Going Postal: Day 20

mailman002.jpgDay 20: The Anniversary

I don’t know if anyone noticed that I didn’t show up for my Thursday night shift and frankly, I don’t give a rusty fuck. My mother took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Corey Glover as Judas. For those of you that don’t know, Jesus Christ Superstar is my favorite movie of all time. And when I say that, I mean it is my favorite movie of all time. I also love the play (as does my mother), so we try to see it when it rolls through town. It was a special treat, because Corey is a friend of mine, and gave a powerful performance. He had two performances on Friday, and we were going to try and meet up in between them, but it never happened. If we had gotten together, it would have been a perfect opportunity to implement my new plan—which was showing up late for work with no excuse.

My full plan was to show up late, work as little as possible, and leave before my full 12 hours were up. I was partially successful. I showed up a full hour late. Nobody noticed. Then I managed to get in a full thirty minutes of doing nothing. I pretended to look busy, which isn’t that hard to do, but after 30 minutes, one of the supervisors called me up to load the belt. I knew I was doomed. Loading the belt is like being on the front lines—everyone can see you and there’s no place to hide. My hopes of an early departure quickly went in the toilet. But even though I was stuck loading, I was bound and determined to work as slow as I possibly could, while still getting shit done. So, from 6:30 pm until about 1:30 in the morning I slowly busted my hump loading the belt. At 1:30 I gave my main supervisor—the cold-blooded one—the opportunity to let me go home early. I told her I was already about 45 hours in for the week, with the rest of the shift and Saturday, I was looking at a 61 hour week. That would mean 21 hours of overtime, which in theory the post office doesn’t want to pay. But this cold-blooded broad looked at me and said, “I don’t care.” And that’s why she is management.

Cold-Blooded’s response made me even more determined to boogie out the door before my shift was over. I finally had an opportunity at around 3 in the morning, but I got spotted by Scary Supervisor, who put me to work on the standard bullshit task. Seriously, most of these supervisors are totally fucked up. They will call you from 100 yards away, to move a box they are standing next to, a total of three feet. So, Scary Supervisor—she’s the one who stepped out of a Cirio Santiago women in prison flick—has me do this dumb job, but once I’m done, she’s nowhere to be seen, so I made my escape. It was 3:15 in the morning, two hours and fifteen minutes before I was supposed to leave. It’s those small victories that get us through life.

It was a weird night at work, because it was the last night for a lot of the temps. Of course, I have not been emancipated, so I’ll still be doing time on the plantation (at least until I quit or get fired). I have tried to go out of my way to not get to know that many of my co-workers. I just didn’t see the point in getting friendly with people that I wouldn’t be seeing after a few weeks. And that’s not to say that I’ve been outright anti-social, but for the first three weeks I tried to keep to myself as much as possible. But for whatever reason, I spent more time talking to co-workers this week, which was stupid, because nearly all of them won’t be coming back.

Most of the conversations have been around how much we all hate this job. At first I thought it was me, but everyone has been complaining about the physical pain, the crappy hours, and the incompetence that seems to rule the operation. I was talking to this Asian kid tonight who was loading on the belt next to me, and he said, “Man, I thought sweatshops were illegal in the United States.” I laughed so hard, in part because there is a bit of truth to it, but also because there are guys having a harder time with the job than I am, and they are all a lot younger than me. Two nights ago I freaked out this one guy by telling him how old I was, and he realized I was old enough to be his dad (which also freaked me out).

So, the Asian kid I’m taking to (we’ll call him Bobby), he’s an 18 year-old college freshman, who came to the United States from Laos when he was two. He asks me if I know where Laos is, and I tell him, “Yeah, it’s right by Vietnam. That’s where the Hmong come from.” He looks all surprised that I know where Laos is, and that I know anything about the Hmong. A year ago, I didn’t know jackshit about the Hmong, but I saw this great documentary, which gave me a crash course.

The Hmong are an ethnic group that migrated from China to various parts of Southeast Asia, including Laos. During the Vietnam War, the CIA recruited, trained and armed the Hmong, and used them to fight the communists in Laos. Most people in the U.S. don’t know about the Hmong, or about the secret war fought in Laos, but it is an incredible story, that still causes heated debate. Many Laotians hate the Hmong, and many Hmong hate Laotians.

So, Bobby asks me what I think about the Hmong. I’m not sure where he stands on the political side of things, so I don’t want to piss him off, and at the same time I want to be honest. And so I tell him that I think it is a very complicated issue, even after all of these years; but that I believe the Hmong were very loyal allies in the American fight against communism in Asia, and that for their efforts, they were largely abandoned by the United States and ignored by history.

Bobby tells me he isn’t sure what to think. He knows he’s supposed to hate the Hmong, and he knows many of them hate him, but he isn’t sure why. As we both unload huge sacks of mail, I explain to him that the hatred he’s uncertain about is what people in power use to keep the poor and weak in check—to keep them divided so they never find strength in unity. We talked politics, and about the similarities between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and the night seemed to go by a bit quicker. But at the same time, it was Bobby’s last night, and as we talked I was reminded why I really didn’t want to be forming bonds with people at the post office.

