Waiting for the Other Shoe

One thing I’ve noticed about the human condition is that we spend an abundance of time and energy on anticipatory dread—worrying about those things that haven’t actually happened, but could. The “what ifs” often inform and occasionally rule our lives to the point of paralysis.

While I have great compassion for the actualities of life that are truly dreadful, and the preparation required to face the unknown with some degree of calm, I gently poke fun—mostly at myself—at the undue stress we put ourselves through preparing for those things that, in all likelihood, aren’t going to happen.

8:30 a.m. Surreal is the word that comes to mind. It’s like watching a Fellini or Bergman film where I know something strange is happening, but I can’t quite figure out what it is.

The overhead fluorescent lights cast an eerie translucent glow across the linoleum floor of the outer lobby. I stop abruptly at the plate glass double door and survey the scene before I push one door ajar just enough to slip my body through. Not a soul in sight save the sleepy looking clerk behind the long gray Formica counter which was heavily laden with informational posters in primary colors.

This never happens. Where are my fellow Americans? This is the U. S. Post Office, for god sake! Where are the lines? Where are the children wailing from boredom, running amok while haggard parents yell futile dictates like ‘get back here,’ and the frail elderly shift their weight from one bunioned foot to the other? Where are the harassed business folks glaring at their expensive watches, mumbling in irritation?

Filled with suspicion, I slowly approach the middle-aged clerk in a white shirt and navy blue tie who stifles a yawn behind his hand, smiles, and says, “Good morning. How may I help you?”

I fight the urge to ask if I’m in the right place. With a furtive look over my shoulder—I expect a restless crowd to suddenly have materialized—I clip my words for speed and efficiency.

“Stamps, those,” I point to my choice from the laminated sample card.

“Anything else for you today?” he asks pleasantly.

“No. Thanks,” I add, after the fact. I plop my money on the counter, scoop up my stamps and hurry out of the lobby.

I have allowed twenty minutes for this three minute transaction. I’m ahead by seventeen minutes.

Safe, back inside the predictable world of my little Honda, I make a quick U-turn. No traffic. Truly weird.

There is a traffic light on each of the seven blocks between the Post Office and my office. Every one of them turns green as I approach.

“Uh huh, gonna be one of those days, is it?” I try to trick the lights by slowing down or speeding up between corners, to no avail. This is making me very nervous.

Now, with an extra twenty-two minutes, I pull into the parking lot behind my office, and prepare to deliver my usual tirade against the sadistic secretary in the upstairs office who delights in taking my favorite parking spot under the bay tree next to the dumpster.

The spot is empty. All right. Enough already. Let’s just get it over with, whatever it turns out to be.

I spend my work day waiting for the other shoe to drop. I have trouble concentrating. I hang back at the water fountain—the one that squirted water up my nose last week and drenched my new silk blouse. I motion a co-worker to go ahead of me, like I’m Ms. Manners. Wouldn’t you know? Someone fixed it.

My paranoia mounts with every memo that is delivered to my desk. I just know one of them is going to say, “Hello, you’re fired. Have a nice day.” But no. Instead we’re reminded to use our vacation time before the end of the year. And, there’s an office softball team forming for those who are over 40—sign up sheet is in the lounge.

My nerves are raw as I end my day at 6p.m. Any moment now, I just know it.

Back in my Honda, I pull out of the parking lot and onto the main street. Lo, here it is. Told ya so. Too good to be true.

Flap, flap, flap, flap…

Now, I know the sound of a flat tire when I hear it. I ease my car to the side of the street and turn off the ignition. Smiling with confidence, I get out and look for the offending tire. “Good thing I have AAA,” I congratulate myself.

Overhead, the flap, flap, flap continues. I look up to see a traffic helicopter hovering. Good grief.

Home, finally. At 7p.m. the phone rings. No one but a telemarketer would call on the dot of 7p.m.

“Hello!” I bark into the phone, clearly conveying that I’m in no mood for a sales pitch.

“Hey Jo, it’s Sus.” The sound of my sister’s voice calling from the other coast is a balm to my ear.

“Sus? Everything okay? Shouldn’t you be asleep by now?”

“Everything’s is fine. Just calling to say hello. You sound like you’ve had a difficult day.”

“You can tell, huh?” I say, glad that someone understands.


  1. Kimberly says:

    This made me laugh out loud for a very long time. Delightful. Absolutely, delightful. Does my laughter mean I might be relating to this a little too much?

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