Daddy, What's a Revolution?

A visit to the local post office occasions subversive musings.

"Is that you?," asked the elderly man as I walked to the neighborhood post office, holding my son's hand. "Yes," I said, nodding and trying to squelch the tiny victory grin that flashes across my face, reflexively, whenever I am recognized in public. Well, not exactly. Sometimes the recognition catches me at a bad time, and the question - "Is that you?" - is generally accompanied by a dismissive toss of the head and the expression of condolences by those nearby, who occasionally take the trouble to add, "I pity his wife," as though I can't hear them.

Illustration Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

But this is different. It's morning and I'm walking hand in hand with my son, like an exemplary family man, my head free of alcohol fumes, smiling cordially as only someone strolling to the post office of a Sunday morning with his son can. The amiable gentleman offered his hand and shook mine warmly, and I looked proudly at my son to ensure that he realizes that despite what he may hear from relatives and acquaintances, his father is an important man who strangers on the street stop to greet and to compliment. "I've been following your column for years," the courteous fellow noted, tightening his grip. "I am already old, as you see, and filled with despair, but you youngsters, you must foment a revolution here."

I thanked him with a nod and went on without a word. Revolution? And on the street, too? I thought as we continued to the post office. That's all I need, for them to come later and say that I made contact with a foreign agent and even deliberated with him over various revolutionary options. The guy was Jewish, but he was foreign to me and might very well be an agent for somebody. Yes, I could say with certainty that he has the features of an agent, a deceptive appearance, as if he were just a regular, newspaper-reading man.

"Daddy," my son asked as we entered the post office, "what's a revolution?"

"What?" Momentarily bewildered, I smiled and looked around. "Come, come," I said, picking him up by way of a diversionary tactic, high enough for him to take a number from the dispenser. "Great," I told him. "Take really good care of that, it says when it's our turn," I added, giving him an official assignment.

The post office was quite crowded: a few foreign workers, mainly women, probably Filipinas. There were also a few old people. I didn't know whether they were escorting the Filipinas or whether there was no connection between them. One of the three clerks on duty was busy with two young couples for a long time, which suggested they were transferring car ownership. And there were a few mothers who spoke Russian with their children.

How miserable the people in the post office look, I thought; how do all the rich people take care of their mail? Are there no rich people in the neighborhood, or do they make other arrangements? Where do the rich hide themselves, anyway? Where do they get falafel? Which health clinics do they go to? Why do all the people you see at these kinds of places always look so miserable - where do the happy people go? And why don't I ever see young, beautiful people in post offices or hospitals?

The chime for the take-a-number system was taking its own sweet time. And the clerks, whose heads were visible through the glass partitions, looked busy. Postal clerks always look just as you'd expect, irrespective of how attractive they are. Slightly sad, even when they're polite. How much are they paid? And how many customers do they serve in a day? And does it ever happen that a postal clerk gets a surprise package in the mail and opens it in the middle of the day and finds a present from a dear person he thought had forgotten him?

Why am I so quick to judge people? Maybe it's just me? Maybe the workers in the post office, like those in the clinic, are happy, contented and joyful? You know what? I don't even care about them. Because they don't care about me, either. On the contrary, I have a strong sense that all those supposedly wretched people are incapable of seeing the suffering of others. As though anyone here cares that a man in the eastern part of the city was shot dead. No, what riled them for sure was that the Arabs were out demonstrating again, for sure they thought the frightened police force can't respond as they'd like them to. Did anyone in the post office ask what security guards for the settlers were doing there? I hope they don't get a surprise package. They deserve their misery. They accept with love whatever is dictated to them from above. They are told the flotilla report is rife with anti-Israel feeling and they nod. They are informed about the man and his grandson who were shot because they approached the Gaza Strip border fence, and they're pleased as punch. They are shown photographs of abusive soldiers, and they turn blind. So why should I care about them?

Maybe it's because they, like me, are a little wretched, or maybe it's because we were taught never to doubt, to always fear, to nod our heads in understanding and agreement in the face of our leaders' constant brandishing of threats. Maybe it's because they too do not dare to think about anything except hate? All is legitimate, all is permitted. Our oppression is exactly the same as others' oppression. Let's focus on life, let's think about the electric bill I have to pay. And where are the rich? Where do they get their mail? Their packages? And their registered mail when they're not at home when the letter carrier comes?

"Daddy," my son asked, "what's a revolution?"

"Shhhh," I said, checking the reactions of the people in the post office. "Revolution," I whispered, "is to be good, to always brush your teeth at night and to get into bed as soon as Mommy and Daddy tell you to."

"Are you going to make a revolution, like the man in the street told you to do?"

"Yes," I said, as the chime rang for my turn. Yes, I really must arrange for automatic payment of our utility bills.