Today at the neighborhood post office something happened hard to imagine on Devon Avenue on the North Side of Chicago.
Hong Kong is full of old men. Old men walking with sticks. Old men sitting in parks. Old men reading newspapers. Old men listening to transistor radios. They appear quiet and contemplative, possibly grumpy. I often wonder about their stories, their families, their contentment or bitterness, their finished careers.
Today one sauntered into Taikoo Shing Post Office. One Philippine helper on his arm. Nine of us in line. Two of three windows open. He limped past the stanchions to the Closed Window and shouted in Cantonese, waved two envelopes, letter-sized with Air Mail stamps. The waiting nine watched.
Both a customer and the helper tried, gently, to calm and correct his rudeness—a touch to the arm, a look into the face, quiet words. He masterfully ignored all of it. It’s easy to spot manipulation, even in a foreign language.
A moment of tension followed. Would an employee step out from behind the glass? Would a customer take charge? Would he be forced to the end of the line? Ushered out?
This is what happened: The clerk at the middle window finished with his customer. He moved to the closed window. He attended Grumpy Old Man. For a moment the line watched. Then…everyone lost interest. The clerk finished with Grumpy Old Man. Grumpy Old Man left the building. The clerk moved back to his middle window. He took the next customer in line.
I replayed this scene–and my own normal reactions–in Chicago: clerks stating rules and wearily repeating them. Heavy sighs. Eye rolls. Shifting of feet. Checking of watches. Tensed jaws. Shouting? Swearing? Confrontation? Guns? It’s not hard to imagine, right?
Today Grumpy Old Man had his way. It took 90 seconds. It in no way changed the course of the planet. And I quite enjoyed watching him win.