I discovered this the other night when I walked into the post office after hours to mail bills. I scurried into the lobby, checking my envelopes for stamps, and suddenly, I nearly collided with a tall man looming inside the entrance.
I screamed and dropped my mail on the lobby floor. I just about dropped something else on the floor, too, and that’s when I realized the Postal Service was better than a bucket of raw fiber or a silo of Metamucil.
Unfortunately, there are no restrooms in the post office, so I quickly gathered up my envelopes, tossed them into the mail slot, and scuttled with crossed legs to the grocery store next door, where a line of post office patrons had already formed.
In the seconds it had taken me to vacate the post office lobby, I glared over my shoulder at the cause of my alarm: It was a cardboard cutout of a man, an advertisement for some U.S. Postal Service product. I don't remember what, but I do recall wanting to punch his cardboard face.
I wonder how many people – solo women, especially – have been startled outta their wits by these marketing mannequins lurking in dimly lit post office lobbies across America. I also wonder how many times these life-size cardboard men have been pepper-sprayed, raked with nails, or knocked over with a karate kick to the cardboard groin.
I returned to the post office after hours since then to mail letters, and the quiet cardboard stranger still gave me a shock. But this time, I had my sphincter under control.
I desperately want to take a black marker and draw a big black handlebar mustache on the jerk. Maybe a little goatee or glasses. But no doubt there’s a hidden camera recording lobby visitors, and I'd be busted by the FBI or Homeland Security for destruction of federal property.
With my luck, the charges would be trumped up to a hate crime for the culturally insensitive Pancho Villa-looking mustache or an act of terrorism against the government of the United States – all for drawing a mustache on the stupid cutout.
But if something unfortunate happens to this paper doll, if someone jams him headfirst in the outgoing mail slot or folds him up into one of the tiny post office boxes, don’t say I didn’t warn the Postal Service.
I think post office employees use the cardboard creep to have some fun and keep from “going postal,” so to speak. They take the guy away for a while and then unexpectedly place a new cutout in the lobby. The next few mornings, the post office workers munch donuts and laugh at the previous night’s security video.
“Hey, lookit that old lady faint,” one chuckles.
“Yeah, and that guy asked the cutout for directions,” another chortles.
But then, their laughter dies.
On the video, a snickering masked figure with a marker draws a mustache on their toy.