Yesterday, I was number 38 in line at the Broadway Post Office. A man in his fifties dressed in an appliance repairman’s uniform argued with the clerk. “But a package coming here from my homeland takes only eight days! Why is my package not arrived there by over one month?” The clerk was irritated by this — and pointing the man to a voluminous form for lost package claims, dismissed him from life.
The man visibly slumped, mumbled, took a form, and walked to the door. I had a Byron Moment. It Just Happens. “What country are you from?”, I asked him. “I am from Czechoslovakia,” he replied. “You know, we’ve had problems shipping to South America, and Italy, but I don’t ship much to Czechoslovakia,” I said, in my normal method of extracting life pictures. Talk about the mundane, sizing up the general human — and then suddenly shift gears, and not too directly. For instance — I casually mention that I’m reading a history of the KGB, the Mitrohkin Archives. Then I drop the name of Eduard Benes, and the fate of Czechoslovakia at Munich — and — Pow.
He began to speak. Every person in the post office stopped talking and listened, even the clerks. This was his story: