Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gone Postal - A Novel - Chapter 6

Max and I were supposed to handle the rank and file. This grew more difficult when Gianni started to diversify. Money for paper was chump change, enough for us poor schmoos, but Gianni had bigger ideas. Guns, drugs, high-margin stuff. Bigger risk, sure, that’s why he had Max, Rosie and me around to take the fall.

We were firmly wedged, had basically inserted ourselves between so many rocks and hard places, and begged Gianni to exert his tremendous gravitational force upon us. The three of us would eventually buy ourselves a little wiggle room, a goodly number of my carrier-brothers I’d finagled into this scheme wouldn’t be so lucky.

We all took the USPS for granted, for pennies it could miraculously move a letter from one coast to the other, yet it still was the butt of jokes. Slow, lazy and incompetent, that’s what many Americans thought when they shuffled forward as some doddering clerk listlessly pushed buttons and counted change – it was hard not to feel like you were in a soup line or Kruschev era Soviet Union, lord knows the d├ęcor hadn’t changed in most post offices since then and the service felt about the same. You half expected Olga there behind the counter to replace her screaming eagle ballcap with a red-starred peasant’s tam and shout , “Nyet! Nyet!” to every request.

Yes, it had a bad rap. One thing I learned, though, during my short tenure working with them then, and beyond, those people behind the counters, in the backrooms and out on the streets delivering your mail are some of the best people in the world. Many of them are broken, true, many were just dealt bad hands, but we’re talking about three-quarters of a million souls, and the vast majority are decent folk who faced the relentless onslaught of daily drudgery with a courage few can know or could even see as courage.

However, if you’re a single mother with a job at the USPS, or similar work for that matter, you’re engaged in a life or death battle every day. You wake early, clothe, feed, and transport your child or children to school, daycare or doctor, then go do a job either back-breaking or mind-numbing for eight or more hours, facing the mental rigors of workplace politics, and yes the self-righteous, demanding inconsiderate customers, then do the reverse drive to pick up kid(s), make them dinner, get them in bed knowing the entire time you are going to have to get up in a few short hours and do the same thing all over again, and the next day, too, oh, and then again, and then for the rest of your life.

This thing, what some call a job, a life, more resembles a dripping faucet of days and weeks splashing down around you, stuck in a cistern, as the water grows higher and higher. But this thing killing you is also keeping you alive. And, you’ll fight for it, join the union and gripe for more, just a little more, more money, more time, more confidence that you’re not going to get shoved out, because then what, then what would you do after all the years you gave to doing this for the promise of a pension and enough money to teach your kid to swim so that they won’t get stuck drowning in that same cistern as you.

So, yeah, you can call them drones, aimlessly completing what you see as simple tasks. Yet, I know these people, some of them, enough, enough of them to know they’re braver than I ever was, ever will be. Probably braver than you, too.

We used them. We just used them up faster than the feds. That’s all. We capitalized on their misery and hopelessness, offered them a vision of something greater through the promise of a glory that would never arrive. And lots of ‘em grabbed for it, rushed out to get it, maybe because they believed Max and my bullshit, maybe because the alternative was just too fucking depressing to contemplate. They’d rather live for a moment than spend a lifetime dying slow.

I don’t want to give our rhetoric more than it’s due, Max was good and I learned how to hold a crowd, but the feds made our work a lot easier, what with the USPS retiring tens of thousands and then the just plain fucked-up-ed-ness of everything.

It was like the world broke.

Hospital emergency rooms jam-packed with the poor and pitiful, and more and more were poor and pitiful. If you could afford to pay for the gas, the car you’d fuel with it faced wicked obstacles, pot-holed roads took their toll and only the rich in their 4-wheel drives and gated communities could get by. Banks were going belly-up up right and left, but the mucky-mucks floated away on golden parachutes untouched by the debacle of their design.

In the end, words about the new Gilded Age, this Tainted Age we occupied now, were the greatest weapons we had in our verbal arsenal. You can make any team, any group of men do anything, believe me, I’ve seen it, but take that group and start setting some apart, give some more money or less risk and I guarantee you, eventually someone’s going to get hurt.

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