Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Marbles: First Dingle






I'm on vacation. But I've loaded up Murrmurrs with something a little different. When I retired from carrying mail in 2008, the first thing I did was write a book of dang-near true postal stories. I called it Miss Delivery: A Postal-Mortem. Here are some excerpts: "Marbles," in three parts, begins on my second day delivering a route all by myself. The first day had not gone well.

It’s hard for me to feel bad for long. I rebound fast. This is not a sign of intelligence. In fact, it is often achieved by willfully ignoring or denying all that is true. If I were the last tyrannosaur holed out in a cave when the asteroid hit, I’d come out and think: hmm. Chilly. Dark. But look! Toasted stegosaurus nuggets, as far as the eye can see.

So the day after my hellish solo debut, after a dreamless sleep, I went off to work in a much lighter frame of mind. After all, there was no possibility this was going to be as bad a day as yesterday. For one thing, I had gained some familiarity with the sorting case. I would be able to make some headway sorting the mail this time. And I’d been out on parts of the route, at least, and wasn’t likely to forget where the mailboxes I’d already found were. Certainly not that cutesy little birdhouse piece of crap with the hungry cat face on it holding the little tiny US MAIL sign in its mouth swinging from the tree halfway across the yard in Gnomesville that you could only see by climbing the steps to the front door and leaning out over the porch. Yes, things were certainly looking up. I walked into the station, punched in my shiny new time card and strode over to the sorting case. The boss met me there. “Collins called in sick,” he informed me. “I’m going to need you over on route 136.” And just like that, there I was, right back to looking like an exhibit in the Postal Wax Museum.

It occurred to me that it was inevitable that, in one’s first days on any job, things might go a little sideways. It takes a while for the smoothness to set in. You can’t expect yourself to be able to accomplish the same things as a seasoned professional, and no one else would expect you to, either. Would they? I picked up a letter and scanned the new case, hardening into a familiar pose. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

As I stood, poised with my original letter outstretched towards the case, I thought about some of my previous jobs. I had been a waitress at Friendly’s Ice Cream. On my first day, I admired the other waitresses who flew around the corners with dishes stacked all the way up either arm, swinging them down gracefully and setting them before their customers, and I thought: amazing. Soon, I’ll be able to do that. But I wasn’t. I was quite possibly the worst waitress ever. Months into the job, I still couldn't bring two lunches at a time to a table and park them correctly in front of the people who ordered them. In fact, I had so little talent that when I did manage to bring someone his correct order, and then served his coffee upside-down in his crotch, he went out of his way to reassure me. “Don’t worry,” he said earnestly. “It wasn’t warm, anyway.” He felt so sorry for me that he gave me an extra-large tip. Although maybe that was for dabbing him dry.

I wasn’t all that great shakes as a lab technician, either. I never could bring myself to kill a rat, and I used to wash all my colleague’s test tubes for him in exchange for dispatching my rodents: a half-hour’s work for me vs. fifteen seconds for him, and I considered it a great deal. I stood there with the same letter in my hand and it dawned on me that nothing in my personal occupational history could rule out that I would suck at this, too.

On this day, though, I got some assistance from another rookie carrier, one with a few months’ experience and a proper sympathy, and we were able to plug all the mail in the case and get the route ready to go in a reasonable amount of time. I had learned to place the Bad Dog cards in front of the letters for a bad-dog house, so that was an improvement right there, and my new friend also introduced me to the concept of Direction Cards, which were made up to guide the carrier through the odder deliveries—“back door,” “slot in garage,” or “blue house behind laurel hedge”, for instance. The other rookie didn’t seem to think I was irredeemable, and that plus the direction cards had given me a little heartbeam of hope.

To be continued.

40 comments:

  1. "Although maybe that was for dabbing him dry." Good thing I keep spare keyboards around, 'cause this one is now awash in coffee and may never work again.

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  2. We have the advantage of hindsight, knowing you stuck it out for years.

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    1. My sticking it out, that was a whole other job.

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  3. I have kept a list over the years of Things I Don't Want to Do to Earn My Living. Postal Carrier is going on the list. To be fair, it should have already been on there, since I'm pretty much afraid of dogs after several untoward incidents with them while selling Camp Fire mints as an impressionable (whiny) child. You make it almost sound fun, but I am not fooled.

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    1. I truly loved the job, especially early on, which did not prevent me from erasing almost the entire postal tape upon retirement.

