I had a pleasant conversation with a customer, an English professor, about my work at the post office yesterday. He had been encouraging his son, a bit wayward I imagined, to apply for a job as a mailman or “letter carrier” as they call us even though, truth be told, we don’t actually deliver that many letters anymore. Mostly, its just pizza flyers and packages.
“We can’t get anyone in the door,” I told him. Six open routes a day and way too much overtime has been the way of it for the last year. “People are short-sighted. They just look at the starting wage. I think they begin at seventeen dollars an hour now. I guess a lot of people would rather work inside.” I motioned around at the snow-mounded hillsides and icy sidewalks surrounding us.
“But I like it. I’m in shorts half the year and I work by myself. You can see it’s just me talking to you out here.” Although immediately I thought of the seconds clicking by with me motionless and the GPS equipped scanner in my pocket. “It just depends what you want to do with your life . . . what you have going for you.” I paused a moment as he stared intently at me beady-eyed through his glasses. “But if you stick with it, you make regular in two years. Then the step increases start coming. In twelve and a half years you have a base salary of 64,000 dollars with four weeks of vacation. It’s a damn good job. People view it pessimistically, like there’s no future. The gross annual revenue for the postal service is something like 70 billion dollars. This job isn’t going anywhere. The stuff you read about us losing billions of dollars in the papers is horseshit. Like most things in Washington DC it’s complicated and rather boring.” He nodded, a smile creeping onto his face. “Anyway, I have to get going. He needs a clean driving record and has to pass a drug test. I assume your kid’s not a felon.”
I continued my rounds, satisfied perhaps that I had done some good. I liked the guy. He had read my blog. We were kindred spirits somehow, I sensed, a man of literature like myself.
Yet, I also knew he had no comprehension of how hard my job was or the daily stupidity of the bureaucracy I faced. A bureaucracy whose sole purpose, it seemed, was to destroy my life. Either through injury or by placing every obstacle possible in my path from me having dinner with my family or even allowing me to help put my children to bed. It wouldn’t take his son long to become unrecognizable—a cog in the paper mill ranting in acronyms like myself.
I don’t get the new employees. Most of them act like the job is some kind of forced sodomy. I suppose Amazon Sundays have a lot to do with it. I’d rip on Millennials, as so many do, but a lot of the “new” people are older than me. I turn 47 this year. I feel every bit of it and I have a longgggg way to go. Fifteen to seventeen years. Unless it goes under. Wouldn’t that be great?
It’s just a matter of getting through winter. It’s March! And things are turning! The snow is off the roofs for the most part with three days of fifty-plus weather in the forecast. Winter, I won’t lie, is a real bitch. Especially in Minnesota.
The February snowfall was record-setting. And then the rains came. So whatever didn’t get shoveled turned to ice. Inches of it. People can barely walk. They give us spikes to wear but they kill your ankles. I worked with a female carrier years ago who suffered a double compound fracture in her wrist. Bones out of the skin. The supervisor, because he had been told to, took a photograph of her feet! To establish, I suppose, that she wasn’t wearing grippers and the accident was her fault.
A resident on my route said to me the other day in a tone I didn’t care for: “any of you guys ever break a leg lately?” I paid the asshole little mind. “Not that I know about,” I told him, continuing on my way like some affable dipshit in a Norman Rockwell painting. I found out days later from our shop steward that a couple of carriers in Minneapolis had suffered traumatic brain injuries, one of them requiring surgery, from falls on the ice. Soon enough, maybe they’ll require us to were helmets. At least then, maybe they’ll take pictures of our faces.
We had an electrical fire in the station the other day that, thanks to an observant clerk, was quickly extinguished. Fire and ice. No one realizes that they’re volunteering for the afflictions of Job when they put on this uniform. My last station was shut down for asbestos violations and some conflict with an outraged neighbor over Amazon trucks pulling into his driveway at three in the morning. Most of the post offices in Minneapolis are dreary and decrepit with leaking roofs. Maybe they can take over a shopping mall when those start going under. It would make a lot of sense. The little neighborhood post offices are beloved by many an old lady, but they’re not equipped to deal with the daily influx of packages.
Not long ago, I was instructed to carry a couple of blocks on a neighboring route. A “half hour” of work used to fill a tub. Now it fills a pumpkin (a “pumpkin” in postal vernacular is a large orange cart . . . in rare circumstances they are blue and referred to as a “blue pumpkin” . . . to learn more visit usps.com/careers). I noticed an Amazon box of copy paper in my pumpkin. The day before, I had given a twenty-three-year-old coworker some razzing about the five boxes of copy paper to the same address he was supposed to deliver. When he whined about this hardship, the supervisor instructed him to “leave notice.”
Well, if young Jake wasn’t going to deliver the forty-five-pound boxes of copy paper, I sure as fuck wasn’t. I tossed my box in with his five and made the scan in the office. When I got to the beloved address, up many a stair on Franklin Avenue, I noticed the notice left slip stuck prominently outside the box. On it was written, “We are always home! Please leave our packages!!! Knock or ring the buzzer!!!
Itching for a confrontation, ring the buzzer I did. A man answered: closely cropped hair, glasses, maybe ten years older than me, looked like he shopped out of the LL Bean catalog, a master’s degree at minimum.
“I saw you put out this slip,” I told him, cutting off what he was about to say. “Your packages are at the post office, you’re welcome to pick them up there.”
“You’re supposed to bring them here. Don’t you guys provide service?!”
“My supervisor instructed me to leave notice for safety reasons. There’s a lot of ice and snow out here.” His steps, however steep, were reasonably clean of ice and snow, but he had neglected to clear a path as so many do from the street to the main sidewalk. I pointed this out.
“So, if I shovel that out, will you deliver the packages?”
“My father-in-law was a mailman! What’s wrong with you guys?”
“Would you make your father-in-law haul copy paper up all those steps?”
“Well, isn’t that your job?”
“Look, you didn’t pay anything for delivery, so I guess you got what you paid for.”
He smirked for a moment, and I realized instantly that his wife, probably an accountant, had ordered the copy paper. On cue, she came out and played the “father was a mailman” card.
Good God! Did he molest you growing up? I wondered. Ok. Not funny. I didn’t say it out loud. I repeated myself. “Would you make your father haul copy paper up those stairs?”
“Well, don’t they give you carts?! Or you could bring them up one at a time?”
“I have to obey the instruction of my supervisor. Ok? I could get into trouble.”
“Where is my slip? I put a slip out here?!”
“I put the slip back in the box.”
Her hair was dyed black which kind of reminded me of my dead grandmother–an oddly unsettling realization as I stood there listening to her.
“The slip says five boxes. I got an email this morning. Where is my other slip? Don’t you guys even deliver the slips?!”
“I changed it to six actually, on the one you have.”
“I want my packages!”
“They’re at the post office.”
She retreated inside in a huff. The screen door slammed.
“Do you want my supervisor’s name?” I asked her husband.
A nefarious emailing-customer-complaint gleam entered his eye as he went inside for writing materials.
“You—” But the door had already slammed again.
“Jones,” I stated deadpan as hell, “J—O—N—E—S.”
“I’ve got it,” he said, gleeful like I’d just handed him the key to Al Capone’s vault.
I left him, crossing the street hurriedly.
The wife came out chasing me. Standing in the middle of the street, she yelled, “I want my slip! I want my slip!!”
“Your husband has the slip!” I responded, fearful she’d be struck by a passing Toyota.
“I want your number,” she demanded.
“I don’t have a number, I have a name!” I proclaimed, my voice lost to the oceanic roar of I-94.
Her husband was shouting at her. I continued on my way, completely sure she was his problem and not mine.