textbook example of misery loving company
Wednesday, December 26 2001
Gretchen took the train down to Silver Spring to celebrate her father's birthday, and that left me by myself to carry out some essential tasks. The most important of these was to get the wheels in motion for my passport. This meant walking down to the big Post Office on 9th Avenue south of 5th Avenue. I wasn't quite sure where exactly it was, so I found myself going back and forth between 6th and 5th Avenues a few times until I looked at the informational sticker in a mailbox that told me where the nearest post office could be found.
I picked a particularly bad day to go stand in line at the post office, that was immediately clear. There were several lines and it turned out I wasn't in the right one. The passport window had its own special line, but no one was even standing in it yet because the passport window was closed for lunch, something I didn't discover until lunch was nearly over. By the time I was in the right line, I was behind a whole nuclear family of passport seekers. And then we learned the opening of the passport window would be delayed by a whole half hour.
As bad as the passport line was, it was nowhere near as bad as the pick up packages line. That line was completely stalled for most of the time I was there. Various people, many with screaming children in tow, wandered into and out of their place in this line, complaining loudly and demanding satisfaction from whatever staff they could find. New Yorkers are not in dark about the lame service provided by their cheerless post office personnel, and they know that badgering, demanding, threatening, cajoling, and pleading are all appropriate techniques for getting their needs met at the post office, especially when conducted in a loud, relentless manner. "No one is even looking for my package!" one woman exclaimed in disgust to no one in particular. She immediately got something of an amen from a big dumpy woman waiting in the same dismal line in hopes of picking up her kids' Christmas presents. The kids, some of whom were in their teens and looked like they probably had a Puerto Rican father, were bored out of their minds. They were running around the post office shooting at each other with guns, the kind that shoot little darts with rubber suction cups at the business end. These kids were driving their mother nuts, and periodically she'd order them to go out and play in a nearby schoolyard. Once she had her box, the other complaining woman bid her goodbye by saying, "It's been nice complaining with you!"
Eventually I was done with the arduous process of applying for my passport. The guy behind me in the passport line was only 15 years old and was suddenly told he needed to have his parents present. He'd already waited 20 minutes in line, poor guy.
Back at home, despite being on "vacation," I did my usual workday mix of listening to music and watching teevee. There was a show on the Discovery Science channel about the "Aborigines of Tierra Del Fuego." The point being made by this show was that these "Aborigines" had somehow settled the southern tip of South America after sailing in stone-aged ocean vessels from Australia. By the end of the show (which is all I caught), this idea was being presented as though it was established scientific fact, though in reality it is fringe anthropology at best. The only "evidence" presented connecting these people with Australian Aborigines was some vague similarity in their arts. Mind you, this show was paid for in part by the BBC and a number of other legitimacy-conferring media organizations. What's next, a show documenting the glory and subtle interpretive powers of numerology? If you're going to run a science channel, it's important to present shows that have scientific legitimacy, not speculative wishful thinking. There are enough people out there with the wrong view of the ways and means of science, and shows like this just add to the problem.
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