My local post office is like a page out of a Dan Clowes comic: many mutants. I was there this afternoon mailing out a new story and had a strangely fucked up experience. A woman asked me to write out some greeting cards she was sending. "I can’t spell," she said. "My brother’s in prison and his wife put him there." She was squat, twenties, wearing a tank top, jeans, and she smelled strongly of cheap soap. It didn’t occur to me till afterward that she was probably illiterate.
I stood with her and wrote out the three long cards she was sending to her brother. "Jesus loves you, just stick to your plan and you’ll be out before you know it, it’s not so much better out here, be good to yourself, we all love you," and other things like that. One thing she dictated was made for me, as if I’d written it myself, "Stay away from the Hollywood people. They’ll never do you right and they’re all phony. I’m going to find a new crowd myself."
My hand was getting cramped and tired from trying to write legibly. I didn’t know if anyone could read it but me. I’ve got shitty writing, but I was trying. I don’t think she could tell the difference. An older woman peeked in--bleached blond, huge ass, huge breasts. "How you doing here?" she asked, then walked away. On the third card, the girl told me to write, "Tell me if you want me and the girls to pay your wife a visit. Just tell me and I’ll do what it takes. I want to see her beautiful face and eyes. If you don’t get back to me I’m going to go by my own rules."
It was pretty obvious that she was asking him if she could go fuck with his wife who had put him in jail, but was speaking in a kind of code so it couldn’t come back to her. I realized later that she might have gotten me to write the letter so it couldn’t be traced to her. The other two cards she asked me to sign, "Love, your sister" but the third card just ended with "Be strong." Either this was a smart move or wouldn’t make any difference.
"If I had any money, I’d pay you," she said when I was done. "May God bless your family." I told her, "Good luck."
I was excited when I got back and told my wife about it. The whole thing sounded like a dream I might invent. Then I started to feel bad and really kind of sick about it: I might have helped an innocent woman get beat up or worse. I felt like I had done something criminal. At the time I was just doing this strange favor for someone at the post office. It was one of those moments that feels like fiction while you’re living it, few and far between. How often does an illiterate woman ask you to take dictation for a letter to her brother in prison? It was tragic and fascinating at the same time.
While it was happening, I was thinking, hey, I can blog this! I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. Probably good. In the past, something like this might happen and I’d forget about it, I wouldn’t document it. I’d keep it with me but I’d forget the details. But it’s strange to be living my life and thinking how I’m going to represent it online. I’m not an autobiographical writer so it's good to have a direct record of these things. Whatever the case, my new short story has had a mighty strange send-off.
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