A drama unfolds at the UPS store
what begins as people watching becomes so much more
Hello to all the BAT-heads out there - got a new one for y’all below - hope you enjoy.
NOTE: Paid subscribers can also access an audio version of the story where you can listen to me reading this. It’s fun and I go on dumb little tangents sometimes and many people say they actually enjoy it SO. Here’s a link to the paid version of this post (if you’re a paying subscriber, just click on this and you can listen to the audio version!!)
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OR you can just enjoy the essay as is below. Both are good because? Both are true.
People watching is the best. I read a very good piece by Oleg the other day called Commuters in which he simply described the people he saw on the bus.
It stuck with me - later that day while waiting in a VERY LONG line at the UPS store, I found myself writing about everyone I saw - here’s a brief retelling of what happened that day.
I'm waiting in line at the UPS store and I am pissed off.
There are two people in front of me and things are moving sooooo sloooooow.
No wonder everyone uses Amazon for everything now, I think to myself, this brick and mortar shit is old news - its so inefficient and TAKING TOO LONG. Of course this is why most of physical world now simply exists to process returns for Amazon - UPS Stores, Macys, Targets, Staples, Taco Bell (pending). The big stores have realized the only way to lure people in is by becoming distribution centers for Amazon. Then maybe while they got you in there you'll also see a chair or a pen or a diet coke and buy it. It’s sad and so am I.
I'm here today for a quick dropoff - two packages for Lauren that need returning, one with a label already on it and one with a Amazon QR code thingy that must be presented so they can print a label. I should not have to wait this long, and I am steamed - huffing and also puffing, making a subtle scene (like one from a hit indie film), when I remember Oleg's piece and realize I'm in a perfect place to people watch. So I begin.
We're in a tiny, standard model of a UPS store, probably 15ft by 15ft with an L shaped counter. In front of me are two women and one man.
At the front of the line is a lanky lady with tattoos running down her legs They are cool and so is she. Glasses on her weathered face, she is 50 maybe? It's taking a while, but I can tell it isn't her fault. She's too cool for that. After an eternity, she finishes up and leaves. Somehow I know already that she was the best of us, and she is gone.
Next up to the counter is another lady, this one wearing camo pants, but not like army camo, more like purple camo, the kind that'd be good if you wanted to go undercover in a field of eggplants.
So Eggplant Pantswalks up to the Youth at the register, 18 years old tops, scrawny with wavy hair parted down the middle, each side down to his shoulders: one side blond, the other side a natural black. He is the yin and yang of this place, the duality of man perfectly present in his hair. He's a bumblebee (blond and black get it?) buzzing away, trying to ship off all our stuff, and he looks stressed.
I keep waiting for someone else to come out of the back of the UPS and help the Bumblebee but no one does. Eventually it becomes clear that no one else is back there. The bee is alone, amidst a sea of badgers (who eat bees, duh).
The line behind me has grown considerably. At the back is the blond guy who I'd seen just a minute ago parking the same car as me - an old school 2nd gen Prius. How easily our roles could be swapped, he standing in my spot, I standing in his. Fate, that ever cruel mistress, has had her way with our fortunes yet again.
In front of my Blonde Brother is a muscle guy with a white tanktop and YMCA looking mustache. He seems cool and doesn’t really allow me to look at him long enough to come up with more descriptors.
Ahead of Muscles is an off brand Marc Maron looking guy followed by the woman who is right behind me - she's on the phone speaking in a different language, Filipino I'm pretty sure, and peppers English phrases throughout including "lunch time," "this is American Airlines," and "noted" after which she lets out a knowing laugh. Multitudes contained in us all, tiny packages overflowing with the stuff of life, shipping ourselves there and fro…
Just in the time I wrote out these descriptions, four new people have joined the line behind my Prius Twin now which makes the line bend in an L because otherwise it'd just be going out of the UPS and no one wants to be standing in line at the UPS while outside the UPS its embarrassing.
