Wednesday, August 24, 2011


There are certain people I never want to see. Ever. And there are certain times I never want to see them. Policemen (who ride behind me on the interstate or knock at my front door). An EMT (when his ambulance is parked on my cul de sac). The fireman (when his fire engine is wailing in the direction of my house). A door-to-door salesmen (on my door step with the winsome but uncomfortably flashy smile). 

I would include angels, too (but I might offend some friends who have claimed to see them), so I will say the postman. After all, angels and postmen are both messengers. Over the years people have told me about their personal yet casual interactions with angels which are always bracketed by a sense of calm, a giddy excitement, or an innate understanding that they are in good hands.

Unlike postmen, angels seems to appear unannounced which I find unnerving. Postmen, for the most part, are routine. Historically, it seems that angels scare the crap out of people. People in the Bible (like the prophets) who encountered messengers (or "The" messenger) unannounced respond in a wide range of anxiety: bending over, shrinking, cowering, falling down, hiding the face, going blind, becoming mute. I have never heard of a prophet yet who ever jumped up and down in elation, grabbed for an angel out of sheer joy, or talked the angel's ear off.

But the people who have told me about their personal encounters never seem to be concerned that an angel invaded their personal space (in their bedroom at night when no one else is around, for example). I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to differentiate between an angel and a home intruder. I might jump at the celestial being only to be blasted backwards onto my head.

But getting back to the mailman and his connection with a heavenly being, I think I loathe the idea that someone would choose an intermediary to bring me, say, bad news they cannot tell me directly. Aside from the Advent of Christ, angels are like the "last straw." If you don't listen to an angel, the other shoe is going to drop. While the postman is unflinching in his resolve, faithful in his duty, and the closest thing to a civilian warrior, I have wondered why I secretly despise them at times, especially when they bring me bad news through the mail. I've listed a few reasons:

1. Postmen are friendly because they are obligated to be friendly. What a facetious complaint, I know, but it seems to be the most sinister thing you can do, that is, handing someone bad news with a "howdy" or a smile on your face. Several years back a postman frequented our house between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. each day. I soon learned why he had such a wide time differential. It was because he talked to anybody who was available. Neighborhood friendliness to him meant that you deserved a long conversation from your friendly mailman that only ended when you excused yourself from his interrogative style of converse. Right when you thought the niceties were over, he always asked a question instead of ending the talk.

Over a period of five years I learned that he was divorced, had a special needs child who died in the bathtub, and was being monitored by the U.S.P.S. for the habit of striking up long conversations with residents like myself who happened to be out whenever he sauntered by. One time he spoke with me for at least 45 minutes. When I learned later of his probation (a 20 minute conversation), I tried to avoid him altogether or limit our chats. However, he never could kick the habit and was soon terminated.

2. Postmen know about our business and keep us in suspense about what they know. We interpret their silence one day, their smile the next, and their avoiding us yet the next day as a kind of thermostat gauging what we can expect to find in our mailbox. It is as if they have an uncanny clairvoyance for knowing what is in our box without having opened our mail (which is kind of like knowing what someone looks like with their clothes off).

Those are the awkward times, especially when the mailman hurriedly gives you mail that you open to discover you were late AGAIN on a bill or that this is the LAST notice that your subscription is going to expire or that you need to contact such-and-such ASAP or you will be terminated. Other days he (or she) hands you the mail, looks you straight in the eye to greet you, and exchange a "moment" with you only for you to open the mail to get that large check you've been waiting for or to get that one surprise letter from a long-lost friend or to get an apology letter from your bank or utility company showing that you actually have a balance in the black, not the red.

3. Postmen carry bad as well as good news (these days probably more bad than good). Unfortunately, it isn't that postman's fault even though I directly attribute the bad news in my mailbox to the man delivering it. I remember the first foreclosure notice I received back in 2008. I never saw the postman that day. It just ended up in my mailbox. I think the postman came early that day. 

Surely, mailmen are experts at categorizing the mail they carry. I always receive two notices before I pay my water bill. I know my postman knows that because the logo on the first notice is blue while the logo on the second one is red. I'm sure they even have their ways of knowing the differences between good and bad personal letters.

And isn't that an egoistic thought? That the postal worker sees MY bad mail at the beginning of the day and connives how to evade ME by rerouting his route, and timing it just right so that he slips by my house when I'm in the bathroom or backyard? That the postal worker can telepathically work around me? The omniscience to which we attribute the postal worker, I think, is the hatred we sometimes reserve for God Himself.

4. Postal workers make us sign for things without knowing what we are signing. I taught history & literature for several years and am familiar with accounts and stories of people who signed their own death warrants without knowing it or who accepted and passed onto their executioner the contents of their own demise. When a postal worker comes to my door and asks for me to sign for a letter or package, I want to see the package or letter, shake it around a bit (if it's a package), put it up to the light (if it's a letter), and consult with him about the contents ("What do you think is in it?") before I put my signature to it.

Of course, deliberating beyond an acceptable few seconds is not only impossible but also rude, because the mailman has three thousand more houses to drop by before he goes home for the evening. And what is so odd is that the little bit of innate respect we reserve for our postman morphs into a momentary but sinister hatred for his being needed by three thousand more people instead of only by you.

Below is some of my mail.  I thought one day that I would photograph every bit of mail that I get for one day. 

AT & T. Look below at all of the unnecessary paper.

The IRS gave my company a new tax ID. That's what this paper is.

Unnecessary paper again.

All that was left was the return envelope and the sheet inside.

This is a coupon I thought my kids might like.

I'm not changing my bank... this is trashed.

My mortgage company sends me love letters...

Look at all of this love...

But I'm already in love, so it's trashed.

Oh, this is that AT & T bill...


My electric company...

Though the mail is varied, they all have one thing in common. An angel of a mailman delivered them. Thank your mailman today (but feel free to go on hating him tomorrow).

No comments:

Post a Comment

WELCOME BACK LAZARUS: Coming Back from the Brink Is Hard Work

Two years ago, I had a surreal experience. I thought that I had died.  That statement is suspiciously ambiguous, I know, but it...

The People's Choice