At 10:45 p.m. on Tax Day, Mary McDonald stood at a desk at the James A. Farley Post Office Building on 31st Street and frowned through red acrylic glasses at her mounting pile of envelopes. Each was addressed in the same looping cursive: ‘Department of the Treasury.’
“I wasn’t sure where to post these, but one of these policemen showed me,” she said, gesturing behind her to one of the men in uniform. “Very convenient.”
McDonald was one of many stragglers across the country descending on the post offices open late on Tuesday night to make sure their tax returns were post marked by midnight. Nearby, a middle-aged woman with a monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag threw her head back and squeezed droplets into her eyes – one, two, one, two. Some customers had stood at the desks for well over half an hour, shuffling through postal orders and receipts.
“You’re sure this’ll be postmarked for today?” asked a man in sneakers and a blazer. Wordlessly, the postal worker serving him nodded.
The James A. Farley Post Office is the only New York post office open till midnight on tax day. Two others, in Brooklyn and Flushing, stayed open till 8 p.m.. These hadn’t been late enough for McDonald, who spent almost an hour travelling from her home in Flatbush, Brooklyn to post her return before midnight. Returns postmarked after April 18th risk incurring a penalty fine.
The Post Office has a glossy old-world charm – ceiling moulded like a wedding cake and shining marble floors. Cleaners glide silently from desk to desk, sweeping stray blue AIR MAIL PAR AVION stickers into their wheelie bins.
Workers sit behind gilded cages in the wall, stamping and franking. Somehow, though on Tuesday night the building teamed with customers, lines moved quickly, with customers ferried out to temporary stations.
Had it been busy like this all day? “Yeeeeahh,” said one worker who declined to give her name, puffing out the vowels. “Not too bad, but yeah.”
Her mind was elsewhere: immediately outside, on the post office’s steps. At around 10:15 p.m., a group of some 30 protesters had gathered. They held a rainbow flag around 40 feet in length that read, ‘DON’T BUY TRUMP’S LIES,’ and seemed to have formed a choir.
First, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, with a fiscal twist (‘But facts are not alternative…’), then a slightly less confident rendition of the Beatles’ ‘Tax Man’, ‘I pay no tax, man.’ A man in a three-cornered hat and a waistcoat that said ‘Gays Against Guns’ conducted from the front.
Standing some yards ahead of them was a Donald Trump mascot in a papier-maché mask, holding an orange bag of ‘Tax Cheatos’.
Thousands of protesters had swarmed Bryant Park on Saturday, calling on the president to release his tax returns. The group outside the post office, braving the chill of a late Tuesday evening, seemed far more subdued — and within an hour they had dispersed, swallowed up among dozens of Rangers fans heading from Madison Square Garden to Penn Station.
In the glare of the late night street lamps, the post office looked more like a temple to the mail gods than a public amenity. As the last few tax filers trickled down its steps, the lights in its windows finally fell dark.