It’s the individuals, stupid

We have to be honest here — as a species homo sapiens is very fucked up.  We are violent, irrational, clannish, destructive, greedy, prone to hatreds, even in our religious life, which should incline us to love our fellow humans, to protect the weak, to oppose evil, instead of routinely burning starving heathen babies to death. Our work here, as a species, has long spoken for itself.  An angry homo sapiens given power will as often as not act as you would expect a weak, spiteful, pissed off ape to act.

Funny as it may sound to hear it from me, I strive to give a happy, or at least upbeat, ending to my stories.   This ongoing stand-off with the Post Office, although I act like there’s a larger principle about accountability involved, is also a story I am shakily driving toward a happy ending.   The missing element of hope has been provided by two lovely individuals in the Post Office I have spoken with about this, one on Monday, one on Friday.

Individual homo sapiens are capable of the most touchingly human acts.   Part of my distaste for hierarchy, and corporate structure, is that people are forced to act according to the will of their masters.  They must do things that many of us would not consider right in the name of feeding their family.   There is no choice in these situations, you do as you are told or take a goddamned hike and your family goes hungry — and until recently, without the possibility of affordable health insurance.

I called the number for D. McNeil, the first woman I spoke to at the Post Office.  She was out to lunch just now but her colleague was equally aghast, equally apologetic, equally generous with her time and sympathy.   It appears the office the complaint was forwarded to was the local Post Office, Umar’s place.  Umar, being the best situated Postal official, was supposed to investigate this complaint about himself, determine whether he’d done anything wrong, and get back to me.   In the meantime, he caused the rent check to my landlord to be sent back to me a second time.  Needless to say, Umar’s investigation of himself is ongoing and complex.

She told me at the end of a long call that she’d written down everything I’d told her, to add to the record.  I apologized for her writer’s cramp.  She laughed, told me she had taken shorthand in school.    “Must have come in handy,” I said.    She told me Ms. McNeil would call me when she comes back from lunch.

Apparently Mr. Umar didn’t cross out the barcode at the bottom of the envelope that told the machine to return the envelope to the customer instead of delivering it.  The woman I spoke to just now pointed this out, along with the fact that the machines cannot see arrows, even if Umar had drawn a dozen.   He should have known to cross out the errant barcode.   Unless he was being spiteful, which is my best theory.

“So either he was stupid or vengeful,” I said, “not to put words in your mouth.”  She laughed and told me she indeed hadn’t said that, but that Umar should have known.

I now have to hold the envelope up to a strong light, read the landlord’s contact phone number on the invoice, and let them know they will have the rent check I’ve been trying to send them for ten days, by Tuesday at the latest.  Meanwhile, I am off to the little local Queens post office where the staff is always so nice.  I am optimistic that they will be helpful.  If not, I’ll buy a stamp and send the damn thing again from their place.  

The women at the landlord’s office were cool, promised to call me when my check arrives.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of this asinine tale.  I am hoping to send you on to your next internet surfing stop with a smile of some kind on your face.   Remember: we are always dealing with individuals, as well as the systems that constrain them and often make them act like jerks accountable to nothing but their lowest nature.  As individuals, homo sapiens most often will not lynch, rape, burn villages, design weapons more terrible than you can imagine.  Individuals laugh, feel concerned about each other’s troubles and will most often try to help.  Like Bill Clinton famously said, as he was signing a law that would vastly increase the prison population,  “Ah feel your pain.”


Coming soon:  the dark comedy thriller “I Married O.J.”

He was handsome, he was charismatic, he was hilarious. He was strong and rich and powerful and vowed he would always protect me…


How we force you to lose hope

Government, increasingly the mechanism by which wealthy corporations, and individuals, make sure their profits are robust and their schemes unhindered by things like regulation,  accountability or prosecution, has learned tremendous customer relations lessons from their canny corporate cousins.   We have come to expect as little protection from our government as from the makers of very expensive toxically produced shit.  Right wing extremists have exploited, and whenever in power exacerbated, this disaffection with our own democratic government, now seen by so many as the enemy instead of the protector of our liberties.  Such forces find it easy to crush problem consumers/citizens.

