waiting smiled. To themselves.
“YEAH?” said the slammer. “YOU WANNA STEP OUTSIDE?” He did not wait for an answer, and left.
The old guy wasn’t done. He looked around the room. “Gevarim?” he asked. “Guys?! Men?! Where are you?!!”
The temperature in the room cooled. The robot’s pace picked up. A…46. A…51. A…57. Several people must have gotten tired of waiting and left.
A…66…TO POSITION…2. At last.
I showed the clerk the registry number of the package I’d come for. “That’s all you need?” she asked. I nodded.
She left and got it, tapped some keystrokes. I showed her my Teudat Zehut. She pointed at a small screen to my left. “Sign and press the button,” she said. I did. Nothing happened.
“Try again,” she said. Again nothing.
Again. Third time ice cream, as they say around here. The clerk handed me my new passport.
I might have hoped for a nod, perhaps an apology for the wait. Or maybe a voucher for an extra passport of my choice. Belorussian?
But the clerk had already turned to her next client. I left.
We haven’t gone to the theater much here in Jerusalem. No need.
If we want riveting drama, we can always go postal.