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  4. This is one book with real possibilities....with a beginning like that, I want to read the whole thing. Stegasaurus nuggets...

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    1. I kind of doubt I'll ever publish this one, but I've got a couple novels that will get out there some day.

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  5. "served his coffee upside-down in his crotch" LOL! (As usual.) Looking forward to the next instalment... but I'll bring my own coffee, thanks. :-)

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    1. I don't recommend you ask me to bring you any! I have not improved. Plus, I fall over.

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  6. It was "The Hand of Destiny" that steered you towards your career, or as I call it, dumb luck. Sometimes it works.

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    1. I don't know the difference between the Hand and dumb luck. I've always had the latter. It's dumb, but it's lucky.

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  7. I always thought it would be kind of fun to be a mail carrier. I would have been just as completely incompetent, but for way longer, I think.

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    1. I was actually very competent, but when I had my lapses, I learned how forgiving people could be if you were humble and funny. Or could fake it.

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  8. I was laughing out loud at your waitress challenges. Been there and done that. You must be fun to work with since you have such a great sense of humor.

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    1. Yeah, not so fun to work with if you have to make up for my mistakes.

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  9. I'm with Linda: I thought I might've liked a job as a mail carrier. All that walking, being outside, the bag getting lighter the farther you walked... But yes, I guess there's more to it than getting the occasional lemonade on a hot summer day from the nice old lady on the block...

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  10. By the way, Murr fans: I am not buying for one minute that she is "away" on vacation. Someone has been changing STOP signs in Old Town... Murr's "vacation" is suspiciously timed, don't you think???http://www.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2013/01/07/someone-is-changing-portland-stop-signs-to-poop

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    1. Not only that, Murr seems capable of time travel, because this was done in my very town about six months ago (I live somewhat further away, though) :)

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    2. I foresee a future Murrmurrs Post in this article.

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  11. It would destroy my faith in dogs as man's best friend if I ever got bitten. That right there is reason enough not to become a mail carrier.

    That is one fine-looking dog in that picture :)

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    1. Remember Linda from the Land of Linda? That's her Tessie. I borrowed her.

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  12. What?? You're on vacation so the rest of us should be midstream, too? Where's the rest of this??? And who is that dog? I trust you are enjoying yourselves.

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  13. I'm in New Zealand! Nyaah! I do realize the dog hasn't come into the picture yet. Except as a picture. Next installment.

    Weird-ass birds here, I'll say that.

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  14. You are in New Zealand, and you are not dropping in on your many fans in Oz? Sniff, wipes tear from eye.
    On a different note, Trousering Your Weasel arrived yesterday and I am greedily devouring it. It is even more mirthmakingly wonderful than I had expected (and I had high expectations). Thank you Murr. Many times.

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    1. Linda, whom I am traveling with, spent a few weeks in Australia and hasn't quit yapping about it. If you would like to host me, we'll show up some time. Be careful what you wish for.

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  15. My copies of Trousering Your Weasel have arrived so the mail is working well in Australia. Very snort worthy, a great read, thanks Murr. Enjoy NZ, one of my favourite places.

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  16. Be sure to Zorb while there! (i.e., in NZ, that is)

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    1. Sure looks like it would help to be a gerbil.

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  17. Pat - love the Poop Signs! It must be so nice to live in a city with a sense of humor. I've often wished Seattle could lighten up a little like that.
    (I was going to say "loosen up", but no...that would not be good)

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    1. Speaking from my third day after 31 hours on an airplane, I would say loosening would be just fine. Just fine.

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  18. Enjoy your time off. Send us your old columns. It helps me fill in our history together, picturing you finding your rightful place in life—writing. Daily snort-worthy funny stuff so the rest of us can face another day with anticipation.

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    1. Gad! I haven't thought of a thing to write for, like, three weeks. I assume this will pass. I wish other things would pass.

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  19. As a fellow letter carrier with Murr, I can't wait to read the next post and remember how much fun we really had all those years.

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    1. Oh no, you do not get to be anonymous. You do not.

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  20. How was the flight (Having flown to and from Oz, I imagine long and boring might come into it, but knowing Murr, perhaps not. I visualize clogged toilets and Noro virus, or attendants snogging in the galley.)

    Your glass is not merely half-full, it is half-full of BEER!

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  21. I know I'm doing this backwards, but no matter. Baxckwards or forwards this was an hilarious series! I hope your taking notes on your travels for our edification!

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