Check out this example of the fiendishly simple means by which hope for correction of even the simplest error by an institution is snuffed out, routinely, for people without power who appeal to the institutions available for relief from mistreatment.

I got snotty treatment from a Post Office supervisor.  All he had to say is “whoa, that’s a mistake, that letter should have gone to the office it’s addressed to, not to the return address it was sent from.  We’ll fix it, it will be where you sent it in two or three days.”   Not even a ‘sorry’ needed.  “Sorry” is a word that our winner society has made the exclusive domain of weak losers who have no choice but to apologize.

Instead of a reasonable response to a postal error you get, giving him the benefit of the doubt, dismissal from a tired, testy civil servant who doesn’t like the tone of the disgruntled customer.  It’s not his fault that the customer waited on line to be jerked around for an excruciating five minutes by an extremely dull, monosyllabic postal clerk before being passed on to him.   It’s not his fault the letter was returned to the customer without explanation, instead of going to the clearly printed address on the properly stamped business mailer.   None of this is his fault, yet he is taking the full heat for a postal system that sometimes simply just fucks up.   Doesn’t like the way this dick of a customer is making demands, relentless, unsatisfied with the explanation of machine error and his noncommittal shrugs.    Fine.  “No guarantee it will get there this time either, SIR, (the s-word) we’ll just have to hope for the best.”

The customer goes home angry, and finds a federal agency to complain to.   The person he speaks to there seems to be very concerned with the story of the poor treatment the customer has received.    He should not have been handed a complaint number that does not allow a complaint to be made, particularly after the brusque treatment of a customer who had every right to complain.   Especially since there was no explanation given for the illogical return of the letter, except machine error, “shit happens,” and no guarantee given that it won’t be returned to him again.  Not to mention the sly “fuck you” of the fake complaint number.

She promises the customer an investigation, gives him the case number and tells him a report will be emailed to him in 2-4 business days at which time he’ll be able to follow up, if necessary, including emailing photos of the canceled, improperly returned envelope.

Sure enough, two business days later, this email arrives:

Updated information regarding your recent inquiry (Case ID:137194142) (KMM50585860V79654L0KM)

Dear Elliott Widaen,  [got the tricky last name right, but misspelled the first name, one L, one T]

This message is to let you know that we have received your inquiry at the Post Office. 

After we review and investigate the information you have provided, we will contact you and work with you until the case is resolved. 

Thank you for letting us know about this issue.  We look forward to serving you. 


Your United States Postal Service

D. McNeil
Consumer Affairs
(212) 330-3667

PS: Please do not reply to this message as this email address is not monitored for responses.  Your privacy is important to us.  If you would like additional information on our privacy policy, please visit

Ten minutes later, a US Postal Service bot sends this update:

In order to better serve you, your recently submitted inquiry was forwarded to an office that is better suited to address your needs. It is being investigated and you can expect a reply within 2 to 4 business days.

Which office?   Where is this office?   Who?  What?  Why?   Mysteries to be answered within 2 to 4 business days, if all goes well.  

The following day the original envelope with the rent check to the landlord, being sent a twenty minute truck ride from the post office it was returned to, arrives back in the customer’s mail box.  The issue very much not resolved.

You figure, for fifty cents I can put this small business envelope into a standard sized envelope, address it by hand, put a stamp on it and mail it from another part of town. Maybe the postal workers there will not have all been lobotomized, or addled on opioids, or drunk, or willfully assholic, or whatever the problem is when such a simple, routine task is not done properly.  A fifty cent stamp and done.

But for somebody like me, raised by an angry asshole, sensitized to that asshole reflex to testily shift blame to the person mistreated — hard to bite the bullet and do the easy thing.   On to another post office, in another borough (have to go there for something else tomorrow anyway), where everyone has been very nice so far, and humbly make what should be a relatively easy to make case that I have not received the service I paid for.    I’d like them to put it in another envelope, with explicit instructions to deliver it to the address it is addressed to and not, mischievously or imbecilically, to the return address.

