One Hour Till Midnight at the Post office

by Thomas Beller

04/16/2003

w 32nd st & 7th ave. ny, ny

Neighborhood: Chelsea

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“Do you think everyone here is a procrastinator by nature, or just when it comes to taxes?”

“I think everyone in this city is a procrastinator, and that’s why we’re here,” said the lady in the yellow jacket.

Outside, the city college kids were sharp and precise in their chants, a cheerleading squad with banners and signs. “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Tuition Increase Has Got To Go!”

A woman walked by with a sign featuring color photographs of Iraqi’s killed in the war. The police officers stood on the steps with their arms crossed. It was a warm night. She looked like Arundhati Roy. She was florid as she paused in front of the police and began to yell.

“You people are Nazis!” she screamed. “You’re worse than Nazis because you have nuclear weapons! What’s going on here! Come on get real! This is reality people, this is it!”

Her shreiks were piercing and alarming.

Many news crews from local stations had trucks present, and the sidewalk was bathed in white light. What would happen if they broadcast the report from five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago? Would it be different? The freelancers of New York congregate at the post office every year at the elleventh hour.

A small camera crew was set up with a sign announcing that they were from something called “Joke TV.” Their sign encouraged people to stop and tell jokes for the camera. But no one was stopping. Everyone was rushing up the steps clutching their three envelopes for Federal, State, and City. Or they were protesting. Or they were watching it all with their arms crossed over their chest.

Inside, it was a combination soup kitchen and house party. Long lines snaked this way and that in the dignified old room. When people let go of their envelopes, dropped them into bins, were rid of them, they pumped their fist in the air and headed outside and down the steps. Some lingered to watch the protesters. The moon was full and hovering over Madison Square Garden across the street.

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