Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Post Office

  Shortly after graduating from college, I got into my car and drove away from the small town I grew up in for good.  The next day, my father called and told me "It's a good thing you left when you did.  The post office got stuck on the bridge this morning and you couldn't have gotten across town until the DOT came and towed it off late in the afternoon." 

I had always found my town agonizingly small and often dull.  Big news around town might be that Henry Cobbs sprained his pinky finger when a cow pinched it between a milk machine and a stanchion post or that the youngest Taylor boy got caught stealing pants off and Amish clothesline the day before Halloween.  I dreamed of living in a place where people had interesting things to talk about, where real things happened, and there was more to do on the weekend than loiter outside the gas station watching the snow fall.    

But let's get back to the post office and the bridge.  Since before I was born, our tiny one-room post office was a freestanding building propped on the north edge of the the dingy brown that lazily rolled through town, splitting it  into two halves.  When it was discovered that the foundation of the building was slowly crumbling, causing it to slowly slip towards the water, the postal service quickly moved their operations to a makeshift location in the back half of a bar on the south end of town, leaving behind a sadly empty shell with white siding and the towns zip code in bold black numbers on the front.

 For the next year or so, the old post office building sat, lonely and unoccupied, slowly and imperceptibly shifting on its ancient foundation.  There were rumors that it was to be destroyed, rumors that it was to be opened again as a bait shop, and (probably true) rumors that teenagers had claimed the building to smoke and drink and have sex in.  All of these were disproved the morning the town awoke to find the building sitting precariously in the middle of the one bridge through town.

Although I was settling into my new, far far away life, I can see the scene unfolding.  The townspeople from the north half of town gathered on one side of the bridge gazing across at the townspeople from the south half of town through the open doors of the post office.  The telephone wires must have buzzed with activity as the news spread.  "Get the dog and bring the kids!"

There was one tractor in the lead pulling a chain that had been led in through a window and out through the door.  A second tractor with a fork lift was in the back, trying to give the poor old building the boost of energy it would need to make it the few remaining yards across the bridge.  Under the tired frames of the building were several long, round logs.  The drivers of the tractors talked to each other on a cheap set of walkie-talkies. 

"Ok, now I'll push"
"Ok, I'll pull"
"Well, shit."

I imagine the mail lady leaving the bar/post office that morning, with a full bag of letters and bills and mail order catalogs to deliver.  Rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor the old building that used to be the post office that is now blocking the street…

I imagine the few outsiders trying to get through town that day.  Most people pass through the town without even realizing they've been there.  On this day, a wayward traveler would coast down the hill into the 30 mile per hour zone and notice a crowd of people standing in the road.  Looking further ahead, he would notice a cockeyed building and a tribe of locals either driving or shouting at the big tractors that were ineffectively trying to move it.  He would pick up his cell phone to try and make a call telling someone important he would be late, and find that he had no service.  A local would come to his aid and describe a detour, using landmarks like "just past where Old Stutterin' Joe used to live before he lost his hand," or "right where the oldest Madden boy (or was it the youngest) shot that twelve-point three years ago".

Finally, the various authorities show up.  Their first priority is to clear the bridge.  Ironically, the trucks that have the horsepower to do the job are parked in the town garage on the push side of the bridge, and they have to make the twenty-mile detour to the pull side of the bridge.  The tractor-men continue their halfhearted attempts while they wait, as the story gradually unfolds. 

Last hunting season, the Crescent brothers had a fight and decided they couldn't share their hunting camp anymore.  They decided that they each needed one of their own.  They considered splitting the cost of building one, but found it would be too expensive, and neither would want to then take the old one.  Then they somehow found out that the old post office building could be had for a song, provided it was moved off the site by a certain date.  They swooped in and bought the building, with the intention of towing it to their land, and replacing the clear acrylic tables with the pens chained to them with rustic brown, gold and orange plaid hunting furniture.  They slowly discovered, though that the building was so cheap because the red tape wrapped around moving it was thick with complicated paperwork and permits. 

The move-by date swiftly approached.  The brothers were no closer to wading through the necessary bureaucracy than the post office was to moving out of the bar.  They decided that the only solution was to take matters into their own hands.  By the cover of darkness, they would gather the friends who had the biggest tractors and simply use brute force and ignorance to muscle the building out of its foundation and away to its new home deep in the woods.  Had it worked, the plan was brilliant. 

Much to the delight of our slow-moving town, the first half of the plan went smoothly.  It was the second half, the half that involved getting the building all the way over the bridge before daylight that failed.  I believe that every one of us goes to bed each night with a small, secret hope that something exciting, something different will happen tomorrow.  The lucky citizens of my small town were indulged this warm spring morning, when they awoke to a scene that no one could have predicted.   

Within a few hours, it was over.  People shrugged their shoulders, sighed, and headed home.  The building had been moved the rest of the way across the bridge and shoved crookedly into an empty lot, right across the street from the bar/post office.  Over the next few months, the old foundation was paved over and horse tie-ups were installed to make an Amish buggy parking lot.  The Crobar brothers were issued several generic tickets, and the whole event faded into the past.  Staghorn sumac grew up around the base of the building, and the door swungopen and shut with the breeze.  Years later, the postal service is still nestled in the back of the bar, the Crescent brothers still drive beat-up pickup trucks and everyone patiently waits for the next exciting thing.