Post Office Wins

July 13, 2009

“It is with great pride and pleasure that we invite you to…”

“…the opening on Wednesday July 15th from 10 pm till Midnight…”

“on the premises of 1, Dimishk St, off Sawaris Square, Maadi-Cairo”.

So went the invitation to the Eye Care Clinic opening that took all of 3 days to finish up and send to the gruesomeness that is the Egyptian Postal Office. Those same 3 days also happened to constitute the beginning of a hopelessly mundane and yet surprisingly fulfilling summer job at my dad’s brand new clinic. One of my first assigned tasks was writing “the opening on wednesday” part on invitations to the opening. One hundred of them. Arguably the number is not so shocking and it’s a simple enough job. Save the fact that my handwriting sucks so bad that constant squinting and, by extension, a seemingly perennial look of misery commingled with a tint of moronic confusion are evident on the reader’s face throughout the reading process. I have one too many finals’ booklets signed by a “please improve your handwriting” or “Dina, I can’t read this” verifying that I am not even exaggerating. To make matters worse I write in cursive.

Needless to say, this being me debut at the Clinic and me wanting to avoid leaving the impression of the Chairman’s spoiled brat (my father is the chairman) – a title that I perhaps do indeed deserve, coming to the office as I did (almost always) a wee bit later that the prescribed 9 am – I channeled all my energy towards governing the three prime suspects: thumb, fore and middle finger.

With my face practically glued to the invitation on the desk and my tongue slightly sticking out, a universal sign of deep concentration (also a characteristic oddity that one would note in most of my pictures from ages 1 to 6 or 7. Apparently I had an abnormally long tongue. A somatic condition that was later on correlated by my parents to a, according to them, pugnacious disposition of mine that reached its apex in my teen-hood). With that I began, “…the opening on Wednesday July 15th from 10pm till Midnight” and pulled my head back to either lament or rejoice the product of (at least) 5 minute’s hard concentration.

Lament it was.

“Dalia,” I hesitantly held the invitation to my super,”um. Does this look fine?”. I provided the correct face expression, deliberately betraying the iffy-ness I felt towards my own work, hence allowing her to give honest feedback without worrying about hurting my feelings or, for that matter, her paycheck (this being under my uncorrect assumption about their assumption that I’m my dad’s little princess whose going to tattle on those who cross her. Completely unfounded of course. Thankfully, Dalia and I are now good friends.) She laughed nervously and subliminally pinched her chin.

Uh-Oh. Baleful sign. I automatically countered my moment’s indecisiveness with a “can I throw this one? I’ll be better next time I promise”.

That nervous laugh again.

“OK just don’t get too comfortable with drafting. We don’t have enough extras”. She concluded that with an out-of-place twitter that made my mind race for an alternative writing strategy.

I need to impress dammit. Okay. Plan B. Just loosen up and let the words flow. An O followed by a P…that’s right.. a W… far so good…M-i-d. Darn it that M slipped. Its way too curvy. Okay Dina stay cool. You’re surrounded by people who think you’re inadequate you don’t need to vindicate that by acting like a kook.

I forced myself to let it go (I tend to get a bit anal when it comes to things like that) and moved on.

I had a couple of mild panic attacks when, at some point somewhere in my 50s, it hit me that I might have or have not jolted down July 5th instead of 15th. At another point I realized that I started writing inconsistently in cursive, even though I made a point not to at the onset (the obvious reason being that it’ll look less abstruse if I didn’t). The result was erratic word-spacing accentuated by the indecisive sloping of my italics, which had the effect of leaving the reader feeling somewhat light headed. I immediately remembered one of my uncle’s comments on a short story by my 9-year-old self (give or take a year) – hand written of course. “Dina, it’s really good honey but your typeface is rather turbulent it distracts the reader from the actual story. Try to direct you’re slope either to the left or to the right,” with an emphasis on the either-or part, “okay sweetie?” I shook the flashback away with the word sweetie echoing a couple of times in the background as I left one trance to enter another.

I could just see the doctors whom the invitations were directed to, opening their letters and tsk-tsking at the poor quality of the writing. Endless tirades of complaints and deconstructive criticism would follow. I, Dina Yehia, will ruin my own father’s practice and he will regret the day he hired me, worse yet, the day I was born.

Okay maybe I’m going too far. It’s no biggie. First, the doctors won’t know about the inconsistencies because, well, each doctor gets just the one invitation and it safe to assume that they don’t gang up afterwards comparing notes. Second, we’ve already notified most of them by phone, seeing how it was incredibly short notice (the invitations were sent on the 14th), so really, chances are only a handful of people are actually going to open the envelop and read the invitation. Finally, and perhaps most reassuringly, the envelops enveloping the to-my-mind abysmal invitation ended up being in an even more abhorrent state than the invitation itself thanks to the, I suspect, green ghouls who work – or maybe its fairer to say, who run– the Postal Office.

Our letters had to be sent and resent no less than half a dozen times, each time for failure to meet a more ridiculous regulation than its precedent. The rejections seemed more like a visceral jeremiad through which the postal employees seemed to both reflect and project the misery of their wretched chthonic existence, than it did anything else. The list ranged from asking to include phone numbers on the envelop, to asking us to write a list of all the recipients’ names, and make two, no three copies of the list (the correction being made on two separate occasions), then include their phone numbers and addresses (that info was passed after the copies were made i.e. we had to hand fill the addresses and phone numbers of three additional copies of four sheets ), then to number them and to number the envelopes themselves, keeping both sets of numbering synchronized. Each of the requests was made on a different trip meaning this was not all dumped on us at once, but rather in small incremental doses it was ditched making all those pressed for time just a little bit more edgy. It also made the synchronizing part an exceptionally time and energy consuming pain in the B.

The highlight of this culmination of bureaucratic gibberish was the following: please be informed that those recipients whose full, quadruple names were not written down will be excluded from the mailing list. Unless, the sender proclaims that he/she/it is fully responsible if anything goes wrong. In other words, the final blow was that, if we wanted the invitations to be sent, we had to sign next to each name that consists of less than four names saying that we will be liable to anything that goes wrong. If the civil servants at the Post Office were trying to get back at the establishment they’re working for (for the myriad of reasons usually associated with public service in Third World countries) by driving away clients, then man they were doing an awesome job. We, for one, are never ever using their services again. Ever.

In the end, to save whatever little time we had left, we signed that we were holding ourselves liable if anything goes wrong, not just for those whose names were not in the four-part format they wanted, but all of the recipients.

Postal Service:1, Eye Care: 0.

And if we were going to discard our dignity as Eye Care employees and set a more accurate score it’ll be more like Postal Service:100, Eye Care:0.

Post Office wins.


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