My longtime mailman, Mark, retired last week after 32 years. Nice guy, music lover, kind of a smart ass. I got to know him a few years ago when he finally put the name on the mail and the name on my column together. He should have started wearing a hat a few years earlier.
The highlight of my day is often getting a magazine in the mail. If I saw him driving up, I'd head on over to the community mailbox (the scourge of the modern subdivision) and engage him in conversation. We share a certain political bent, and he seemed to like me. Of course, having the back of the truck open as he frantically stuffed mail into the backside of the boxes probably kept him from running or driving away as I approached.
Come to think of it, the fact that he invariably greeted me with "Leave me alone!" the last couple hundred times I saw him does strike me as a bit odd.
I felt a certain kinship with him since the first (and only) real job I ever had after high school was as a postal clerk. I would go in to work, and there would be a mountain of mail. We would work for eight hours sorting the mail. This meant putting the letter addressed to San Francisco in the San Francisco slot, and so on. When the shift was done, I'd leave, but when I went back the next day, the mountain of mail was back!
I soon realized that I had been hired because I had scored really high on a test--and then had been given a job that a trained chimpanzee could do. I know why people snap.
I probably could have taken one of those jobs working at the counter, selling stamps and stuff. Lately, when I go to the post office, I have to suffer in line as five or six people are jabbering away on their cell phones, despite a sign as big as Paris Hilton's ego that reads, "Please don't use your cell phone in the lobby or at the window." People are so damn rude; I'd refuse to help them until they hung up and apologized for being jerks. After a week or so in that job, Gandhi himself would be beating people's asses.
Anyway, I once asked him what the stupidest comment/question he ever got from a patron was, and he said he didn't have all day to list them. His actual words were, "Leave me alone! I don't have all day."
He later put together a list for me and added his retorts. Since he is (was) the consummate professional, he never actually uttered any of the comebacks, but having heard the questions so many times, his responses were seared into his conscious (and unconscious) mind.
"Hey, mailman, is it hot enough for you?" No, I think it should be 30 degrees hotter so we can shatter all the records once and for all.
"Hey dude, nice tan. How did you get that dark?" Oh, I don't know; maybe being outside in the desert sun every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the past 30 years has something to do with it.
"Every piece of mail you gave me was nothing but junk." Today's junk day. That's all I had to deliver. (Actually, that happens. Junk mail stacks up, and then they clean up the backlog all at once. Letter carriers absolutely live for those days.)
"They said they mailed the check five days ago, and I still haven't received it." So tell them to ACTUALLY MAIL IT, and we'll see how long it takes to arrive.
"If I give you this letter, will it go out today?" It should, but I'll probably just keep it in my truck for a few days and then mail it. We letter carriers get a cut from all the late fees we generate on the bills you send in.
"What's the ZIP code for Newark, N.J.?" Just make one up. We do.
"How long does it take for a letter to get from Tucson to New York City?" Anywhere from three to 365 days, depending on how we feel.
"How come you didn't deliver the package to my door?" The rottweiler and the two pit bulls gnawing on each other's chains (and legs) might just have something to do with that.
"Do you get to take home samples of the stamps?" Do you get to take home samples of the toxic chemicals with which you obviously work?
Often asked during political and/or holiday season: "How come you're so late?" My alarm clock broke, and I overslept during my afternoon siesta.
"Just what does the phrase 'going postal' mean to you?" Shut the hell up! Go away! Leave me alone! And mind your own business, you (jerk)! Which, when spoken aloud, comes out as, "Nothing."
I'm going to miss Mark. Maybe the new guy reads the Weekly. In the meantime, Mark is going to concentrate on his former sideline as a house painter. I'm thinking of having him paint my house so I can follow him around and ask him the stupidest questions he's ever been asked while painting somebody's house.