Last week at the post office there was a small drama that involved an affable forty-something clerk and an elegant lady of about eighty. She was wearing a dress and hose and heels and hat, all matching. Her hair was perfectly done, and so were her nails and her makeup. She had a gucci-type bag over one arm, and a cane hooked over the other.
So it’s her turn and she goes to the counter and asks for a first class stamp. While she’s asking, she puts down an letter and coins on the counter. The clerk yawns, takes the letter and runs it through the machine that stamps on the postage, lickety split.
Lady: But I asked you for a first class stamp. This is not a stamp.
Clerk: Oh? Sorry. It’ll get where it’s going, no worries.
Lady: But it looks like that trash mail that’s always clogging up the mail box.
Clerk: I promise you, this is as good as a stamp. That’ll be forty-one cents.
Lady: Young man, surely I don’t need to remind you that a first class stamp costs thirty-seven cents.
Clerk: (Pause) No ma’am. The rate is forty-one cents.
Lady: It most certainly is not. I’ve been sending my letters with thirty-seven cent stamps for years.
Clerk: Well then, you were underfranking.
Clerk: The rate hasn’t been thirty-seven cents since winter of last year. Then it was thirty-nine cents, and now it’s forty-one cents.
Lady: Where is your manager? I’d like to speak to the manager right away.
(pause while we all stare at our shoes)
Manager: how can I help you?
Lady: This young man is charging me forty-one cents for a thirty-seven cent stamp. Or I should say, not even a stamp. A bit of ink. And he’s rude. He accused me of cheating.
Manager: If you wanted to send your letter first class, the rate is forty-one cents. It has been since May.
Lady: (outraged) And why wasn’t I informed of this?
Manager: Um,… I believe there was an ad campaign to announce the increase. And an article in the paper. And on the news.
Lady: I think you’re trying to play a trick on me. There are laws against trying to trick the elderly out of money, you know.
Manager: I assure you, the rate really is forty-one cents.
Lady: If that’s true, what has become of all the mail I sent out since last winter?
Manager: I can’t really say.
Lady: Young lady, you should get your story straight before you try to cheat people. Not every old person is gullible. You may have this 37 cents, but I’m not giving you a penny more. I am going to report you to the police and post master general, both of you.
And off she went. She was so very sure of herself, so outraged and so dignified that nobody dared laugh, even minutes later.