So here I am, again, standing across from the mailman. Actually, it’s a mailwoman. The woman’s in her fifties, fair skinned with a curly, round head of hair. She’s not looking at me, but I’m looking at her and thinking This is a broad who’s played life by the rules. I’d never say that of course.
Maybe it’s just the uniform rubbing off on me. It’s one of those sky blue, Government Issue two-pocket oxfords. What a mouthful, and for what? The thing’s practically wearing her, and yet, I can’t stop staring. There are four plastic pens in the left pocket; three blacks, one blue. The blacks are crammed into a corner, but the blue one, the misfit, is hovering over Nipple Territory.
The mailwoman lets out a sigh. It’s for me. Her colleagues look over, but they know the score. Beads of sweat are rolling down my back. After seven minutes, she’s still counting the three-pound-bag of change I tendered as payment. There was some regular change on top, a few 10 and 20 cent pieces, but now it’s down to the nitty-gritty: The 1 cent pieces. Back home we call them pennies. The European ones are even smaller. You can’t spend them as fast as they come in unless you’ve got a motive.
I found a motive two hours earlier. I rode my bike over to pick up the package my mother sent from the States. She sent it two weeks before my birthday, and now, a month later, I get a memo in the mailbox. It’s in German. I don’t know what it says, but something about the layout seems to communicate: It’s your lucky day. I left my apartment and cut through the park, taking the cemetery trail to the 704 line. The Deutsch Post is further up on the right.
There were only two people in line. When I reached the counter, I handed over the memo and the woman went back and found my package. I asked her if she spoke English in German. She said “yes,” in a way that reminded me of rainbows. “Great!” I said.
She asked for my ID. I told her sorry, I didn’t bring it, and recited my mother’s address instead. She looks carefully at the package, which she hadn’t handed over yet. She raised an eyebrow. It was good enough for her.
She scanned the package and gave me another test. I wouldn’t be able to charm my way out of this one. To take home my package, my birthday present, I would have to pay 33 Euros and 56 cents. The package, it seemed, contained items the German government wished to profit from. It was a business tactic based upon the popular model of consumerism: I desired the package more than the money.
This tactic was also, coincidentally, based upon the model of ransom. Ransom is the practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money to secure their release. Most cases of ransom involve kidnapped people, but not always.
I am reminded of an incident where thieves broke into the tomb of Argentine president Juan Perón. They weren’t looking for gold or jewels. They wanted the president’s hands. This was no arbitrary detail, however. Perón's hands were viewed as a symbol of national power. The thieves sawed them off. Newspapers worldwide ran stories on the Hands of Perón, as the incident became known. As the story unfolded, it was also made public that the thieves removed another type of symbol: The president’s genitals. They requested $8 million to return the hands. It wasn’t made clear whether or not the genitals were included in this deal. It didn’t matter. The government refused to pay the ransom, and the items were never recovered.
My situation was a matter of ransom disguised as customs charges. Be that as it may, I wasn’t going to react as the Argentine Republic had. I was willing to pay the Post’s ransom.
But I was not able. I had 20 Euros on me. When I told the mailwoman this, she understood. I had never incurred customs charges on a package before. I made it quite clear that this charge was unexpected. She whisked my present back into the bowels of the Deutsch Post. I walked out to my bike empty handed, ruing my ill preparedness. While peddling home, however, those feelings of self-pity turned to anger. I would, amongst other things, plot revenge on the post office.
The only question now was "how?"