My late morning visit to the 1st Avenue North post office today should have been uneventful and benign. After all, I was just dropping off a half-filled tub of mail that had already been posted, and there was no business to transact other than picking up a replacement tub.
As I approached the short line (two people), I passed a man in sweat pants and a faux-letterman jacket with the Chrysler emblem embroidered on the back, leaning over the “accessory” rack examining different packing envelopes. I stepped right into the next place in line. Apparently, that place belonged to the Chrysler Man. I was informed of this as he pushed me aside and stepped directly in front of me. At the same time, he began muttering epithets at me ranging from “bitch” to “cracker” to “peckerwood.”
“Excuse me?” I remarked, not really meaning it. I had heard very clearly what he had said.
That really set him off. (How dare someone take issue with being called names for no good reason.) “Don’t you look at me! I can take you!! Just keep looking at me, ‘ho’! I’ll cut you!”
I was in shock. I could hardly believe what I was hearing! Chrysler Man was acting like some teenage street punk, but he was clearly pushing 70 years of age. He was having to lean on the counter just to stand up. I figured that if he actually did have a knife, the time it took him to put his hands on it would easily allow me enough time to either get out of the way or take him down. I kept my eyes on him. “Take it easy, you old fool.”
“You just keep lookin’ at me, bitch. You think I can’t take you? I’ll cut you good, motherfucker.” Et cetera. Chrysler Man was spewing this garbage in an unending torrent.
The one woman working behind the counter was watching the entire exchange and, as Chrysler Man approached her station, she was cheerful and helpful. He bought over $300 worth of money orders from her. They were just lovely to one another.
Chrysler Man hobbled away and I approached the counter. The clerk was over-the-top nice to me, and I have dealt with this particular woman before – she is usually not the ideal of friendly customer service. She could have just been having a good day today, but to me it seemed like over-compensation. I gave her my mailings, and asked for and took a Priority Mail flat rate box. By way of apology, I think, she said “Next time, you can just leave the tub here on the counter, and you don’t have to wait in line.”
Later, I thought this: I have just been threatened with physical harm on federal property. There has got to be a special law against this. If I had my cell phone on me, and had been lucid enough (that is, not in a state of shock), I would have immediately telephoned the Birmingham Police. Why didn’t I just borrow the postal clerk’s phone? Better yet, when she heard one of her patrons threaten another with physical violence, why the heck didn’t the postal clerk telephone the police herself? It hardly matters that Chrysler Man was barely able to stand up on his own. Shouldn’t we all assume that every personal threat of violence is worth its face value, even when it comes from an unlikely source? Perhaps a uniformed law enforcement figure confronting Chrysler Man regarding his vitriolic statements would have brought him to his senses, but I doubt it. I totally missed my opportunity to perform an important civic duty, and I regret it deeply.
As I walked out of the post office, Chrysler Man was standing by his shiny, waxed, burgundy SRT8. “Cracka’ ass sonnabitch. You come over here, motherfucker, I’ll cut you up, asshole.” Presumably, Chrysler Man has spent the last 70 years of his life providing an example to the youth of his community, and contributing his share to Birmingham’s exalted ranking as America’s 6th “Most Dangerous City.”
I flipped him off – my only immediately available non-verbal defense – and drove away, leaving Chrysler Man’s hateful scowl and mutterances behind in the federally-managed parking lot.