I’m not sure I’m a great letter carrier. I give it my best, but am slow and muddling along, moving from address to address, trying to be accurate. There’re a lot of balls to keep in the air. Between making sure the mail that gets in the box is the right mail, dealing with parcels and small packages and rolls, reading the addresses on the envelopes and magazines, and a dozen other tasks, it’s not a job that allows a great deal of contemplation or lends itself to a great deal of creative thought.
But it has its moments.
I thought, as many of my friends did, that carrying the mail would give me all kinds of ideas for poems and stories. In fact, I have a few. The other day, I spied a loaf of French bread on the lawn of a suburban house. The yard was immaculate, even in its winter clothes and under dreary skies. Now, the presence of a loaf of bread in a yard doesn’t mean that much, but it was the juxtaposition of this orderliness and the confusing presence of the bread. There’s a story in that or a poem.
One time, I came to a house with a couple of vicious dogs inside. Dogs are not unique. Every dog barks at the mailman. I don’t know why, but it’s a thing with dogs. These dogs, however, were big dogs. They didn’t bark like, hey, I’d like a bite of that mailman. No. They barked like, goddammit, we need to eat that son of a bitch.
I couldn’t find the mailbox on the front of the house, which means, usually, there’s a mail slot by the garage door. Sure enough, that was the deal. The dogs had followed me through the house to the mail slot. I started feeding mail into the slot and the dogs, barking and (I’m sure) foaming at the mouth, tore the mail from my had as soon as I had a corner of it through the slot. I learned a valuable lesson. Never put my fingers beyond the outer surface of the mail slot.
I keep a little can of doggie spray in my bag. How useful it will be in the case of a dog attack is questionable to me. I have to start wearing it on my pocket, just so I don’t have to dig into my satchel, often filled with parcels and large letters, to get it. Every letter carrier gets attacked. All dogs bite. I dread the day I have to deal with a dog. Fortunately, the suburbs I travel in don’t often leave their dogs outside, and so far, when they do leave them outside, they are secure behind fences.
My dog story has yet to be written, and let’s hope it stays that way. Just the other day, a dog chewed up one of the assistants in my station pretty well. It warranted an ER visit, in part to deal with the fact that in the roughing up, the assistant got doggie spray in his face. It’s not really that funny. I can see myself macing myself in a tussle with a canine.
I work in the suburbs, which are kind of scary places to me. Sure, yards and houses are mostly nice, though there are major parts of Johnson County which are run down, threadbare, and downright ugly. A “nice” neighborhood is quiet, but in an unfriendly and sterile way. It’s prison-like in the sense that I always feel watched, though there is no one at home.
Fortunately, every now and then, I run into someone. People are generally friendly to the postman. Some people will even wait at their doors until I arrive. It’s always a pleasant word and good wish. But then, they often reveal something, like, they don’t know what the neighbor’s address is or who they are. People living in proximity to each other don’t know one another. They often have unfavorable opinions of their neighbors.
It makes me very happy to live in a neighborhood in the city.
Nature has all kinds of surprises for me. There was a moment a week or so ago, when I looked up from my mail and realized just how quiet the day had become. It was snowing, that heavy, dry snow that acts as a baffle for all noises large and small. I stopped for a moment and watched a car drive by as silently and stealthily as if it was one of those incredibly smart Teslas. No engine or tire sounds. Just an SUV slithering silent in the storm.
A few weeks ago, I delivered in a thunderstorm. It was wet but the day was 45 degrees, which is relatively warm for this time of year. I didn’t have good rain gear. In fact, all I has was an army trenchcoat that was water resistant for about an hour. I came home wet, wet, wet. But the day was beautiful, thunder and lightning, rain in sheets and curtains. It was sublime and there was no one around to enjoy it but me.
Another rainstorm really made me miserable. Like before, thunder and lightning, heavy rain. But the temperature was closer to 30. I was fine when I was walking. But at the end of the day, I unloaded my truck and I was sopped to the bone. Hypothermia set in, and it reminded me of a great weekend, one of the happiest of my unlucky high school years, when I came down with hypothermia. It’s not that the condition is great. It’s terrible. But as I was shivering uncontrollably and clenching my teeth, I had these beautiful memories to get me home. It took me a half hour to undress and another hour to stop shaking. As I began to warm up, I thought, what a deal. To have to go through a bout with death to remember such things.
Such times are short lived. The mail requires all my attention. It demands that I remain in the moment all the time. In the moment and with the mail. If my mind is anywhere else, I screw it up and have to backtrack. I waste time, and everything at the Postal Service runs on time. If it takes me a few extra seconds at a post box to deal with a third bundle—shoppers and those advertising papers we get twice a week—then we are talking about hours at the end of the day after 600 or so stops.
I feel the time pressure. Every relay is said to take 15 minutes or so. I have yet to do a relay in that time. Delivering the mail from the truck, around the block or up the street and back to the truck always takes me more like 20 or 25 minutes, maybe longer. Just yesterday, they sent me out with two hours of mail that took me over three hours to deliver.
But I ought not disqualify myself before they do. So far, the supervisor tells me at the end of the day, especially hard ones, that I’ve done a good job. So, I have to go with that.