Friday, August 17, 2012

A Hat and A Hood

Okay, so here's the story.

There came a day a few years ago when I took my route out to the street for delivery, and in my truck I carried something practically guaranteed to make my morning interesting, if not downright terrible. I had a registered letter for The Terror.

Now, the thing about the registered letter is that the recipient has to sign for it. I fill out a slip, they sign it, I trade them the signed slip for the registered letter. Sounds simple, right?

Sort of.

But this meant that rather than sneaking in and out of the entrance to the terror's building, slipping the mail into the boxes in the front hall with all the silent stealth of a ninja made of feathers and shadow, I had to knock on the door to the Terror's lair.

Oh joy.

As I approached the home of The Terror through the crisp, cold January morning, I knew she was home long before I ever even touched the doorknob, never mind actually entering the hall. Women yelled and men bellowed. Tires screeched and doors slammed. There was a burst of music, and someone started going on in gushing tones and amazing volume about Folgers coffee.

The Terror was watching television, the sound turned up so high it was clearly audible outside the brick building that was all bundled up for winter, even though I had ear buds in and was wearing both a watch-cap-style hat and the hood from my sweatshirt. The Terror was, suffice to say, a little deaf.

There are sticks and stones that wouldn't have needed the television turned up quite so loud. A corpse would have winced at the volume levels.

I entered the blisteringly hot hall without my usual stealth, banging the wall-boxes open and filling them with that day's mail delivery. I held on to the mail for The Terror, though, and had it in hand as I knocked on the door to her unit. Inside I could hear a man professing his long-time love for a woman while she rebuffed him, haughtily, their slightly stilted language causing the phrase 'soap opera' to float through my head.

I knocked again, louder this time. Inside a different man and woman plotted the death of another man, as a way for the two of them to be both together and rich. This confirmed my 'soap' suspicion, but did nothing toward getting my slip signed and me on my way. The heater built into the hall wall was working overtime, and I was dressed for weather around 20 degrees, so the thick warmth of the hall was starting to get to me. I yanked off my hood, unzipped my coat partway, and drummed my knuckles against the door with all the authority of an angry landlord trying to collect the rent, or maybe a Jehova’s Witness who’s been given a quota.

Inside the conspirators discussed the effects their poison would have on their target in hushed tones that could be heard for better than a half a mile.

I sighed, blinked, and under the row of the Terrible Television heard a soft squeak-squeak sound. I listened closely, blinked, and heard it again, a sound like the world’s tiniest windshield-wipers scraping across dry glass. I realized the heat that was blasting out of the wall unit and rolling about the hall had dehydrated my eyeballs almost to the point of desiccation, and I broke and fled the hall, stuffing the mail into The Terror’s box and bursting out into the clear, cold air.

Ah, refreshing!

I moved on to the next building (there are four units per building in this development) and delivered the mail to the boxes in their front hall. The heat in this hallway was, I was relived to find, only turned up to “Hard to Believe”, rather than “Completely Ridiculous”, and I made it in and out of the building without having to remove my hood. I exited the building and started for the next one in line when I was brought up short by a sound like a train whistle… if there had been a train whistle designed to mimic the raw-throat sound of a cawing crow, that is.

Heeeeeey! Heeeeeey! Heeeeeey!

I turned to look for the source of the horrible sound and found The Terror chugging up the sidewalk behind me, much like the aforementioned train. She wore no coat, only a cardigan; her hair was in curlers; and she had a full head of steam on, with her mouth open wide to emit that awful cry… as well as give me a perfect but unpleasant view of the huge wad of something chock full of mayonaise, possibly chicken salad, that she had apparently forgotten to swallow before leaving the house.

And she was waving the notification slip I had just left in her mailbox in one gnarled, oversized hand.


“Good morning! Can I help you?”

Her forward progress ground to a halt about three feet in front of me, but her vocal apparatus just kept on rolling. At full volume.

“I just found this in my mailbox!” She waved the peach-colored slip of paper at me. “I was expecting this to come today! You were supposed to knock!”

“I did kno —” I began, but she was the conversational equivalent of an avalanche, bowling me over and carrying me along, nearly helpless against her sheer vocal force.

“You people are supposed to knock when you have something to sign for! You’re not supposed to just leave this thing and walk away!”

“Yes Ma’am, but —”

“I have a good mind to call the Post Office and talk to your superior! You know you’re supposed to knock! But you didn’t knock! If I hadn’t found this in my mail I never would have known me letter was here!”

“I did knock, but—”

It was useless. She was standing before me like an ancient child throwing a tantrum (picture Yoda having a screaming fit and you’re actually pretty close), hands balled at her sides now, eyes squeezed tight shut so she could force just that much more volume out of her small (yet still somehow large) body. Flecks and gobs of half-masticated mayonaise mess flew from her lips with every ‘P’ she pronounced, and I was reminded of old wrestler interviews I watched as a child: not a lot of sense being made, but plenty of shouting with spit flying on every word.

“I can’t understand why you didn’t knock! I know you know you’re supposed to knock! People pay postage because they’re looking for service! What happened to the service!?”

I couldn’t get a word in at all, and the most frightening thing was she appeared to be gaining momentumn! The words were coming slightly faster now, and the volume was actually rising! I looked about the courtyard and it looked like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. It seemed that every crow for miles around had congregated around us, lining the telephone and power wires, perching in trees and bushes, even hopping to and fro on the grass. Maybe they had all gathered here in response to what they thought was the call of an angry crow God, I don’t know. I do know I didn’t want to find out what they’d do if they figured out with their little crow brains that I was the source of their God’s ire.

I had to find a way to break her shouting stride! Her eyes were still closed, and I thought about simply slipping away while she bellowed, but the crows… the crows were watching. I took a chance. I leaned down to look directly into the face of the orating octogenarian, and shouted one short, sharp syllable.


Her mouth snapped shut and her eyes popped open as if the one counterweighted the other. I took heart at the fact that I could no longer see the contents of her cavernous maw and shouted into the blessed moment of silence, enunciating as clearly as possible.

“Ma’am! I did knock! Three times!”

I held up the requisite number of fingers, her dark eyes tracking their motion, reminding me again of the crows surrounding us.

“You had your television turned up quite loud, and I don’t think you could hear me!”

I rummaged in the mail bag hanging from my shoulder and came out with the registered letter she was looking for. Without a word she handed me the slip she had been threatening me with, and I saw she had already signed it. I handed her the letter and put the slip in my bag. I opened my mouth to tell her to have a nice day, but she broke her short silence rather abruptly, as if she had come to a sudden decision.

“I couldn’t hear you knocking because you’re wearing a hat and a hood!”

The suddenness, the volume, and, let’s face it, the sheer nonsense of the words she had bellowed at me with such accusation, stunned me into silence as she turned and trundled off toward her door, muttering to herself the whole time. She got half-way back to her building before I found my voice once more, but all I could do was say “What?” in a voice so weak there was no way my question would ever be answered.

Talk to you later!

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