Salvation and grace in a Detroit Post Office

I mean the brother had arms like steel cables.

Last week I was out running some errands for my wife, making some deliveries and a few other things. The last stop on the errand trail was the post office on Milwaukee off  Woodward in the New Center area. Nothing unusual when I first walked in around 4:30. Few folks standing in line, patiently waiting on the one window that was open. Would have been nice if there’d been another one open, but no biggie. End of the day, nice day outside, and nobody’s feeling particularly pressed.

At least that’s the way it was until this one brother shows up, wearing a sleeveless white undershirt and worn out jeans. Body like a tightly wound King Cobra on two legs. Skin the color of dark brown coffee, stood about 6’3″, looked to be in his 30s. Voice a mix of gravel and mud in pre-winter. Hard, cold, and a little liquid. Eyes dark as the skin, and fierce. The kind of expression that isn’t even worried about anybody fucking with him because of what happened to the last fool who made that tragic mistake.

Which probably explained why nobody – myself included, because I ain’t nobody’s fool – said much of anything when he muttered loud enough for those of us in line ahead of him to hear that he had to get to work. Nobody moved, and nobody answered. A few moments later he saunters past those of us in line and walks up to the window to address the sister behind the bulletproof glass to explain his predicament. She was currently assisting another customer, but he didn’t much give a damn.

Brother had to get to work.

I doubt I was the only one in line who felt a slight tightening sensation in the stomach area, a slight escalation in the adrenaline output. Feeling more aware of all possible exits. All of us waiting to see what was coming. But sister didn’t even  flinch. Calmly let him know he had to wait a minute. Brother was none too pleased, but that was that. At least for awhile.

Then brother starts to think this is taking too long. Expresses his dissatisfaction. Sister can feel the heat rising, sizes up the situation, and asks brother what he needs. There’s a form he needs to fill out. And he needs to get it done today. Not tomorrow. And he’s got to get to work. So whatever you doin’ you got to put that on hold and tend to this because, like hey.

Sister slides him the form, tells him to step to the side. Gently. See her when he’s done.

“OK babe,” he says, not being flirtatious or fresh. Just indicating a feeling of slightly increased comfort level. Sister smiles.

And it soon becomes apparent brother can’t read too well. At all. So his voice begins to ice over once again, and again the gravel and mud. Something ain’t right with this damned form and he ain’t got time to be dealing with this bullshit so you got to handle this right now. Shit.

And that’s when sis talks to him. And talks to him some more. Lets him know without saying that he doesn’t need to act out about feeling embarrassed. That it’s OK. That she doesn’t see what she knows so many others have seen when they see him come strolling down a side street, eyes slashing back and forth like machetes. She just sees someone who needs a little help and a little more room.

It’s gonna be all right, brother. We gonna get you to work on time. We know you can’t lose that job. We all know what it’s like out here in this Detroit city.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @


~ by Keith A. Owens on September 9, 2008.

2 Responses to “Salvation and grace in a Detroit Post Office”

  1. Detroit a special place,a million stories woven together makes the D

  2. Tootsie,

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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