Leaning back in the cheap office chair, his hands behind his head, the Bastard tries to defend the indefensible. If pressed by the God he believes in, he would have to admit to being drunk with power and high on self-satisfaction, but God is a long ways off and he has years of Sundays left to repent. For now, in this 11×14 room, he fears no retribution, and all the glory belongs to him.
His greasy hair is tucked under a baseball cap but it’s his brother’s team, not his. I settle on this detail for a moment, and know that if I were a more cunning person, I could use it to my advantage. If I were more like Jesus, I might even find some compassion for the Bastard. In either of those scenes, I might start off telling him about my millionaire sister. The one born to favored status because my mother dreamed that the ghost of her beloved sister, Olga, entered her womb during pregnancy.
So pretty, my mother would say of Dianne Olga, like an angel. The angel worked for six years of her life, married two men of means and retired early. Wearing blinders, she waxes passionately about bootstraps and hard work, and how her tax dollars shouldn’t go to people who are too lazy to buy health insurance.
The Bastard’s brother was a famous baseball player, a World Series champ, whose fourteen year career left him set for life. The Bastard, who grew up playing the same game in the same Minnesota fields, isn’t even a real supervisor, but a 204B – postal lingo for a mail carrier acting as a temporary supervisor.
His act is rough and unpolished. He can’t hide his smirk or his love of power, no matter how fleeting or temporary. He peels the schedule he so carefully crafted from the clip board and hands it to me.
There are rural carriers in the postal service who are losing their homes to foreclosure and writing bad checks for groceries. Unlike city carriers, who are paid an hourly wage, rural carriers are paid based on yearly mail counts, which are always held during the lightest season of the year. This year, the count was in March. No holidays, no back to school ads, no spring clearance sales. The mail count was so low, that the pay for almost every route ended up being cut by one to three hours a day. It doesn’t matter how many hours the carrier actually works to deliver the mail – he or she will be paid for the hours calculated during the annual count, no matter how heavy the volume for the rest of the year.
A large number of the rural carriers employed by the USPS are relief carriers – people who passed the exam to become a regular carrier, and who are waiting for an open route. In the interim, they work at a lower hourly wage with no health insurance or retirement benefits. The wait for a regular opening can take years.
The schedule the Bastard hands me is meant to add injury and insult in equal measure. He has taken to punishing the relief carriers he does not like, while giving full-time or nearly full-time hours to those he does. He has bent and twisted official rules and a scheduling matrix to meet his goals.
Houses are being lost.
Cars are getting repossessed.
Lives are being fractured.
He smirks. Adjusts his baseball cap. Points to a regulation he interprets as giving him the ultimate power.
Christianity is everywhere in the government building. It is taped to the walls, inviting people to morning prayer meetings. It is on a box of prayer requests. It hangs from USPS keychains, and is tacked to work areas. The Bastard is one of those that leads the charge. Thursday mornings will find him hunched in a corner, hands clasped, praying to the God whose forgiveness is a sure bet.
The very Catholic postmaster nods his head in approval, knowing that he has bent rules and convention to hire the daughters and sons of favored workers, while extending punishment or goodwill arbitrarily – with tendencies that favor the religious.
The union meant to protect workers is an association. The National Rural Letter Carriers Association. They publish a newsletter with inspiring messages from their official chaplain. Their mammoth failure to negotiate a fair contract for their members is glossed over with talk of God, ethics, pride, and the value of hard work.
Relationships are falling apart.
Anxiety and hopelessness are setting in.
Suicide has been quietly talked about.
The saying “life isn’t fair” has never caused me to shrug my shoulders in apathy. Life is not fair, but most of us know it should be, and can be, much fairer than it is.
This fight is not mine. It’s too big and encompassing and too dirtied by bureaucracy, politics, religion. Ignorance is bountiful, and poorly intentioned people are everywhere, but there are limits to what any one person can do in response.
Instead, I wait for the day people take the blinders of religion and arrogance off, and come into their own humanity. To be forgiven or not based on their intentions, to be loved or not based on their actions, to be blessed or not based upon their merits.
In the meantime, the Bastard smiles like he’s hit a home run in the fourth quarter and the bases were loaded. His parents and God are sure to see that he’s really every bit as good as his brother, even if the cheering spectators are limited.
I plan to escape like Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was 49 when he quit the postal service, saying “I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” He starved brilliantly, becoming one of the most prolific writers of his generation. His experiences with the USPS provided him with many anecdotes and characters.
Knowing that I will soon starve my own way into bliss makes the Bastard less dangerous to me. His darting eyes, paunchy gut, and greasy hair become details for some future story that speaks to the anti-Christ of men who believe their salvation is assured by virtue of Jesus keychains and weekly prayer meetings.