I ventured to the post office this morning, an activity I condone as much as hard drugs. An email, or online shipping will always suffice. However I spoke with my hip gunkles in Florida who, despite being senior citizens a plane ride away and would bother with an iPad the way I fux with USPS, gave me the up-and-up on an NYC housing situation. They received a hot tip about an affordable housing lottery from a friend, and naturally they thought of their broke-ass and busted niece living on “the edge” in “deep Brooklyn.” Editor’s Note: I live in Crown Heights–there’s bougie pizza and my neighbor is a boutique. I’m fine…but more than qualified and none too proud for, rather flattered by, affordable housing. To be considered, one must submit postcards by the cut-off date, indicating the set-up of interest if selected and contact info. I called my uncle this morning, realizing I had the weekend left to throw my hat in the ring. “Postcard?” I asked skeptically. Like a chintzy beach landscape starring a hairy middle-ager in a banana hammock? The affordable housing authority certainly has a sense of humor. Can’t I send a thank you note, as in thanks in advance for this Manhattan apartment I neither need nor deserve? “No, I know they’re so obsolete. You have to get them from the post office.” It hurt him to suggest such a thing, I felt it through the phone. He bid me well and I hung up, lunging at my computer to find the nearest place to go postal. 7 minute walk. Easy enough. I threw on an outfit fresh off the floor and set out.
My neighborhood isn’t too dicey, especially at 11:30am on a Saturday. Whenever I tell my boyfriend I took a cab home from work after 9 (I mean, shit, it’s expensed) he rolls his eyes and wonders why I feel belittled when my dad treats me like a lotus and asks if I need a few extra bucks this month. All that aside, it’s not my most favorite walk alone for garden variety lady reasons (unsolicited compliments, trained eyes, the feeling of being followed when 9 times out of 10 someone is following me because I’m not the center of the universe, etc.) But it’s always worse in my head, one too many stupid movies. This is as can-do as I’ll ever get, so I’m running with it; said attitude promptly checks out when my map tells me to make a turn on what looks like a major highway. Where does Google think I am, LA? But who am I to judge NASA, so I turn. I’m walking and swinging my arms laissez-faire, 2 minutes to go, cross this off my to-do list, and get a Chinese massage in Park Slope. Well, those swinging arms brought it in like babes in a riptide when my right hand got caught by a jutting out wire fence. This empty lot didn’t have a hand sanitizer dispenser, imagine that, so what’s a sissy to do but keep on keepin’? I see it then, across this mini-freeway, Post Office. All that tetanus for nothing. I retrace my steps, pass a hard hat zone, and make my way in. There’s a line, no, six lines, but I have a solid forty minutes before this place shuts down for the weekend so I give myself a preemptive pat on the back. “Way to be on the ball early, Genevieve. You earned this affordable housing, I can see the throw rug and soda stream now.” Window #4 buzzes, I ask for a book of stamps and these elusive, completely confounding postcards. “Good luck with those,” the clerk says. He hands me a book of stamps, Harvey Milk for the win, even though my out-of-touch behind was taken aback by the $9.80 price tag: I can get a cocktail for that. Almost. Maybe before tip. Visibly distressed at the prospect of making another trip to another post office, he quickly gives me directions and confirmation that this place DOES have postcards, because he was there yesterday. I cringed at the address, and once more when he said it was next to an Applebee’s. He asked if I was new to the neighborhood, and when I said no but never needed a post office until now, he thanked me for needing him and securing his job. Great. To this I replied, just kidding!, and ran away.
