It’s All my Fault!
April: A Showering of Fools
By Duane Scott Cerny
I need a book of postage stamps—and being the generation that licked before self-stick, I didn’t think to buy them online or at my local East Village bodega where they’re marked up to the price of a better vape pen.
I trot down to the post office, reminiscing over those tacky yet engaging wanted posters which used to brighten my day.
“WANTED, Mail Fraud: Gertrude Grabowski. Tampering with United States Mail. Theft of a Newark Mailbox (Zip Code 07102) by means of a stolen PT Cruiser and an old bat. (See: Maternal Accomplice, Helga Grabowski.) Dangerous. Approach with caution and Febreze.”
The postal line moves efficiently and soon the clerk informs me they have no stamps to sell: Earlier that day the supervisor neglected to pick any up: something about a safe and/or a confusing combination. All excuses offered somehow involved an excessive amount of forgetting.
I had almost become wistful about Gertrude and her larcenous mother when the situation hit me.
I release a sound—let’s say a “guffaw” as it’s a fun word to say—and I reply: “Don’t you think it rather funny?”
“How’s that?” queries the clerk.
“You not having stamps,” I say in giggling disbelief.
I glance behind to make certain I’m not holding up anyone’s impending postal disappointments—and continue: “This is like McDonald’s running out of hamburgers!”
The clerk sighs: “I don’t get it.”
“You’re the post office,” I bewilderly explain. “People post things here. With stamps.”
He posits back: “If this were McDonald’s and they didn’t have burgers, you could get a chicken sandwich!”
My blood pressure medication suddenly has an opinion: “But I’m not at McDonald’s,” I plead. “I’m at the post office. And I don’t want a chicken sandwich. I need stamps. Any stamps. If John Wilkes Booth is this month’s featured stamp, I’m good. We’re both theater fans. We both prefer box seats.”
This clerk is a tough audience of one. I show myself the door, pondering if out-of-stock stamps are a form of cancel culture.
Next on my errand list: Uptown to conglomerate stationery ball and chain, Staples. Coincidentally, I need staples. I love staplers. I collect staplers. Perhaps in another incarnation I was oddly attached to one.
After twenty minutes of wandering between Martha Stewart’s aisle of pet scrap booking supplies and walls of boxed paper of declining pulp and purpose, I give up. Another line, another queue of rope and chrome, and I wait for another clerk.
“I see you rearranged the store again, nice!” I say patiently. “Listen, I’m trying to find staples. They’re no longer next to the scotch tape or packing tape where they were during the pandemic. And I don’t see them by the glue where they were pre-2020. Perhaps you had too many incidences of sniffing?”
“Ohhhh!” the clerk moans as if he’s just eaten a bad burrito. “Sorry. Out of staples. Have been for a week.”
Suddenly, all has changed: Life as you once knew it, ignored it, rarely appreciated it—is gone. In its place is a Rod Serling-perspired, alternative universe of places not misplaced, but replaced. The old town square once so familiar is now a parallelogram. The block you used to live on is now circular: You walk round and round yet never find your way home. You are day drunk without the day drinking.
“You’re out of staples?” I repeat, more for my own hearing than for anyone within misfiring earshot.
“Yea, sorry about that. Need anything else? Paperclips?”
Paperclips! My demeanor turns meaner, and I blurt out: “Don’t you think it’s funny?”
“What’s funny?” says the clerk, segueing our chat into a sad Borscht Belt opening act.
“That you don’t have staples!” I manically spit out. “The name of your store is actually Staples! Big sign out front. Don’t you find that rather, um, ironic?”
The clerk shrugs, tossing his mane of dreadlocks. “I guess…”
But I can’t stop there. I’ve gone too far. The day has gone too far. My life, my fault, my foolishness has all gone too far…
“You know,” I try again, “this is like McDonald’s running out of hamburgers.” I pause. “And no, I don’t want a chicken sandwich!”
“Excuse me,” puzzles the clerk. “Hey, you feelin’ okay, man?”
By this point I’ve released most of my mad as hellishnesss—the frustrations of any given moment metastasizing into any given day. All these little things mean nothing until they stack up against whatever is left of you and accomplishing anything becomes an insurmountable, unattainable dream too impossible to dream. Without Klonopin, at least.
I become unstapled, half choking: “I don’t suppose you sell postage stamps?”
“Sorry. Sold out.” He scans the next customers can of cashews, adding: “But people sure went nuts over those Redd Foxx stamps.”
I shuffle to the door, shocked to hear that Redd Foxx, one of the 20th century’s bluest of X-rated comics made it onto a U.S. postage stamp. Damn edgy. Good for dirty Mr. Foxx.
Finally, I thought, a stamp that licks you back.
Duane Scott Cerny is a humorist, baby booming vintage dealer, popular podcast guest, and the author of the bestselling memoirs “Vintage Confidential” & “Selling Dead People’s Things.” He resides in Chicago, the West Village, and on uncomfortable seating at LGA.