I hate buying stamps at the Yale campus post office. Junior professors, graduate students, and undergraduates alike shuffle through counters strewn with discarded forms and envelopes. Each one wishing that the line would move faster—how can we save the world with our towering intellects if we’re waiting to post a letter? I check my phone. Bad idea, I’ve been standing in line for thirty minutes now. Impatiently, I look to the front of the line. What is taking so bloody long? There, standing at the main counter, is a woman and man. The woman, clad in a floor-length fur coat, is chic and pissed off. She angrily gesticulates at someone behind the counter. The man standing next to her ignores her fur as he slowly fills out a form. From time to time he stops, puts down his pen, and slowly counts on his fingers. My gaze falls on his puke green t-shirt that descends past his knees. Its bottom right corner looks like some large dog had taken a piece of it as a souvenir.
My mobile rings. It’s my boss wondering where I am. I will not be getting postage stamps today. I push my way out into the New Haven sun and break into a run down Broadway. I sprint past the flower lady, selling carnations at the corner of Broadway and York. She is always there, selling tiny flowers rolled up into paper cones. Head bent into the sprint, I do not hear her frantic calls of “Miss lady, Miss lady, would you like to buy a flower? What’s wrong, Miss lady?” Damn. Damn. Damn. Here is to a waste of my time.
Back in my office, I try to answer my e-mail but I can’t. My mind keeps turning to the woman in fur and the man in the ratty green t-shirt. What an image they made! Though they came from vastly different economic and educational backgrounds, their simple postage needs required them to stand at the same counter. And despite my own difference of background from either of them, I too was in the same post office waiting to buy stamps. But then again, this is New Haven. Where else in the world are the most powerful required to live among the middle and lower classes? Maybe you could have a similar experience in a big city like New York and London, but I’ve always found that their sprawling density created anonymity rather than intimacy. When I studied in London, I never saw the same person twice. Here in New Haven, the people I see on the street know me and ask me how I am.
I look away from the computer screen. Oh dear, the Flower Lady. In my frustration I forgot to speak to the Flower Lady.
It is a Tuesday, and I have yet to buy my stamps. Shyly I approach the Flower Lady, selling colorful carnations on the corner of Broadway and York. I hand her a dollar.
"Could I buy a flower please?”
She hands me a pink carnation, “Here you go, Girlfriend. It matches your rosy cheeks.”
"Thank you. Oh, and by way, I’m really sorry that I didn’t stop yesterday. I was…well, never mind. There was no excuse for me not to at least say hello.”
She smiles at me, “It’s okay, Girlfriend. I know’s that you always pass this way an’ you buy a flower when you can. Now, be sure that you put your flower in water when you get home.”
It’s my turn to smile. Oh the intimacy this city breeds. With each new day, you get another chance to love your neighbor well.