I hailed a green cab and gave my driver the cross streets, we were there in less than two minutes and for this I felt extra pathetic. My affordable housing chub was showing. A 25% tip was $0.80, so I gave him $2.50 on top of the $4 cab ride to justify my card usage, and the trouble. I hop out, run across the street past the biggest and most aggrandized Applebee’s I’ve ever seen, and was greeted by 2 mammoth lines. Was John Stamos signing Chobani lids or something? I wait, 11th in line, for forty-five minutes. I read a book, because my phone was perishing from all the Two Dots. It was the city version of the DMV, except I still have to go to the DMV because once a Jersey Girl always a Jersey Girl until she nuts up and becomes a NY resident. I’m finally called, weary and breathless, and ask for these damn postcards. She looks nervous, “Uhhh let me check on that” and scampers away. I hold my breath just long enough to not suffer brain damage when she returns with a brick of postcards. “Just had to make sure I could sell them.” I didn’t want to know. I asked for five, in case my gunkles knew of any other schemes for which to sign my life away, and swiped my card for a whopping $1.90. No cash back, what a pain in the ass. I asked if I could borrow her pen, or if she could direct me to an area in the post office where there was a public pen; she could not answer the latter, and while hesitant to give me her pen because of a bad “past experience” I wore her down with my sad and lifeless eyes. I filled them out on the counter in front of her while other customers came and went. I pushed her prized pen through the window and asked if I could leave them with her to send out. More hesitance, but she said yes after giving them a good hard look. I forgot to ask if there’s a faster way to purchase postcards for the future, and walked out.
I didn’t feel empowered or accomplished after any of this. Frankly, I felt like she may have just thought I was crazy and threw away my mail because it was incompetent mail. A more bitter part of me considered that she got the gist of what I was doing, and discarded my two entries to boost her own chances. Or maybe she’d just forget to do anything with them because they’re not mail and she’s swamped with pushy hoards of people. But any way I sliced it, I felt like the last two hours were a colossal waste of time.
This got me wondering why we, people, do anything that’s a potential or promised waste of time. Why we organize our sock drawers, why are we in debt for expensive education, why we go on Tinder dates. Is it out of a sense of survival, to arm ourselves with every defense no matter the size or seeming significance? That if we can find our favorite underwear in the dark, that somehow the stars are better aligned for us? That if we go for a Tier #1 college over a more economically-viable school option, our chances at success in blank desired field multiply, discounting the x-factors of personality, drive, and on the count of three….connections? Why do we do anything if at the end of it all we feel futile? No better off? I could’ve went to a state school and flexed all my networking muscles in the same way for pretty much the same outcome, while saving me and my family a hefty bundle. I can pick out the best accessories, but if I’m off my game whilst-wear, I’m no Olivia Palermo. (This is dangerously close to the pigs-with-earrings analogy old men in my family recite, and the superiorly less PC “It’s the Indian, not the arrow.”)
Perhaps we have this impulse because when we put ourselves out there, we challenge the universe to open itself up to us right back, and have a good argument for it to do so. Who can disagree with that? To have friends one must be a friend, golden rule, bring a hostess gift, etc. But what are the boundaries? At what department-wide happy hour do we stretch ourselves too thin? At what blind date does it catch up with us? At which satellite friend do I snap?
I can’t afford that many Chinese massages…how do I stay shiny with hope?
And if it’s not hope alone, what keeps us going?
Or are we truly holding out for a great new friend, new job, new apartment?
Looking inward, I like my day-to-day, but I don’t think I want it forever; I show up hoping something else, a better fit, breaks through. A gig in development for which, on paper, I now I have the stewardship skills. If I get the gusto to move to Napa or back upstate, I like to imagine myself managing a vineyard, which I like to think I could swing as a schmoozing boozing 20-something.
I like my roommates, I got lucky with 3 awesome dudes, and frequently go out in Brooklyn with them: not because it’s always a blast -sometimes it’s actually borderline basic- but because I want us to get closer, or to at least give myself the chance to bond with them and see if my relationship with anyone goes beyond splitting the electric and toilet paper. Same goes with my coworkers: not every shindig is life-changing, most don’t even make it to instagram, but the alternative of not going is almost always worse and promises a little regret.
Maybe that’s why we go for housing lotteries, enter HGTV contests, watch The Real Housewives, try a juice cleanse, endure the flaws of those we love, and push through our own dissatisfaction.
Because we don’t want to regret, and can always say we gave it a shot.