Going Postal

Vintage U.S. postage stamp

As the psychedelic sixties deflated into the sinister seventies, America was suddenly full of draft-dodgers, drug-burnouts and college-dropouts. They had few prospects and fewer skills. I was among their number. We “cultural casualties” wore the facial expression seen on the faces of people whose home had just been sucked away by a cyclone. It asked, “What the fuck just happened?” It asked the more terrifying, “What am I gonna do now?”

The answer for many of us was, “Take the Post Office test.”

I was among their number.  

Don’t laugh. 

The Post office was a union job, a job for life, a job with a uniform and a good pension and… and… “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “how the fuck did I get here? I’m an actor. I’m supposed to be a Broadway star. I can play a mailman not be one.” 

And, in fact, I was then starring off-off-off Broadway in a roach-infested basement in Manhattan. But, I figured I could get a graveyard shift at the P.O. that would pay my rent and leave my days free for auditions, lunches at the Four Seasons with movie stars and eight shows a week on the Great White Way. I might need this back-up job for a month or two. Tops.

Plus, like all baby-boomers I’d grown up watching The Merry Mailman on TV so I had a special affection for all things postal.  

Ray Heatherton - The Merry Mailman
He was always smiling so how bad could the gig be?

The test was held in a grubby room in an even grubbier West Side mail sorting office. As we applicants milled around outside the building waiting for the start time, I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only person there who was not Black, female and the size of a sumo wrestler.

Sumo wrestler

While these large ladies nervously ate and smoked, I nervously scanned the crowd for a friendly freaky face. Finding none, I assumed this intake of recruits was a demographic anomaly. 

Remember the first tests you ever took in school? The tests that used pictures rather than words? Brightly colored pictures? And, the few words on the page were in big size type? That’s what the test was like to gain a life-long union job with uniform and pension in the United States Postal Service.

Which of these three things does not belong with the other two? 

  • Picture of Horse
  • Picture of Cow 
  • Picture of Banana   

John Q. Public plans to sail to Bermuda. Which of these will he use to make the trip? 

  • Picture of Horse
  • Picture of Cow
  • Picture of Sail Boat

I am not a brain box. Honest. I possess very modest IQ and SAT scores. But, I aced this no-brainer test in no-time and sat there twiddling my thumbs. Suddenly, the not-so Merry Mailman running the test banged his gavel and ordered us to put our pencils down immediately. This African-American gentleman then explained in grave tones that if any of us found this test too difficult we could choose to re-take it. In fact, the Post Office had specially trained tutors who would work with worried applicants to help them pass this stringent test in a month’s time. 

Unison sigh of relief. Laughter. Test papers tossed into air. And, Whoosh! I was almost sucked out of the room in the wake of the departing multitude. 

Vintage Return to Sender U.S. Post Office stamp

Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment of Blog Outa Brooklyn POSTAL REALISM. You’ll thrill as this reporter goes undercover as a mail-sorter trainee in the Grand Central Station Post Office. New York, N.Y. 10017

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