This reflex to get some kind of just result is also part of how they break you like a fucking twig.    I don’t know exactly what to do about this reflex, but some part of me believes that once it is neutralized, in enough of us, the Klan will be marching down the main street of every town again, making America great again, like they did when my father was born, in 1924, at the height of their national power, 4.5 million proud members strong.

A Good Sense of Humor

A good sense of humor, being necessary to the mental health of a free person, the right of the People to have a light or dark fucking laugh shall not be infringed.

Another reminder, if one was needed, of how little profit there is telling an asshole — no matter how richly deserving a given asshole might be — to go fuck himself, if that asshole has any power whatsoever to return the favor.

Two days after Umar’s overstamp, and his two perfectly aimed arrows, this puckishly popped up in my own mailbox again.  Seriously?

How like you this, Tetiana?



Calming a Psychopath

The psychopath will reject this title, for starters.  

“Your premise is bullshit.  There’s no need to calm a psychopath, a psychopath is already calm.  Plus, who the fuck are you to call me a psychopath, meat?   How bout I just bite your plump, tender fucking face off?  Plus, shut the fuck up.  Plus, you will keep my secrets because I said you will.   Plus, shut up.  

“Fine, I once threatened to lock my wife and kids in the house, set it on fire and kill all of them.   That was after I got back from slaughtering her parents.  Then I threatened to kill myself, when it was all over.  That last part was the genius part: I have nothing to lose, I’m going to be dead, but just after the rest of you.   Oh, yeah, like you’ve never in a moment of desperation threatened to burn two little children alive, prig.   And, of course, because you’re so mentally healthy, you miss the most important part, the only important part:  I didn’t do any of that!   A threat is just a threat, mere words, and if you don’t know the difference between a threat and an action, you are one sad, ignorant asshole.  

“And while we’re talking about you, Mr. Stable Genius, who the fuck are you to look down your long, hooked nose at somebody who hasn’t worked in years?   Last I checked you were last in court a couple of years ago, doing a fucking inquest in some seedy Bronx courtroom on behalf of some guy with a cane who provoked a dentist to call him a homo and a cabron and throw some business cards in his face.   Real important case, though it was the last time you got paid for anything.  Oh, wait, I forgot, you’re a writer now, that’s right!   You write, everyday, essential crap like this.  Setting down your precious insights like you’ve learned something deep about the workings of the world of humans.

“Brilliant insights like it’s morally wrong to lie to your children, a real rare million dollar gem you got there, professor.  Except that EVERYBODY lies to their children, on some level.  At least I know I’m lying to my children, and I do it mostly by omission anyway, so it’s not like I’m force feeding them a lot of actual lies.  Plus, I defy you to show me any way my lying has had a negative effect on either of my wonderful kids.  Both kids love me, trust me, know they can always depend on me. You have no kids, know nothing about the responsibilities of parenthood.  Easy for you to fucking pontificate, bring up every little long ago mistake I ever made.  Like you never made a mistake in your high and mighty philosopher king life.  

“I understand you’re working on a letter to me and my wife, to lay out all the so-called moral issues involved.  You call it a letter, I call it your death warrant.  You always whine about Hitler, ‘Oh, Hitler killed my maternal grandparents’ 12 siblings, Oh, Hitler wiped out my father’s people… the shithole they came from literally wiped from the map…’  Yeah.  Blame Hitler for you being an asshole.  Hitler made you a righteous asshole, I understand.  

“Here’s something you should understand: I will not be attacked, by you or anyone else.  Your catalogue of things I supposedly did is a dead letter, motherfucker.  This war has long been over.  You lost.   You don’t want to talk to me because I am a compulsive liar?   Fine with me.  Just don’t expect my kids to reciprocate your attempts to stay in touch.  They know what you are, just as they know what I am.  You want to call me a psychopath?  Fine, I’m a psychopath.  Being a psychopath means never having to say you’re sorry.

