Sweet B: Zebras and Zero

I remembered this today after an exchange at our local Post Office with a helpful clerk who clarified some issues for me on renewing my passport.

I’m in the PO just about every day, because we don’t get our mail delivered to the house*, and this fellow—let’s call him Ed—is always friendly and pleasant. We call each other by our first names. Ed has a colleague who is highly competent but, shall we say, somewhat less cheery. Let’s call her Agatha. I call her by her first name, and she tells me how much I owe for stamps. It has long been one of my goals in life to make Agatha smile.

One day last summer, I picked Sweet B up at pony camp and realized immediately that she was higher than a kite.

As she’s climbing into the car: “M! M! I made up a joke!” She’s beside herself with excitement.

“Fantastic, B! Is it a funny joke?”

“Really, really funny. Everybody laughed.” Hilarity is rendering her speech nearly incoherent.

“So can I hear it?” There is no chance on earth that I won’t hear it

“OK.” Gasps of gigglocity. “OK.” More giggles. I’m starting to laugh because she’s so delighted with herself.

“OK. How do Zebras say zero?”

“I don’t know, B. How do zebras say zero?”  (Don’t forget, you Brits. Zebra has a long “e” over here.)



And of course, I’m in stitches, too. How could I not be?

On the way home, we stop at Dottie’s for donuts. A nearly manic B has the waitresses in stitches long before she can manage to get the punchline out, and everyone within hearing is smiling. Who can resist a kid who is spinning with joy?

On to the Post Office. We usually head for our box, and only go to the counter if there’s a package for us. Today, though, it’s a beeline toward Ed and Agatha.

B is just beginning to calm down, but she’s still flying high. “Want to hear my joke? I made it up myself. And it’s really, really funny!” I just stand back to enjoy the show. And watch Agatha.

They don’t know. How does a zebra say zero? Ed is already laughing. Agatha might conceivably be amused.


Ed guffaws. People in line laugh. Agatha cracks a smile.



*So, why don’t we get our mail delivered to our house? Because Woodbury for years had Rural Delivery. Mail came to your roadside mailbox, out near the end of your driveway. When I was a boy on Cat Swamp, ours was across the road. If you wanted to send me a letter, you’d address it to Mark Alvarez (or if you were my Aunt Bev, Master Mark Alvarez, which I always rather liked), RD #2, Woodbury Conn. (No zip codes in those days, and people mostly used the older abbreviation for the state rather than the now-ubiquitous CT.)  Delivery people used their own cars, essentially hired for the purpose by the government. But you didn’t get Rural Delivery if you lived along Main Street or a few of the smaller streets leading off it, which by some official definition wasn’t rural. You had to go to the post office. The rules changed decades ago. There is still no delivery to your door, but drivers now use fancy mail trucks with right-hand drive, and even if you live along Main Street, if you put up a box, they’ll deliver your mail. We chose not to take advantage of this option, though, because we live less than a quarter mile from the PO and like to stretch our legs. So our mailing address is still a Box, not a street number.

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