By: Joe Hartzler
In order to be a working actor in Los Angeles, I've had to become a working office manager. ‘ Now, please don't be deceived, I'm terribly grateful to have a job and to be able to support myself while I chase the carrot, but, as is the nature of work, it can be frustrating and humbling at times. ‘ These are the experiences that keep us from becoming douchebags, and for that, I am thankful. ‘
Office manager by day, improv and sketch comedian by night, these worlds could not be more different. ‘ The following is a glimpse into that other life, the one that wakes me in the morning far before I am ready to be awake.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009: The P.O. Box
The task is simple enough: Locate post office box 490941 in Brentwood, retrieve all items, and return to the office. Also, ship two letters certified mail and make additional copies of suite and restroom keys. And grab lunch. You have 1 hour.
Traffic in Santa Monica is predictably terrible, and only gets worse approaching Barrington. It takes me much longer than expected to find the post office — it turns out Barrington is much closer to the 405 than I anticipated, and the post office is much closer to Oregon (Barrington and Sunset). The intern's covering phones for now, but he's leaving at 1:30 to go find out if he has Pink Eye or just a pink eye, and when the phone starts ringing, my absence will be brooded over. I've gotta make this quick.
After several circles, backtracks, and illegal phone calls from behind the wheel, I manage to find the post office tucked neatly away behind a thick wall of pines with nary a flag pole in site.
I park in a hurry and jump out.
I'll jog. There, I'll just park and do a brisk jog across the parking lot, that'll save some time.
I jog briskly. I find this:
Now multiply this picture by thousands and thousands and you'll begin to see what I'm up against. That, and the number I was given is incorrect — there is no 940941. But I don't know this yet. ‘ I show the number to an employee and she gestures toward the thousands of post office boxes all around us.
“Look around here maybe… there's a lot of numbers, but I don't know if there is a 941…”
Head height. ‘ Let's see, Stephen thought it was about head height… ok… hmm… what if he's shorter in his memory? ‘ Or taller? ‘ I bet he thinks he's taller. ‘ This thing could be anywhere. How tall is Stephen anyways, 4 rows high, 5 rows? How many U.S. Post Office boxes would I stack on top of one another to equal Stephen? Or:
”””””””’ Stephen divided by Post Office boxes = X. ‘
16? ‘ That probably isn't the answer. ‘ I doubt he's 16 Post Office boxes high.
I scour the stacks of numbers until they lose all meaning. I've forgotten how to count. I begin searching indiscriminately, hoping I'll recognize the shape and feel of the number when my eyeballs pass over it. ‘ I try to think Zen, but I can only picture one of those tiny desktop Zen gardens. ‘ There it is sitting on my desk beside my computer. ‘ Tiny little stones. ‘ Sand. ‘ A tiny rake. ‘ A tiny Zen gardener walks across a post-it-note, pauses to wipe his forhead, then picks up the tiny Zen rake. ‘ He makes smooth straight lines in the sand with the rake. The phone rings, I answer it kurtly. ‘ The Zen gardener covers his ears in vain, dropping to his knees, blood spewing from his ears.
Back in the Post Office I'm reminded of the game Mindsweep — just one false move…
The numbers are crowding together. ‘ I squint and try to focus on one number at a time. ‘ This is taking far too long. ‘ I'm going to get fired for doing my job. ‘ This is unreasonable. Where's the card catalogue, the key, the legend, the Dewy-Decimal system? Where the hell is the Post Office box librarian? ‘ Surely someone knows how these numbers are arranged! ‘ I want to speak with a manager! ‘ I want the Post Master General!
The numbers wiggle and shake and hurt my eyes. ‘ I can't look. ‘ I've got to stare at the ground to keep my sanity while I search for 940941. Then things get ugly. The 9's climb up on the 4's and commit lewd acts right in front of the 1's and 2's. And the rest join in, the 5's and 7's the, 8's too, all writhing about indecently. Someone should say something, there are mothers and babies in this place, respectable citizens. This is criminal! ‘ This is unAmerican! ‘ Attica! ‘ Attica!
And then, I see it:
I insert the key and the door swings open revealing mail, glorious mail!
It turns out there is a 49941, but there is not a 490941.
Stay tuned for “iBama.”