Purple Camo lets out a big old sigh so we all know she's frustrated, which I agree with, this is taking so fucking long. It’s been 15 minutes! I seethe with anger, mostly directed at Bumblebee Boy - can't he make this all go faster? He’s a fuckup, surely. Amazon is simply better at logistics, I think, pleased with myself for the astute realization.
We've got some serious movement up front: Bumblebee Boy has LEFT HIS POST with Purple Camo and MOVED to the other end of the L shaped counter where Knockoff Marc Maron has been busily putting stuff together, moving boxes, I don't know. Very active though, and now it looks like BB is gonna help him?! What the fuck I was next. It should be me he's helping. ME.
Mind you, I should add here, that for me personally time is of the essence. We are heading to a friend's house for dinner tonight and are in a wee bit of a time crunch because I decided I had to workout beforehand. So the plan was for a QUICK dropoff at UPS and then a REASONABLE amount of time at the gym, then a perfect night with Lauren while baby Wilder hangs with our babysitter. But my plans are being destroyed.
But fine, generic brand Marc Maron, you go first. I catch snippets of his convo with Bumbleboy:
Generic Maron: "Whatever's cheapest."
BumbleB: "What's your cell?"
Maron Lite pauses here, which is weird because no one really pauses after being asked for their cell phone number. I was thrown - did he not know his number? Not have a cell? Not sure which cell to give because he's a Russian spy going undercover AS Marc Maron to infiltrate the American comedy scene???
BabyMaron finally answers but is interrupted by Purple Pants who says, exasperated, "did my stuff fax yet?"
Why is she faxing stuff? Why is anyone faxing stuff in the year of our lord two oh two two? I didn't see Bumblehair fax anything and I've been here for the entirety of their transaction. This coupled with MicroMaron not knowing his own cell phone number confirms it: this is hell. Or rather, this is hell's waiting room, a modern day retelling of the classic Sartre play “no exit” which I have definitely read stop asking.
Much to my astonished chagrin, Buzzboy says "yes, it faxed."
Now Purple is fired up—an injustice has been committed and here’s the proof! Her communique has traveled via phone line to its destination (this is, I am told by many science people, how faxes work), but still, she has to wait?! The irony of rushing when talking about a fax is lost on us all.
Not one to beat around the bush unless she’s hiding behind it in her purple camo pants, the irate woman says, “why did he [mini maron] get to go ahead of me?"
And now, friends, the shit is on. Bumblehair explains that no, actually BetaMaron has been here for a long while, long before Purple Camo Pants were ever a thing in this UPS store.
Right at this moment, I shit you not, THE LADY WITH THE LEG TATTOOS RETURNS! She was the best of us and now she's back, AND SHE GETS TO THE VERY BACK OF THE LINE.
Mother Theresa herself has returned, showing us with simplicity and ease how we all must wait in this great circle of parcel delivery.
Maron version 0.1 defends himself like he's on trial for murder: "I've been here a long time, I went back in line to wait my turn," and he turns to Mama Theresa of the Leg Tattoos and says "just like you."
Everyone still left in this godforsaken place starts to laugh, myself included.
There was still much conflict, much darkness, and yes we were still stuck here forever, but now we were laughing.
Sure, we'd lost at least 50% of the line by that point. A dad and his daughter came and went, as did several others. Through the full pane window, I’d just watched a proud set of parents with their waddling toddler who, I realized, was strapped into a harness connected to a leash. He was a boy but they walked him like a doggie.
Those of us who were still there, we were bonded. We were going through something that we’d later tell our families about but they wouldn’t understand because they weren’t there.
We were the passengers on Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, LOST to the world but perhaps finally FOUND to each other.
At this point I notice that something’s happening within. Or rather, not happening: I no longer feel stressed, like not even a little. I'd LOST (yes!) myself in the drama of these people. Inspired by Oleg, I became immersed fully in who they were and had no room left in my mind to worry much about THE GREAT INJUSTICE of having to wait in line.
