God, the USPS, and me – the next Charles Bukowski.

by Jane Devin on 07/20/2008

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.


1 kris July 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” -Anais Nin

oh, you are hungry, that is certain. but you will never starve. seems to me you are preparing a feast!

2 Kate McLaughlin July 20, 2008 at 11:35 am

You are on your way, Jane.
I smile and savor each stage of your revolution-evolution-journey-back-to-self.
Do you have any idea how many you inspire?
Blessed be!

3 linda woods July 20, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Now you just need to post some pics of your kids and your dog and write about butt fucking and you’ll be RICH!!!

4 Jane Devin July 20, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Too funny, Linda.

To those that don’t know the reference, Dooce, America’s premier blogger, got fired for blogging about work and uh, inappropriate things. She became net famous after that.

I’d rather be Bukowski. As fucked up as he was, he wrote some great books and poetry.

5 Gia July 20, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Wow Jane! That’s a big step, that I’m not certain I’d ever have the courage to make!!!! Congrats!

I am so excited to see what the next phase of your life brings…and I’m really betting on it bringing a best seller to my local B and N!

6 Marcie July 20, 2008 at 5:18 pm

“People generally think of forgiveness as the flip side of contrition — the obligatory response to an apology. It is not. To forgive is to answer the call of our better angels and bear our wounds as the cost of doing business. It is that rarest of things, simple and pure, transcendent without strings.” from “In Plain Sight” July 13, 2008

I get the best “sermons” from fiction and TV shows. The above blew me away. I believe but in a higher power, NOT any human created religion.

7 V-Grrrl July 20, 2008 at 5:35 pm

I lived in Oklahoma for eight years, worked part of that time as a journalist, and witnessed first hand the depth of the corruption that was entrenched in a state that saturated itself in “Christian values.” Every political debate became a religious debate. Every discussion in every setting was saturated with the vocabulary of righteousness.

I was a Christian and still I felt smothered by it all and disgusted by the slights, cruelty, prejudices, and power plays behind the smiling facade of goodness.

I hear ya, Jane. I hear ya.

8 Ann Parker July 20, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Oh, Jane, you gotta’ get outta’ that place………

9 Pamela July 20, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Go GIRL! I walked away from corporate “sanity” last fall – I’ve never been so broke since College – but I’ve ABSOLUTELY never been happier.

Great piece of writing! Enjoy the scary exciting time for change!!!

10 Elaine July 21, 2008 at 6:58 am

I can so relate to your, hmmm, let’s call it frustration?! I left my big time job in St. Paul after another company took over mine, and the ‘man in the ball cap’ treated all of us like numbers instead of people who had worked there for 20+ years. I was asked to lie to my employees about their fate and it made me crazy.
It was just a really hard time because my deep rooted Minnesota values and work ethic told me I was not a quitter and I was paralyzed in my self imposed rules about being loyal to that place and the people. I was very fearful about the future as well. I struggled with it for a whole year but when I finally left, I felt a pent up river of creativity flow out of me and I was awakened for the first time.
Like Pamela, I have never been so broke but my GOD! The clarity I have now about what matters, and finding out that the reality is that I can do a lot of things to make money, earn my living my way, was worth every moment of anquish.
After I quit I packed my bags and moved to the warmth and even though the adjustment was harder than I thought, it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me.
I can’t wait to follow you as you go through what I did! You’ve started now — no tears, no fears, and no looking back!

11 Doris Rose MacBean July 21, 2008 at 11:02 am

Sometimes, reading your work is uncomfortable. Like being stripped bare. Your description is-I’m sure- played out every hour of every day in some small town, effecting millions of Americans. It is overwhelming.

12 Donna L. Faber July 21, 2008 at 11:26 am

I bet if you moved into the city, like, San Francisco, you could make this work!

You know what they say … location, location, location!


13 Libby in Australia July 28, 2008 at 5:14 am

Hey location my arse

Im in oz and Jane amazes me every day

It’s only a matter of time before she takes over the world


14 G.......another 204B August 7, 2008 at 8:51 am

What are you doing waiting for that schedule to go up?!!!

You have talent way beyond that place….

You just need to have trust that you do have talent and people would pay to read your book while sipping that $4.50 mocha latte.

It does make me wonder what you wrote about me!!!!

I am just now realizing retirement is real and I am free to try a new venture…….but have no idea what that is….

Keep writing girl…you make me smile….

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