“You got time?  I could go on this way all day, don’t even need a break to piss.  I piss on you, asshole.  You see, the thing you’re missing is that gamblers who make a losing bet usually double down.  I know a thing or two about doubling down, about not being a fucking loser, like you, Mr. American Dream.  You can’t win it all back if you ain’t in it.  Life is a roll of the dice.  You never accepted this, think that you are in charge, somehow, that the ‘truth’ is some kind of magic shield against the randomness of life.  You’re powerless, with your pompous integrity and hyperbolic sense of fairness, you’re not in charge of shit.   You think your long laundry list of ‘facts’ is more persuasive than my hugs and kisses, and promises (whether sincere or made for dramatic effect)?  Think again, asswipe.  Possession is nine tenths of the law, counselor.   You can’t take what’s mine.  You can try, if you want to be crushed, in fact, I invite you to come right on.”

I brought this on myself, clearly.  The psychopath makes a good point — the indisputable facts of the case only make things worse for me.   The more reason for shame, the deeper the resolve to fight that shame by any means necessary.   I’m not holding any cards here, except for facts nobody wants to know, and there is no price too high to pay for not knowing those terrible things.





Short version

Wrote this as part of a futile letter I am working on, an exercise in trying to digest something that is indigestible, addressed to the chef and server of the unpalatable dish.  I don’t know if it has any interest, but it’s a much quicker telling of the encounter laid out in the previous post, and I will most likely delete it from the letter I wrote it in:


I wrote this letter right after an encounter at my local post office. The encounter illustrates a personality type, all too common, that gives no quarter in defending why they are right and you, whatever the facts, are actually the asshole.

My rent check, in the landlord’s mailer, was returned to me, the stamp cancelled and no other explanation. Went to the post office to have it delivered.  The monkeylike clerk wordlessly studied it for a long time before telling me I needed to talk to the supervisor. The supervisor also studied the envelope for a moment.

“Must not have read the address,” he said, pointing to the address printed on the business envelope. “Machines, we use machines, sometimes they make mistakes.” I asked him to expedite delivery of the check, since it was now a week late. He told me he couldn’t expedite anything, only “overstamp” it and put it back into regular mail, unless I wanted to pay for overnight delivery.  He apparently thought I was being a dick, because he’d already admitted a machine had made a mistake, that it was nobody’s fault, and yet I was still demanding something from him. “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” he asked me.

At this point, the guy who should have simply said “this shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry for the hassle. I’ll hand cancel this, put it on the truck and make sure it gets delivered tomorrow, the address is only five miles from here” was staring at me like I’d just taken a piss at his window.  He slid a paper with a number he said was for complaints through the window, told me his name. He refused to give me a receipt or any proof I’d re-mailed my returned envelope to my landlord. Told me he could only give me a receipt if I paid for it.

The number on the form turned out not to have an option for “complaints” and the waiting time was 40 to 50 minutes to speak to a human. I have no idea if this dickhead gave me his actual name, whether he put my letter in the bin to be sorted and delivered or into the garbage bin. How would I know how much of a vicious psycho this guy potentially is, particularly after I finally told him to fuck himself after he told me he could only give me a receipt if I paid him? He’d certainly showed me a nice snappy catalogue of politely sociopathic traits.

With a stranger who is an asshole, this is standard behavior: never sympathize, or admit any wrongdoing, give a reason that sounds reasonable enough, deny any obligation to fix the mistake, put the complaining consumer on the spot by blaming him for being a hypocrite, and a complainer, tell him to fuck off, politely, give him a fake number to file his fake complaint and make up a name for yourself.

A loved one who does this is in a different category, no?  Do you want the lesson your kids get to take with them in life to be that trust is a delicate, transactional illusion, that to live you have to learn to tell yourself, and others, any lie that makes it possible to conceal shame and manipulation?


Anger Update

Be reluctant to declare victory in the war on difficult emotions, my friends.   It is important to remember that battling our powerful lowest impulses is a constant wrestling match.   I had a nice reminder of the hubris of claiming victory yesterday, and the letdown in vigilance such hubris often causes, when I momentarily lost my verbal shit in the post office yesterday.   This came a day after delivering learned comments about recognizing the signs that you are about to get angry, taking a breath and pulling yourself back from the explosion.

