I work a lot.
I’m not complaining because my job allows me to rejoice in being one of the last old-school, hand-painted, computer-free sign writers. And funnily enough, I become an even rarer type of sign writer that my dad used to tell me stories about when I was a kid: a traveling writer.
Before the pandemic ripped happy events from our lives, I made most of my living working at music festivals across the country. (I also owned Elmer’s Store in Ashfield for 13 years, but it didn’t make a lot of money, it was just fun.) My festival work is in the set design and decoration of the site, and I Write signs featuring musical acts and everything else throughout the site, from welcome signs to exit signs. It’s a job I’ve done since 1985 when I was hired by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and it’s a job that excites my creative impulses and allows me to travel a lot, because I work on events from New Orleans to Greenfield and many places in between.
When the epizootic (as my 95-year-old neighbor calls the pandemic) hit the bleachers, the festivals closed and went home, and the lonely epizootics decided that if they couldn’t attend a festival itself , they could at least have something that looked like their beloved events. People started ordering signs from me to celebrate whatever made them feel better. People from all over the world found me and ordered hundreds of festive-looking signs, most of which needed to be shipped to locations far from Ashfield. Writing signs became my full-time job, even busier than before, and my early 2020 panic subsided as I dealt with my new hustle around the clock.
It kept me going throughout the stop.
As the spring of 2022 dawns, festivals are emerging from their hibernation, and I’m back on the road enthusiastically, recently in New Orleans, again designing stages and writing signs for Jazz Fest – and wait! Secondary agitation has become in good faith! People still order panels. During the day, I work on the festival. At night, I write signs for people.
“You need an assistant,” someone told me recently.
No, I have an assistant and his name is Ashfield Post Office.
While the US Post Office may have its current gap craters in other states, in Ashfield I couldn’t ask for a better support system than the little office they have there on Main Street next to Neighbors Food Convenience Store.
When I have (certified) 42 signs to post in an afternoon, I take them to the post office in Ashfield and drop them off, where postmaster Trish Libby and her gang keep my credit card in a little box ranking somewhere. I leave the packages, which gets me back to work, and Trish and the gang weigh the signs, stamp them, ship them, charge my card, and email me a receipt at their own pace between waiting other postal customers. They never used my credit card to buy coffee from Neighbors – although they could if they wanted to, I’m so grateful to them for taking care of me.
When I travel across the country, they collect all the mail I get in a week, put it in an overnight envelope, and every Saturday morning they ship it to me wherever I am in the world, even making up clever return addresses just for fun. (I still know who it’s from, however, I recognize their calligraphy styles.)
When I’m in town, the post office is where I go for all my gossip – not the staff themselves as they’re more professional than that; I get it from other customers, meeting in the parking lot or checking their PO boxes inside. I think and encourage setting up an espresso machine or even a bar there so we can sit down, open our mail, complain about our bills and talk about our neighbors and our problems health as people should.
Working at Jazz Fest while simultaneously writing and shipping signs for the upcoming Greenfield Bee Festival up north, I make frequent trips to the New Orleans Post Office, an institution that inspires even more appreciation for the one in ‘Ashfield every time I go. Now, it’s not that they don’t play funky music on the post office intercom system here, and dancing at the post office is always fun, but that’s all they have. As far as efficiency and keeping pricing honest and consistent, (“No, I ship these panels every day and I know it doesn’t cost $28 to ship one across two states.”) I think , “I would never give you my credit card to keep!
This recognition brings enthusiasm home.
Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found her home and community after Hurricane Katrina. She can be contacted at NanParati@aol.com.