Stamp of Disapproval

by Kenneth B. Lourie

Recently I visited a local post office during regular business hours to buy some first-class stamps. I’m not very picky (about stamps), so when I was waved over to the counter, after a brief delay in line, and asked how I could be helped (don’t answer that!), I simply said, “ten 37s, please?” The gentleman customer-serving me acknowledged my request and then turned around and took a few steps back toward an auxiliary table set up behind him.

On top of this table was a shoe box filled with what appeared to be stamped envelopes, sleeves of postage, books of stamps, etc. As I waited patiently (really) watching this man pick through the box’s contents, I felt like it was taking a bit longer than necessary, so I called over to him and said, “Any stamp would do, whatever you have loose or in front is fine.” To which he mumbled something to the effect that it was “no problem ....”

A few seconds later he found what he was looking for, apparently: a prepackaged, bar-coded, 20-pack of first-class stamps. He then turned back around toward the front counter where I was standing and proceeded to tear the 20-pack in half to give me my requested 10-pack. He didn’t seem the least bit put off by my request or the effort required to accommodate it. Then he handed me the stamps and asked if there was anything else. That’s when I first noticed exactly what stamp he had selected.

Actually, I couldn’t tell what it was. It was mostly black with extremely colorful images in its center. I couldn’t quite read the fine print underneath the image describing it, so I asked the man what the stamps were. He said, “Bats,” (as in a cave, at night). To which I replied, “Jeez, I didn’t think that bats had a strong enough lobby to get the post office to issue them a commemorative stamp,” (understanding that competition for stamp-hood is quite competitive and hardly arbitrary).

He answered by saying that the “bats were part of a Critter Series.”

“Oh,” I said, “does that mean that I can only mail these stamps at night?”
Without missing a beat or reacting in the slightest to what joke I thought I had just made, the man responded by saying, “Well, you can certainly use them to pay a bill.”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, and then exited stage left (“Heavens to Murgatroid”) through the double glass doors, into the entry hall and then outside to my car, where I sat down behind the wheel to more closely examine the stamps.

I thought, since the man who waited on me didn’t smirk, smile, snicker, chuckle, crinkle his eyes or laugh in the least at my witty repartee, perhaps my comment was misunderstood or misdirected somehow. Maybe the stamp images in question were not bats, in the nocturnal sense, but rather Louisville Sluggers, as in the baseball sense.

Sure enough, they were bats all right: pallid, spotted and leaf-nosed, to name a few, clearly and colorfully designed. Upside down and/or sideways on some stamps, but nevertheless, they were the creatures of the night. So my joke was not misdirected at all, but maybe it was misunderstood. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time something I said fell on deaf ears, and I doubt very seriously that it will be the last time, either.

Humor is a funny thing. One man’s joke is another man’s folly.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.