My rent check, in the printed mailer provided by my landlord, was returned to me several days after I mailed it.  It was postmarked and returned with no reason for its return anywhere on the envelope. I brought it to the Post Office today to have its delivery expedited.   The woman at the window studied it for a long time, turning it over and over in her hands, peeling back the stamp, turning it again, her lower lip hanging down pensively. After a few minutes of this, and before she could reach for a magnifying glass, I pointed out that she was not going to find any further information.  I told her it was a rent check, returned to me in error, and that I needed it delivered as soon as possible.   She asked what day I had mailed it, when it had been returned to me.  She looked blankly as I told her “I mailed it Tuesday,  it was returned Saturday” then consulted her phone, presumably for a calendar.   After a long pause she looked up at me without expression, slid the envelope back to me and sent me over to her supervisor.

The supervisor looked at the postmarked envelope, turned it in his hands, shrugged and told me maybe the printed address had not been read through the window.  I pointed out that it was quite legible, printed in caps, in fact, and in the place where every business correspondence is addressed.  He countered with “machines, these are read by machines, which sometimes make mistakes.”  

He told me he could not expedite delivery of this erroneously returned mailing, then, when I appeared dissatisfied with this answer, asked me if I had never made a mistake.  I told him, of course, we all do, but that in the case of this properly addressed, properly posted letter I hadn’t made a mistake, the Post Office and its sorting machines had.   I was asking him to correct this mistake.  He said all he could do was send it again, by regular mail, and that hopefully it would go through this time.  He told me he would draw arrows directing the machine’s attention to the place where the address is on the business envelope, that hopefully it would be properly routed by the machine this time.

“Arrows,” I said, “directing the machines to the ordinary place for an address.  Presumably these arrows will get a postal machine to remove its head from its mechanical ass and sort the envelope properly this time.”

“Those are your words,” he said, unnecessarily.

 When I  still appeared unsatisfied, realizing he was dealing with an angry, implacable dick, he slid a postal form, PS Form 3849, under the glass and told me if I had a complaint, to call the number on the form.  The move removed any doubt I had about being in a conversation with an immovable asshole, in this case one named Umar, but I managed, for a time, to maintain a grim cool.   

This was the time, as I urged my friend the other day, to notice the signs that this was going badly, not going to end well, the physical signs that fight or flight chemicals were flowing, the familiar, climbing feeling that generally happens when I find myself confronted by a robotic attitude, by some insistent jerk sitting behind bullet proof glass who won’t back down no matter what.  This was the time to walk away, there was clearly nothing to gain in this interaction.

All he could do, he told me again, was “overstamp” it and draw arrows on the envelope pointing the machine to the address, and hopefully it would get there, by regular mail, in a few days.  Unless I paid extra, there was no other option available to me, nor anything else the post office would do, or had any obligation to do.  “Feel free to make a complaint,” Umar told me, giving me his name.    I told him to overstamp it and send it again.  He did.  I thanked him for his time, through gritted teeth.

Walking out of the post office I was steamed.  After walking about a block I realized I should have gotten a receipt of some kind of the re-mailing, in case of future trouble with the landlord (and to avoid a $25 fee to stop the original check, in the event the letter didn’t make it the several miles to my landlord’s office).  

As I turned to go back to the Post Office I passed the ongoing standoff over a parking spot.  On my original trip to the Post Office, fifteen minutes earlier, I’d seen one car backing in to parallel park as another nipped in quickly from the other direction.   Neither car could get into the spot now, and neither driver was willing to concede an inch to the other.   The two drivers were locked in their positions, neither one backing down, while a traffic jam built up behind them, a bus trying to make a turn was now blocking all traffic on Broadway.   Horns were blaring.   “The human condition,” I thought, as I entered the Post Office again, to enact my part.

Umar would not come to the window, though he saw me standing at the window.  I called him and pounded on the bulletproof glass with my fist as he disappeared around the wall.  I continued calling his name in a loud belligerent voice.  When he returned, affecting the unflappability of the perfect asshole, he refused to give me any kind of receipt.  Impossible, he said, unless I paid for it.  I then exploded.

“This place is fucked up and you are the fucking supervisor of it!” I snarled idiotically, if also accurately, and stormed out, banging the door hard enough to break it.   A moment later it occurred to me that his next move would be to reach into the bin, retrieve my letter with the rent check, rip it neatly in half, ball it up and toss it into the garbage.

