what i meant to say was merry christmas

“BIG UP TO YOUR MAN,” said one US Post Office client to the other. “Thank you,” the other client responded from beneath the awnings of her black monkish raincoat. Her voice was gentle and yet restrained and I could see that she had yellow hair and blue eyes, and clean, unmanicured hands, but that’s all I could see. “Yeah, I saw that in The New Yorker‘s ‘Must See’ last week,” said the first one. When she dropped The New Yorker  just like that, before these eyes, I did move closer, to bask at arm’s length in such radiant cosmopolitan awe-some-nim-i-ty. She was a lean client, toward the end of the first half of her projected lifespan, I guessed. American in accent, Anglo in features,  in figure, in husband. Curly in hair. She wore black rubber boots that had a smidgen of tan mud on them. “Nigel’s English, you know,” she said,  “so we’re planning on having a traditional English Christmas out here before we go back to Manhattan.”

She fumbled with her USPO package, troubled by the flaps, the creases, and I offered to help her, but what I really wanted to say was, “You read The New Yorker and know people who appear in it, who are spending their holiday right here, in this town? Why, I’d love to be in The New Yorker, too. A must see. I’ve got some great manuscripts at home, and you know, I’m big in Estonia.” “Estonia?” “That’s right, they just love me over there. Well, some of them at least. Anyway, introduce me to your society friends, I need a book contract, right now. Got ’em all pipelined up — Montreal Demons. Christelle. My Estonia 3. That Italian book I’ve been tinkering with for years. Look, you’ve got to help me. I’m getting spent out of this town. Heh. So is everybody else who isn’t ultra-ri … Oh, excuse me, I didn’t mean that at all, what I meant to say was, Merry Christmas. Do you know Gay Talese?”

Actually, what I said was, “Can I help you with your package?” And she said, “No, thanks, it wouldn’t be much help anyway. I have about ten more to send. Ha ha.” And I said, “Ha ha,” too. That was all. I guess I looked as local as she looked unlocal. The messy stubbly unshaven face, the tan jacket with the dirt on it from crawling beneath the Christmas tree before I sawed it down, the frayed cuffs of my aged jeans. I looked about as ready to greet New Yorker society as I did to greet the pilgrims on Saint Peter’s Square. I looked like one of the old timers who hang out here in the country store and swap stories about wild turkeys and deer. You know, the ones who live here all year round. So I got my packages from the postal worker and was on my way. “Oh well,” I thought and sighed as I stepped out the door. “File under ‘Missed Opportunities.'”

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