Monday, September 29, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 1

I remember the morning well, I hadn't made it to bed, woke up on the couch with my socks still on, half a beer gone warm clutched in my hand, which I viewed as a failure, not just a waste, but a lost opportunity as getting a little more drunk might have helped.

The wife came out of the bedroom as I was making coffee, she like me dreary and bleary-eyed numbed to face another day like the last one and the one before that stretching back months now to a time that may have been even worse.

She came over, put a hand hesitantly on my shoulder, and I turned, looked at her tired, broken face and said just as it occurred to me, "Let's get the fuck out of San Jose," not with any anger or volume but with a certainty that whether or not it was an answer to our current problems it was a necessary first step.

She just nodded.

There wasn't anything there for us anymore and I was sick of asking for it. Selling stuff I couldn't see to people I didn't know that did stuff I couldn't care less about. It was money, good money, for awhile. It wasn't there anymore, not for me anyway.

So we told our landlord we wanted our last month's rent and our security deposit and he came and looked around at the state of the apartment and said we'd get neither. I thought about fighting him for it, then looked around myself at the stained carpets and splattered walls, shrugged and gave up.

We packed what things would fit in the car we hadn't sold, ditched the rest and headed north. I decided to go over the Golden Gate Bridge one more time even though it made more sense to go east to I5, but north is the "free direction" and it seemed like the right thing to do, you know, to close the book.

About Novato, the wife asked, "Now what?" And I said we'd cut over to Vallejo, catch the 80 towards Sacto then head north.

"That's not what I meant," she said, which I knew, but didn't have a better answer, so just sat there in silence driving, watching small things in the distance get bigger until they went rushing past.

We just kept going north, stopping to eat and sleep when we were hungry or tired, until we ran out of north, well, American north, Lower 48 north, then we backtracked to Seattle figuring that was it for now.

Looking at the map we wasted $3.50 on at an Exxon station in Redding, I thought we should go west as far as we could, too, hit that last corner of the country at a place called Neah Point. It meant more money for gas and the ferry so we decided against it; however, I could feel myself there on a wind-swept promontory looking out over the Pacific imagining myself in those places so far west they're east. I've reached back to that made up memory so many times now I've almost convinced myself it's real, maybe making it more real than some of the real things that happened to me which are hard to believe in themselves.

We found a place in Green Lake much cheaper than what we had been paying in the Bay Area, but equally nondescript. I fought slipping into the same pattern of coffee/beer/teevee/sleep until I felt I'd exhausted all the employment opportunities available to me. Then I slipped hard.

The wife got a job as an admin, answering the phone and making lunch reservations for the CEO of a software company, which was kind of funny considering I'd been fired by one a thousand miles ago. It paid the bills, barely. We weren't going anywhere, spinning our wheels, hers more than mine. We fell into a sleep, wake, work rhythm, mine more syncopated than hers, less productive, inching slowly towards destructive.

I don't know if it was out of boredom, curiosity or shame, but one day I answered an ad for a job at the Post Office. For some reason they hired me. I joined the American Postal Workers Union and found myself sorting mail with big machines on the night shift. At first it was kind of cool, learning the Vsort, putting in the mail, creating order from plastic bins of chaos. It was like solving a puzzle every night.

Then it all began to run together in a long string of nights, knots thrown between when I'd sleep. The wife and I saw each other in passing. I'd come home and lie down in bed with her for a bit before she got up to go to work. For awhile I tried to get her to have sex with me, she'd almost always balk saying she was tired and had to go to work. Then when I started coming home drunk every night she would just get out of bed when I got in. I was her rooster. Her alarm.

I remember those days now with an odd affection completely at odds with how I actually felt at the time. Isn't that always the way, it can get worse and it usually does, so remember to find what's good now because it's fleeting. Of course, were that true and I was one to take my own advice I'd have to find the good stuff of where I am now. I can tell this story. Whether that's good for anyone else remains to be seen, but I can still tell the story and that's something I should be thankful for.

Over and over again: sleep, coffee, work, beer. It was money. Not a lot of money, just enough, as usual. Plus, it was something to do, but still we weren't going anywhere. The wife would come home and sometimes I'd have dinner ready for her. We'd sit and eat and talk about her day and mine. The conversations consisted of her relaying the day's offensive comments of her boss, who did sound like a real piece of work, but after a few weeks I got tired of listening, which, is just how the wife responded to me.

My work stories started getting better and better to my mind, and yet the wife didn't see it that way. She was embarrassed that I was working for the Post Office, thought I could do better, that I'd given up, "You're a college graduate for crying out loud." She had a point. I mean there's not much future in schlepping paper. What working for the Post Office did do, though, was get me in front of Max.

Max talked. We'd work side by side for hours and he'd go on the entire time. Mostly about politics, which, at first, I tuned out because I'd given up on politics. One white guy calling another white guy a liar, both of 'em taking money from the rich to get the poor to vote for 'em. I didn't see the point. Max knew a lot about "the system," all the details of ballot proposals and the local politicians, assemblymen (!), and even if he wasn't right he spoke about it all with such confidence it was hard to not pay attention to him. Plus, he was entertaining. When it's three a.m. and you're sober stuffing Penny Savers into sacks, some good bullshit is appreciated.

Max lived nearby the PO, so when I started giving up on the wife and going straight home, we'd head over to his place for a beer or two.

Others started to join us. It seemed we had regular parties nearly every morning. And always the bullshit, on and on, we'd prattle until it came to the point that we weren't just talking anymore. We were planning. The griping got specific right quick and it wasn't long before our group was actively recruiting. No one liked lugging the heavy bag, pushing carts full of junk. I knew enough about marketing from my days in the Valley to proclaim with some confidence that the return on direct marketing was microscopic. If a campaign got a one or two percent response rate that was deemed a success. I saw then how that was. Cheap distribution of paper on the backs of mail carriers. None of us were happy. You can imagine. So, it occurred to me that at one or two percent return most of those mailers wouldn't notice a difference if one PO stopped delivering that crap. And we were certain our "customers" wouldn't care.

The question then became how to get rid of it, and, of course, how to not get caught. It made things interesting. We had to corrupt the higher-ups, plenty of the old-timers had done a bit of this over the years. The mail carrier who hadn't tried to lighten his load at one time or another was a rare breed.

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