The “complaint” number he gave me had no option for complaints.  It was not a complaint number.  The wait to speak to a human was “40 to 50 minutes”.   I found myself flooded with fight or flight chemicals as I searched the web for how to make a complaint against customer-relations challenged civil servant Umar, to protect myself if he did the angry thing and destroyed my payment to the landlord.  He could also simply have left it on a shelf, to sit for a few weeks.

I called the federal agency that oversees the Post Office, spoke to a very sympathetic woman (whose name I foolishly did not take, though she gave me my case #) who assured me this will be investigated and an email would come back to me within 3 business days.  She told me it was a good move on my part to have photographed the returned envelope, and that I should hold on to the photo.

Odds are Umar didn’t rip it up, the landlord will have it the day after tomorrow, cash it by 3/20 and done and done.  In the odd event that he did ‘go postal’ on my check to the landlord, there is at least a record, a complaint with the federal office that investigates alleged improprieties by postal workers.  For whatever that might be worth.  

But if that impenetrable wall of glass hadn’t been between us, and Umar had stepped toward me, I can’t say for sure, in spite of not being a fighter, in spite of my conscious attempt to remain peaceful, that I would have been able to resist what nature would have been imploring me to do.  I’d had fair warning as things went from fartlike to actual shit, but it was no help in this instance.

This is one reason anger is such a dangerous thing.  It is waiting, always, particularly for those of us who were victimized by angry adults when we were children, and anger can almost always convince you that you are 100% correct in your reaction.  Umar had probably had a shitty day himself, didn’t feel like being reprimanded by some snotty, disgruntled customer for a simple mistake he had nothing to do with.   When the customer poured salt on his shit-sandwich of day by telling him “if you had said ‘this shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry for the hassle, we’ll get this over to your landlord ASAP,” Umar could only claim he had said that.  “I told you I was sorry,” he said sullenly, then slid the fake complaint number under the glass by way of saying “lick my unwashed, crusty asshole, sir.” 

There is no winner in this kind of transaction.  It is best to keep them short and to the point, though that is far more easily said than done.   Remain humble, do not proclaim that you have surmounted the ugly thing that will soon be ready to bite you in the ass again, hard, and with very sharp teeth.

News Tidbit — Who’s Afraid of the NRA?

After the Parkland Florida mass shooting by a disturbed teenager who posed in a MAGA hat, killing seventeen with a legally purchased semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, the President convened a bipartisan commission and had a camera crew record their discussion.   He suggested at the February 28th meeting that raising the age for purchase of AR-15s from 18 to 21 was something that had to be considered.  In a widely televised segment he chided a Republican who criticized this common sense, (though hardly problem-solving), idea for being afraid of the NRA.  

Trump is not afraid of the NRA, why would he be?  The gun nonprofit donated $30,000,000 to his presidential campaign, according to many,  more than $21,000,000 according to MSNBC, though the real number may be a much more modest $10,000,000 or so.   Let’s say it was only a few measly millions.  The point is, it’s not as though the NRA owns Mr. Trump.

Yet Mr. Trump has walked back those tough, common sense comments (if only minimally impacting the larger problem) he made at the televised photo op to show his concern for American school children gunned down by other school children. He has since had a better idea.   He put billionaire Christian fundamentalist Betsy DeVos on the case, telling his Secretary of Education to come up with a plan to “harden” our schools against gun attackers.  

If inexperienced son-in-law Jared Kushner can solve the Opioid Crisis while streamlining government and making peace in the Middle East, why shouldn’t Secretary DeVos be up to the simple task of making our schools “hard” enough to resist attacks by determined white males with assault weapons?   Kids should be reminded every day, as they walk into fortress schools, what a dangerous place our once great nation actually is.

You may report ridiculous things in a straightforward, factual way, in the manner of the New York Times.   That reporting does not make the things reported any less ridiculous, or in this case, grotesque.   But, yo, whatta ya gonna do?

By the way, the NRA, with its powerful lobbying arm that has fought back virtually every gun control measure for the last thirty years, identifies itself as “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization”.  [46]    It’s been around since 1871.  You do the math.