I learned something new today, and it has nothing to do with travel or the publishing world.
I happened to catch the post office when it was almost empty. Just me, a guy, and a female postal worker rode out the mailing minutes. The guy and I waited with heavy eyelids for the full-bodied worker to stop shuffling her paperwork and say the magic word.
“Neeeext,” she finally drawled.
“I just need to mail this to Pennsylvania,” the guy said, plodding up to the counter—T-shirt, ball cap, friendly grin suggesting “average dude.” He set down a small, rectangular package on the ink-stained surface. “It’s a book.”
“Overnight or standard?” the worker asked. She reached at zombie speed for the package.
“Standard, I guess. How long will it take?”
“Well—” She dropped the package onto a scale and tapped hooker-length nails on a keyboard. “Looks like around seven dollars standard. Overnight will cost more. But you can . . .”
I tuned out and scanned the room. Blah blah blah. Wah wah wah.
The space was overflowing with cardboard boxes and crumpled letters—stacks upon mounds of mail paraphernalia. Tape rolls here. Pencils, documents, and stamps there. An 80s jam box played “Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau, and I was just getting ready to hum along when I heard a noise, something strange.
CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP.
“Do you hear birds chirping?” I asked both the worker and book guy, craning my neck to find the source.
“Uh huh,” the worker answered.
She didn’t bother making eye contact with me. She just clicked away on her keyboard and emanated job sorrow. “I think they’re quail or somethin’.”
I looked at the ceiling. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP.
Book guy followed my gaze. “Quail? That’s hilarious! Quail got into the ceiling? I’ve had pigeons in my roof but not quail,” he said.
“Quail? That doesn’t seem right,” I said.
With pricked ears and laser eyes, I tracked the chirps. They weren’t coming from the ceiling.
“Quail?” I asked again.
The female worker sighed. “No, not quail. I meant chickens. I think they’re baby chickens. They’re—”
“In that box?” I interrupted, stepping out of my place in line and walking up to the counter. I extended my arm—index finger aimed straight at a cardboard box sitting on top of a crooked pile directly behind the worker. No holes were punched in the box. No label offered any evidence of life inside it.
The worker stopped making love to her keyboard and looked at me for the first time. She followed my finger.
“Yeah. In there. They’re chicks. That’s whatcha call baby chickens, right? I called the person who’s name is on the package, but no answer. Called ‘em three times. Sad.”
“You can ship chicks in the mail?” I asked. “Mail order chicks? And not the kind from Russia?”
Book guy chuckled, but it was the kind of laugh you choke on when your atmosphere tilts.
“You can mail animals?” I asked.
“Yeah, you can mail all kinds of animals,” the postal worker clarified. “Frogs, bees, scorpions, pheasants, snails . . .”
Her list trailed off. “Six ninety-two,” she barked at book guy.
I winced. “So with those chicks, what do you do if the receiver doesn’t pick them up? What if no one ever comes to get them?”
“We do nothin’. They die,” the worker said.
It were as if she was announcing that they throw away day-olds at the cookie shop. Book guy and I exchanged a grave glance before he paid and scurried away.
“Have a nice day,” the worker said to his back as he escaped the murder scene.
She turned to me. “Neeeext.”