So I worked for my small-town post office for a bunch of years. Twelve, maybe? I delivered mail on a rural route on days the regular carrier had off and I also worked as a clerk inside the post office when the regular clerk took some days off.
I remember a morning when I was working inside, sorting mail, working the tiny little front counter with a customer waiting area that couldn’t have been more than 80 square feet. It was such a tiny place. And of course, as you would expect, there were the obligatory notebooks filled-to-bursting with pages of “Most Wanted” sheets, with photos of criminals and their fingerprints. Yep, just like you’d expect.
Small town post offices are social places. The people who work there know everyone. Friends and neighbors come and go. The early morning parade pretty much repeats itself every day: local businesses pick up their mail, people stop in to mail letters before work; on check day all of the social security recipients call in and ask to have their mail held instead of delivered ~ they'd be in to pick up the check before lunch.
So I was working the front counter and, as was often the case, had a little bag of snacks tucked under the counter. On this particular day it was a bag of Cheetos. Probably not the best choice, but I was hungry and I probably stole it out of one of my kids sack lunches on my way out the door that morning long before they got up to get ready for school.
In walks a young-ish guy who works at the local grain elevator just across the road. He came to pick up the elevators mail just like he did many previous days. It was like a daily dance. He’d walk in, I would see him and head straight to the elevators mailbox. I’d pull the mail, hand it to him as I said, “Good morning!”, he’d take it from me, say, “Yes, ma’am” and he’d leave with the mail. I had noted on more than one occasion how, in addition to his stellar country-boy manners, he was quite a good-looking fella in a corn-weighing and grain-bin filling sort of way. Sparkly dark eyes, dark hair, farmer tan and even early in the morning he was always dusty and dirty. I kinda favor dusty and dirty guys. As much as a middle-aged married lady with three kids is allowed to enjoy such things in the context of sorting mail at the local post office, he was an early morning treat on which whatever hormones inside me were gasping for their last breathe, could nibble and get a momentary recharge. In turn, I am sure he looked at me in that very special “didn’t you graduate with my mom?” sorta way. It was a relationship that worked for both of us.
Anyway, on the days I worked it was just our routine, our dance; just the regular morning hi-and-bye. But this morning as he approached the counter it was ill-timed to my consuming a handful of Cheetos and as I reached across the counter to hand the elevators mail to him, I realized I had that yellow cheese-powder all over me. I laughed, “Oh shoot,” I said, “I’m sorry. Look at me, I’m a mess! You caught me eating Cheetos. I’ve got cheese all over my fingers.”
And without so much as blinking he just smiled, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I could lick it off yer fingers, if ya like.”
In that split second an invisible vaccum sucked every last molecule from my lungs while both of my knees simultaneously lost all sense of responsibility and went completely liquid. My body was, in effect, quivering on a knee base of Jello in such a way most folks would recognize it as a serious swoon. Serious. I nearly went down to the floor. Of course, that wouldn’t have been professional. So, ever the mature business woman, I nonchalantly…..as nonchalantly as a swooning female considering having her cheesy fingers licked clean by a young, dusty, sweaty elevator guy can be…..I nonchalantly groped for the counter with my free hand, pulled myself toward the wall and awkwardly leaned there with a look on my face that I hoped said, “I lean here every morning at this time, Mister.” instead of “I am soooooo paralyzed by the thought of you licking powdered cheese from my fingers right at this moment I think I shall surely die….”
I’m not sure, but I think I pulled it off. He didn’t scream, “Get the paddles, the old lady is down!”. Nope. He just winked at me and slid out the door with the mail. Well, I guess he walked out. I did most of the sliding…..straight back to the restroom where, if memory serves, I ran my head under cold water for 10 minutes. And I gave those cheesy fingers a darn good scrubbing, too.
I should mention also, the moment was immortalized in an especially meaningful way by the presence of my co-worker, a guy I’ve been buddies with since we were just kids. He was standing back from the counter, away from view. But I could hear him. Ohhhh I could hear him all right.
And that would’ve been that. End of story. Sweaty moment; embarrassing moment.
But it wasn’t.
A couple weeks later, instead of managing the front counter at the post office, I was working as the rural route mail carrier on the most beautiful of blue-sky days. I remember that sky so well. You’ll understand why in a bit.