I know my desire to keep to myself may seem weird, but it is simply that relationships can be so transient and finite, and so difficult to maintain, that the last thing I really want is more people in my life. As it is, I can barely maintain the friendships that I have. Handling thousands of pieces of mail every day, I see tangible reminders of the relationships that other people maintain, and at times, I think of the relationships of mine that have failed. The last week or so I’ve been thinking a lot about Stacey Duncan.

Stacey was my oldest friend in the world. Our mothers were friends, and pregnant with us at the same time—which in a weird way made us friends before we were even born. She was more than a friend—she was as close to a relative as someone can be without being related through blood or marriage. I believe that we have the families we are born into, the families we marry into, and then the family we chose for ourselves. Stacey was my sister (her younger brother Chad was more of a cousin). When we were kids, Stacey and I would have swearing contests to see who could come up with the better cuss words. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word “motherfucker,” it was from her lips, we were both about six years-old, and I cried because I knew I would never top that term.

One of the main reasons my mother and I moved to Portland was because Stacey, her younger brother and their mother, Florence, had moved out here a year earlier. The first two years in Portland, we were all really close, living across the street from each other and going to the same middle school. But by the time we got to high school, Stacey and I were going to different schools, and had drifted apart. Her and her brother and mother moved to Atlanta, and though we kept in touch, we grew even further apart. The years passed us by, and I would say that I was going to come to Atlanta to visit, or she would say that she was coming to Portland, and we generally spent more time taking each other for granted than we did appreciating our friendship. And then one day Stacey wasn’t there anymore.

Stacey was killed in one of those terrible car accidents you hear about, where someone is killed, but it is never someone you know, let alone someone who is like a sister to you. The accident happened thirteen years ago today. I spent the night of December 25th flying from Portland to Atlanta, for what would be the worst time of my life. When I saw her lying in the casket, it was the first time I set eyes on her in ten years. All the plans we had made as kids, and all the plans we had made as young adults—every single one of them—was gone.

Whenever we lose someone we love, we are filled with regret over the things that went unsaid and the things that went undone. I have been through all of that with Stacey. This job at the post office is the sort of thing I should have been able to tell her about, and she would laugh, and would say, “No, for real, this job sucks.” And we would talk about how we need to see each other and all the other things people say to each other when they think they have all the time in the world.

I think about Stacey a lot this time of year, not just because it is the anniversary of her death, but because the holidays are supposed to be the one time of the year you get in touch with the people you love, even though the rest of the year you neglect them. And this job at the post office, being around all this mail, and realizing that mail is a reminder of the life we have led and the life we are living, it also has got me to thinking about many things, including Stacey. I have no mail from her. No random notes scribbled on some postcard and sent to me when she would spend her summers with her grandparents. Don’t get me wrong, because I have photos, and those serve a purpose in capturing specific moments. But a photo is different from a letter or a card. All are historical recordings, but each exists in its own particular context. It is great to have a photo of you and your best friend that captures an image from the past. But it is equally great to have a card that they picked out just for you, wrote a special note on, put in the mail, and sent to you as a reminder that they love you. Somehow, that makes it all a little bit more real. And I wish I had a card from Stacey, because that would make the life we had together just a little bit more real.

All these years later, I’m still trying to make sense of her death. For myself, I know that it taught me to appreciate the people I love more. I know I still come up short, but I try to let those that matter most know how I feel. I tell my mother every day that I love her, because I don’t know if it will be the last time I talk to her. And I try to tell my close friends how much they mean to me, because again, I don’t know if it will be the last time I talk to them. Sometimes they think I’m crazy when I tell them that I love them. But if I die tomorrow, at least some of them would know. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that life is too short and too unpredictable to not tell people you love them, and to tell them often.

As much as I hate working at the post office—as much as I hate schlepping sacks of mail that pull and strain at my muscles, and working around people who seem hopelessly incompetent—the one thing that I like is knowing that some of the mail I’m handling are those reminders of love and appreciation we all need to get from time to time.

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2 Responses to “Going Postal: Day 20”

  1. BPW Says:

    I was thinking about Sharon, killed by a drunk driver, and wondering if she would be pleased with how I had turned out. That is so selfish. I was never as good a friend to her as I should have been and she always had a stronger character than I. She helped to shape me into the person I am and I think I am a better person for knowing her. I think I am a better person for knowing you too. Your strength and conviction are inspiring as is your intelligence, awareness, insight, creativity and wisdom. I have always appreciated the way you share your knowledge with others and the way you have always looked out for everyone – even the tweeeeenty year olds who did not think they needed it! I love you.

  2. lively Says:

    i wanna make the sound like this, “mm-hm”…the one you make when you just wanna say “yup”…like a “uh-ha”…

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