Going Postal: Day 16

hochiminh.jpgDay 16: The Spoils of War

Please allow me to retract my previous statement about preferring to work a bit high. I was so fucked up last night at work I could barely keep my eyes open or stand up straight. In what has become a familiar song and dance, my neck was killing me and my hands were giving me problems, so I popped some pills. These fuckers are kind of funny, because sometimes they don’t do shit, and other times they really mess me up. Last night was one of those “really mess me up” times, which was not good. I started getting pretty paranoid, and felt like I was moving in slow motion. But the icing on the cake was that the fucking pills did nothing for the pain. I was in agony, and so wasted I had to concentrate just on blinking my eyes.

In all seriousness, there is something wrong with my hands. Both of them are swollen, and I can’t really grip anything with the right hand—which makes jerking off really difficult. I’m not sure what the cause of this is, as I’m not sure what I’ve been exposed to.

A few nights ago this package ended up on my belt, and this mysterious orange powder was coming out of it that smelled a lot like rotten cheese. The point of origin of the package was somewhere in Mexico, and it had been in transit for over a month, so who knows what the hell was in that thing? I called a “haz-mat” alert, and the supervisor comes over, sticks her face right up next to package and starts sniffing. Now, there are two types of people in this world. First, there are the people who if you were to hand them something and say, “Does this smell funny?” they would take a whiff. And then there are the second type—which is what I am—who don’t take a whiff, and say, “It probably does smell funny.”

After sniffing this mysterious orange shit that smelled like rotting cheese, my supervisor says, “Just tape it up and send it on its way. We only worry about white powder.” Then some of my co-workers made fun of me for being concerned about what was probably powdered cheese. I overheard one person mumble to another, “He’s scared of powdered cheese.” If I could make a fist, I would have punched the cocksucker in the face. Now, I don’t know shit about anthrax or any other white powdery substances that could potentially kill me, but I do know if I was a terrorist who wanted to send some deadly white powder in the mail, I would research the possibility of cutting it with something else, so it is no longer white. Maybe someone can clarify this, but who says you can’t mix Tang or that powdered cheese bullshit in with your anthrax?

So, last night, when I stumbled across an entire container that stunk of rotten garlic and cat piss, and found literally dozens of parcels that were soaking wet—and stinking of rotten garlic and cat piss—I kept my fucking mouth shut. Because, you see, rotten garlic and cat piss are not white powder, so therefore they are not worthy of causing concern. But now my hands are so swollen I can’t even jack off, and I can’t help but wonder, was it the non-lethal orange powder my supervisor was sniffing? Was it the rotten garlic/cat piss liquid that was covering the parcels I was loading? Or maybe six days straight of hard, physical labor are more than my precious writer’s hand can endure. And now I’m left to wonder if my hands will ever work properly again, and if not, is there some sort of worker’s comp claim that can be filed if I can no longer pleasure myself?

So…I’ve been thinking about Vietnam a lot lately. (How’s that for a transition?) I work with a lot of Vietnamese at the post office. Many of them are in their late teens and early twenties, and I assume many of them are probably first-generation born Americans. There are also a lot in their 40s, which means they were fairly young when Saigon fell. Because I’m anti-social, and because I don’t think it would be polite, I haven’t talked to any of them about how they ended up in America, but I am curious. When I first moved to Portland in 1980, I met a ton of kids—mostly from Vietnam, but also Laos, Cambodia and Thailand—who were all refugees. Some of them told me their stories, of how their families had come to America, and it always fascinated me…although I think “fascinated” is a poor choice of a description. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is fascinating. A boat full of Vietnamese refugees, facing perils at sea that include starvation and brutalization by pirates is something else all together.

My point is that everyday at work I see these folks, most of them from Vietnam, and one of the things that really runs through my mind is that these are the spoils of war. Over thirty years ago the United States lost the conflict in Vietnam, the nation fell to communism, and in the aftermath there was a massive influx of refugees from all over southeastern Asia. Had the U.S. been victorious, it would have had a controlling interest in a strategically important location in a politically volatile region. But in the face of defeat, America got the next best thing—a new workforce of relatively unskilled labor seeking political asylum. And this new workforce would be good for at least one, if not two generations before moving up the socio-economic ladder. And that’s what I mean by the spoils of war. It is not a negative or disparaging comment about Vietnamese or any other Southeast Asians who have come to this country looking for a better way of life.

As the war wages on Iraq, with the threat of escalation in other countries, I can’t help but wonder what things will be like when it is all said and done. When we finally pull out of Iraq, most likely with our tail between our legs, and all the casualties have been tallied on both sides, how will it affect the unskilled workforce of the United States? In thirty year’s time, will the United States Postal Service be employing a cross-section of political refugees from the Middle East? Even if we lose this conflict, and are unable to gain a foothold in oil-producing countries, will we at least have several generations of immigrants so thankful for freedom and a shot at the American Dream that they will scrub toilets and sort the mail? What will be the spoils of this current war?

Thinking about all of this as I have the last few days and weeks, I also began to wonder where black people fit in to all of this. The post office and other government jobs were among the first to open up to black folks after segregation was abolished. But where Vietnamese refugees have been able to build thriving communities with operating businesses and cultural growth—all in a single generation—black people have not been able to do that in the five or six generations since the Emancipation Proclamation. And two generations from now, when Iraqi refugees have assimilated, and found their own comfortable niche in this country, we black folks will still be struggling. We will only be a viably sizeable workforce within the new, privatized prison industrial complex, which has become the 21st century replacement to slavery.

It pains me to know this and to see it for what it is, but we as black people are not welcome citizens in this country. We were brought over as property, as beings that are less than human, and therefore not worthy of humane consideration. And though we have been given freedom and afforded certain civil liberties, it has always been done so grudgingly. We have never been given anything. Rather we have had to demand everything. And the reason for that is because the moment we were given freedom from slavery, we were no longer in this country on the same terms by which we came here. America is more cool with non-white people as long as they exist in this country under certain terms dictated by the controlling party—which is white folks. And the animosity and disdain that many white people had toward freed slaves that demanded equality and justice was so strong, that it has become part of the subconscious DNA of this nation. There are signs of it everywhere you look, but most people turn a blind eye to it. But if you look at the unskilled workforce—a place once dominated by blacks and poor whites—we can see that poor whites are still there, but blacks have been steadily replaced by a variety of different shades from around the world. And the only place our numbers have managed to grow, is within the criminal justice system, where we continue to be a disproportionately high population.

Well…that’s all for now. I’m going to enjoy my day off from work, and take a break from thinking about how fucked up life can be.

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One Response to “Going Postal: Day 16”

  1. mikimonster Says:

    I agree that black racism is alive and well in this country. It’s very complex for lack of a better word. Or maybe it’s not. A lot of it amounts to people being stupid. And that’s on both sides. We are very far from elysium, but I always hope to get there.

    Your hands: From what you describe of your neck, your hand issues might very well stem from nerve impingement. There are nerves that come from your cervical spine (neck bones) that affect your arms down to your hands. If they are compressed in any way, you can experience pain, numbness, and lack of function in your hands. If you don’t know of an excellent Tuina practitioner, I would get you to a reputable chiropractor right away. I suspect the swelling is from overuse. Sorry about the pain dude. 😦

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