So, if we harken back to the original premise, I’ll note we are, once again, talking about the dusty, sweaty elevator guy with the dark eyes and, as is not unusual with most of the folks who worked in town, he also lived on my mail route as I delivered to just about everybody who lived out in the countryside in our zip code; over 500 families.
Yep. He lived out there. And on this particular morning I noted there was a parcel I would be delivering to his address. It was oversize; something that would not fit in the mailbox. I would have to deliver it to the door. To. The. DOOR. As I stacked the parcel in the back of the Jeep with that morning’s mail I thought to myself….how embarrassing, I’m going to have to walk up to his door and knock on it after that whole cheese-powder episode……I knew he probably would not be home anyway, but in the miles leading up to his mailbox I troubled over it and finally thought, “Yknow what, Deb? You just pretend that never, ever happened. You just get OUT of the jeep and you walk UP to his door and you KNOCK and if he’s there you say hello and you hand him the parcel just as any professional would and you bid him a good day and you get back in your jeep: Job. Well. Done.
That was the plan.
All the miles leading up to his farmhouse, that was the plan. And that was the plan when I arrived. I pulled into the big gravel turn-around in front of his house, climbed out and grabbed the parcel from the back and turned to walk up the narrow old path leading to the back door of his house.
The door opened. There he was.
Standing in the doorway.
Smiling at me.
Wearing a towel.
That’s it. Yep. That’s all he was wearing. One big, hairy chest up top, two very hairy legs on the floor and a big, white towel wrapped around the middlin’ parts. Nothing but a towel. Well, I guess that’s not quite true. He was wearing a smile, too. OMG, the smile….don’t forget the smile.
So, as you can imagine, at this point I’m having flashbacks to the whole powdery cheese thing and how I lost complete control of all my senses. As I’m putting my car in park I’m promising myself I wouldn’t be letting that sort of thing happen again. I checked my fingers; no cheese. No problem.
My strategy that morning, I think, was a good one. I made direct eye contact. What else could I do when the voice in my ear was chanting, “Don’t look at the towel. Don’t look at the towel. Don’t look at the towel.” Yep, you might go so far as to say my eyes were cemented to his, so much so that I doubt I ever blinked, not even once. I kept my eyes locked on his, with a big GENERIC smile…..yes, I was VERY careful to keep it generic as opposed to coy or flirtatious or any of those other frightening words that might have crossed ones mind when there is a handsome, recently dusty and sweaty, hairy-chested man in a towel standing about 50 feet from you.
I was careful with my eyes lest they wander or betray my nervousness over the whole cheese thing and now, of course, this towel thing. I was so, so careful.
And that’s when it happened. I was almost to the front steps leading up the porch to where he stood when I stepped in a hole in his sidewalk. There was a big gap in the concrete and my foot found it. I went straight down……smiling, mind you!....straight down to the ground, face-planting into the sidewalk, rolling ever-so-gently on impact and landing flat on my back, looking up at 1) the beautiful blue sky and 2) the large parcel which I had managed to save from any sort of damage by cushioning the blow with my body and was now sitting on my stomach in the death-grip of my famous fingers. I would note later to my coworker the parcel was still in my hands when the rolling stopped. A moment of postal carrier pride.
At this point I had two choices: I could die. It would have been pretty easy. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure was peaking. I could just die right then and there. He’d come out, I would be dead, he’d call the volunteer fire department, they’d haul me away and I’d never have to try to ignore those big, dark eyes ever, ever again. The second choice, of course, was that I could roll over, get up and deliver. I rolled. The whole getting up thing was challenging. Once again my knees were not working, but this time because of the excruciating pain pulsing through them resulting from the chance meeting with concrete. Somehow I would manage. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.
I chose a combination of the two. I died inside. Yes indeed, every teaspoon of dignity I had in me just shriveled up and died, right there on the spot. And yet, my lungs continued to expand, my heart continued to beat and I somehow managed to tear my eyes from that incredible blue sky and crawl to the steps where he was now standing. Of course, at the very same time he was quite chivalrously trying to help me up with one hand while continuing to hold the towel with the other. Somehow we managed to transfer the parcel, yet allow all regionalities beneath the towel to remain the mystery they should be….. and I limped back to the car. I think he said thank you. I am pretty sure I tried to speak but I don’t think anything came out.
Postal work had it’s moments.
And I stay away from Cheetos now.