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Be like Russell

I’ve been dithering all day. For the first time in over six months, I’ve had two days off in a row. They come desperately needed. My route is over 17 miles and I carried that, plus, the last seven days, excepting Sunday. Each day was at least ten hours long, and a couple were over twelve.

The good side is that I’m 55 pounds lighter than a year ago. It’s like I’m walking in a new skin. I’m more flexible. I rarely tire until well toward the end of the day. Eating, well, comes easily. I like few things more than eating whatever I want, as much as I want.

The price is dear. At the end of the day, I’m worn out, stiff, and footsore. While I recover well, the few short hours between arriving home and getting into bed are pretty miserable. I can feel my feet throb. My back performs a sort of rigor mortis. My shoulders and sides, depending on how heavy the mail was, ache and twitch. My mind is a blank. I have no energy to write. The best I can do is put in 20 or 30 minutes of reading before my eyes betray me or I pass out.

I recover remarkably well. A few hours of sitting in my chair, flipping channels, plenty of water—I walk around perpetually dehydrated—and a good night’s rest put right back in shape for another ass-kicking. I start the day with a good mood, in part, because I spend so much physical and mental energy on the route that I nearly always have a good night’s rest. In fact, this labor has earned me the longest string of restful nights I’ve ever had.

But I sit here tonight thinking of the inevitable work to come. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be easy. I deliver Amazon packages for sometimes up to 13 hours. It’s tedious and boring and irritating in its own way. Then comes Monday, a day of heavy mail and packages on my long route. Monday is always twice the mail of any other day of the week. I explain it to people this way: Just because we aren’t delivering mail doesn’t mean it isn’t piling up somewhere. It all has to be delivered, and if we don’t deliver it one day, we deliver it the next—along with all the mail that comes on that day.

I fear the future. We are entering the Christmas season. For the next three months, the mail will be extraordinarily heavy. It’s been working up to that already. And while my route is not unique in the office, it is one of the most mail-heavy routes we have. I’m already delivering past 6 p.m. Soon, very soon, the day will be short enough that 6 p.m. will be after dark. I’ve delivered by headlamp before. It will soon happen again, for many days in a row.

Besides that, we will have to start reporting to work at 5 a.m. to deliver packages for two hours before we begin the work that will take us to our routes. W will be working until 7 or 8 or 9 at night. That gives me precious little time to get myself back in order for the next day.

I have the feeling I’m in over my head. That I can’t perform well enough to get my route done in a decent amount of time. I’m afraid of delivering in the dark, not because the dark scares me, but because I already know that delivering after dark just slows things down. It makes for unsafe conditions. Add rain and snow and ice to that and it adds up to despair. How am I going to deliver all that mail? When am I going to get home? With these long hours, will I have enough time to recover for the next day? What happens if I don’t?

I have ways of dealing with the impending feeling of doom. We have a guy in our office, Russell, who has the thickest, slickest skin of anyone in the station. Nothing penetrates him. He goes about his business, despite pressure from the management to speed up, whatever the weather presents him, and despite what the mail has in store for him. He has, arguably, the worst route in the office. And he goes to work with the same demeanor every day. His attitude: Well, they are just going to have to pay me.

So, I try. When I’m feeling the pressure from the supervisors, when I’m hopelessly behind, when I’m feeling flustered, I tell myself, “Be like Russell.” It gets to be a mantra that falls in line with my steps. Be like Rus-sell. Be like Rus-sell. Be like Rus-sell. I don’t know it allows me do my job with more acuity, but it sure makes me better. If Russell can do it, then I should try.

In my mind, I know I should not be thinking of things that may or may not transpire. But, deep down, I’m a worrier. I’m also not a very good postman. My mind wanders too much. I get distracted easily. I’m constantly forgetting packages in my satchel and have to backtrack. A good letter carrier pays attention to detail, which is real work for me. I constantly have to remind myself what address I’ve just delivered. I find myself lost sometimes. Where have I been? Where am I going? The chipmunks are cute. The birds are singing. I just saw an owl. What? What address is this?

One of my compatriots today made a comment that many of my friends have made. “I’m sure you could tell stories.” I could. The last eleven months have given a treasure trove of good things to write about—the work, the people, the customers, and so on. Since I hardly get the time, I just file them away with all the other experiences I’ve had in an interesting and varied life.

If I stick with this, I will have time to write. Within a year, I will turn from city carrier assistant to career carrier. With that comes a five-day week, the benefits I don’t have now, three weeks of vacation, and no overtime (unless I sign up for it). So, patience. I have to put my worry aside and just carry the mail as best I can. I have to be like Russell when it comes to the vagaries of the institution, the mail that faces me, the packages I have to deliver.

And I have to have faith. The day will come to an end. I will get in a few hours of sleep. The “season” only lasts a couple of months a year.

I wish money motivated me. I could take solace in the kind of paychecks that come with 16-hour days. But I’m not that kind of person. I’ll just have to suck it up and realize that every minute at the Post Office is a minute I’m not out spending my retirement.

The rest will come. I’ve been through hard times before. At least this one is one that guarantees me a job.

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