And it felt fucking great.
Here, take my golden ticket
An idea from an episode of The One You Feed podcast I'd just listened to pops into my mind where meditation teacher Dean Sluyter explains the dualism of self and other:
8 billion people on the planet, 7 billion, 999 million are the other, One of them is self, somehow I got elected. I got the golden ticket. I got to be the one who is the center of the universe. The one whose joy and sorrow matters, right? The one whose pain and pleasure matters...
in Tibetan practice there's a lot of exercises where you give the golden ticket of selfhood to the other person and you take on the ticket of being just one of the, you know, 8 billion others, and it turns out, Oh, you can feel it...It's a lot of work being the self, being this construct.
And this is showing how the suffering really is a self-created thing, and it comes from being stuck in this dualistic worldview where I am the self and everything else is not the self.
That was the relief I was experiencing - the loss of myself in the experience of others. And it felt amazing (because it no longer felt terrible).
Say the Muscle guy was also describing everyone he saw. Here’s what he’d probably said about me when I first walked in: messy guy, looks like he has to go to the bathroom or something. Impatient. Huffing. Acting like this whole world is built for him.
But by the this point, that Alex had disappeared. I don't really know what was left, and maybe that's the point - I was no longer so obsessed with the goings on of my 'self' because I had focused on the absolutely insane magical chex mix of other.
Everything in the store had become this incredible film I was watching - drama, comedy, truth - all right there in the UPS store. I’ve often been taught in film classes that people love to watch movies so they can experience life as the hero - a wish fulfillment fantasy that liberates one from the humdrum tedium of your everyday.
But that reading still means they’re the center, the one with the golden ticket lucky enough to watch a movie about someone else who is just like them, the main character.
Maybe that's not true though. Maybe we love to watch stuff because it frees us from the unbearable heaviness of living as the main character every waking moment of our lives? What if movies just give us a well constructed, easy to follow, concentrated experience of losing ourselves in the drama and joy of another?
Purple Camo Pants finally finishes her business and leaves. I am next up, so I approach the counter. The child with the half blonde half black hair who, mere moments ago I'd decided was the root of all my problems, says hi to me and I realize it is I who is the moron.
Bumbleboy is the Queen of the Bees aka Beeyonce aka a fucking hero. He handled this line of people, each anxious and going through their own demented yet vital hero's journey, with poise and aplomb. Aplomb!
As he took my packages I genuinely wanted to tell him that I thought he was doing a great job. That he, along with tattoo leg lady, was the best of us. He was our Jack and she was our Kate and I was probably, I don't know, let's just say I was the bad boy Sawyer even though I know that would be Mini Marcus Maron Mumford. I'd probably be Charlie the dude from Lord of the Rings. That feels right.
But I didn't say any of that. Because it would have been patronizing, and also because I wasn't sure he'd get my LOST references seeing as it came out the same year he was probably born.
Walking out of there I couldn't help thinking about all the people we'd lost: blonde prius guy, the kid being walked like a doggie, purple camo pants lady who got what she came for but still, she was gone. Oh and one more person.
Me. I'd lost myself in the stories of these people at the UPS for whom I would now kill because they had become my family. I will naturally be spending Thanksgiving with each of them, one by one, traveling the great city of Los Angeles until I've seen them all and checked in, made sure they're good, ending my journey at the nest of the Bumbleboy himself who will greet me at the door, not thinking this is weird at all because of all we'd been through back there at the UPS, and say 'hey," and I'd smile back at him and say,
"hey, did my fax go through?"
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I loved it so much I asked if I could record an audio reading of it and HE SAID YES. You can listen to that on the page as well.
(tried to combine these words it did not work)
And yes, for all my Spatial-Heads, what we've now got are two Ls that sort of make up the entire border of the store - one L for the counter, and one L for the line. LL Bean! Poetic!