UNITED STATES—Yesterday in Echo Park you have three freshly stamped envelopes and are looking for a mailbox. On one corner you spy a mailbox thickly painted a matte blue.
The seal of the postal service eagle is obliterated; the paint is thick as the coat as cupboards in an apartment that has seen a hundred years of slumlord tenants. The front opens, but there isn’t the trace of a stickers that states mail pick-up times. In short, this is not a legit looking mailbox.
You thinks, with the fleeting sanity of these times, these distracted times, that it must be perfectly fine, or the U.S. Postal Service would remove the box.
Just then you spy another box. You wonder why this box is left there still operable, but completely suspect. In Echo Park, no less. The mailbox should be moved if it isn’t for real, it is a menace. Your hopes now suddenly congregate around the blue box on the other side of Sunset Boulevard.
You are already discombobulated, overtaken by the creeping border of paranoia.
This pang of loss and being out of sorts. Your hopes pin on the next box having at least a vestige of legitimacy.
On a telephone pole is a sign that there will be a legally mandated clean-up tomorrow. Don’t leave any personal items on the street.
You cross the street against a blinking red hand (so many are too busy or preoccupied to press the streetlight button). And a man is yelling at the top of his lungs, “You are a lie, everything you say is a lie.” Shouting like the sound of broken glass: you are wearing of these people shouting on the street, ignored by others who pretend they do not exist.
You have to be wearing earbuds, you tell yourself, and then you would keep any sense of calm in the shattered peace. The mailbox across the street turns out to be coated by the same thick matte blue forsaken by any of the logos and labels that are a shorthand for legitimacy in this bewildering place in time.
Marinated in malaise, you stop on a street corner kind of wobbling in place, the letters still in your hand. You have lost your sense of purpose. For a moment you are just a pair of loose eyes, gazing at a gaggle of pedestrians crossing Sunset Boulevard and your gaze fall on a middle-aged man who looks preternaturally familiar, so familiar that you feel compelled to keep looking and are certain to decode his countenance.
To give a plausible context to this brazen staring you mention the first name that comes to mind. “Are you Paul Del’ Amico?” It’s a shot in the dark, but this continues because the sense of knowing this person from somewhere is irrefutable. Your gaze holds him. You perceive there is an uneasiness and the gentleman would like to escape from you.
“Who is Paul Del Amico?” he asks.
“A poet. An international type such as yourself?”
This is leading to abrupt separation, as in the case of dogs, but then you blurt out, “Is there a mailbox around here?”
“I go to the one at the end of the next block. The ones on this block are no good.”
Comforting to meet somebody else who uses a mailbox. The man has imparted some useful information and can now sally forth unburdened.
You are looking to recover some of your sangfroid. You you down the street to find a mailbox, and reflect that meeting a stranger in the street is still terrifying, absolutely terrifying.
You see the blue mailbox, an eagle logo half obliterated by dense blue paint: a real mailbox. It is a feature of the endangered landscape, the blue mailboxes. They are wooden clothespins. They seem quaint, but they can still serve to hold socks on the clotheslines when a foul wind blows.
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction and author of “Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8