Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Remembering a lazy postal worker

The common enemy, we’re told today, is the government employee.

It was kind of surreal reading the news stories about Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington on Saturday because several of the people interviewed were, in fact, government employees.

One fellow said he was a SWAT officer in a police department, but protective services like the police are different, he said, because they help people who are in trouble. I guess, unlike those who work as clerks or in other jobs in the government. Another fellow complained that he was a federal worker who couldn’t get promoted due to affirmative action and gays.

The people in the military draw government pay from our taxes, too, but again that’s not really considered government work. Anyone who’s a civilian and working for the government, but not working in the police or fire service, is considered fair game for attack.

Postal workers have always been considered the enemies of the nation, even though I worked alongside some of the most radical conservatives there. Maybe it was boredom; I worked out my frustrations attending college, while others found succor in fundamentalist preachers or conservative politics.

The old joke in the Postal Service is that there’s a question asked: “How many people work for the Postal Service?”

The answer: “About half.”

I was hired in January 1983 and began work late in the month. A new facility was opening in Garden City, N.Y., and in the meantime we would be working in the facility in Hicksville. I lived with my parents in Queens but soon found an illegal apartment across the Grumman airfield from the postal facility.

The Hicksville facility was very old, and by comparison the new place was a lot better. But the union in Hicksville was entrenched and thus we had two 30-minute breaks, three 15-minute wash-up periods and a 30-minute lunch. If you combined them all together, you could even go home and take a nap.

Attendance was key to staying in the post office and staying on the gravy train, I was told. Having served in the Marines, I knew how to be on time and was determined to have perfect attendance. I didn’t though, and for the last two months of my probationary period, I feared that one night that I missed would be the end.

A sudden blizzard before I left for work left deep snow on the ground. I was living with my parents in Queens and found I could not get to work that night. I was advised that it would look bad on my record when I called in to say I couldn’t get to work. The following night I got to work and was advised that even though there was no mail to work and everyone was sent home early, the fact that I didn’t show up was noted, even though I had called in.

What was fascinating to me was that one of the people hired along with me, a guy I will call Mike, probably came in for 15 to 20 days out of his probationary period.

I should have felt sorry for Mike. He lived in Washington Heights in Manhattan, and did not have a car. Even so, getting to work would have been a challenge with a car but he tried to commute on public transportation, using the subway to get to the Long Island Rail Road train station in Hicksville. That still left him with a long walk to work, and sometimes another fellow would pick him up at the station. When our shift ended, he’d have to reverse the process.

Mike’s story was tragic. He was a Vietnam veteran and he told some of my co-workers on a night when I was off that the VA had told him this job was his last chance to live independently. He’d be sent permanently to a VA hospital to live out the rest of his life if he couldn’t manage to survive.

Mike had been caught sleeping in the bathroom several times, and he had been disciplined for coming to work drunk. The guy who’d pick him up noted that Mike would down a 40-ouncer of beer on the way to work. He usually did very little beyond punching in and out of work, and his appearances were very rare after he told my friends his story.

The amazing thing was that when it came time for evaluations, we all received the same satisfactory evaluation, Mike included. Apparently, there was some leeway for veterans like him.

We soon moved to the new facility near Roosevelt Field in Garden City, and Mike even put in a few appearances there, but soon he disappeared and we never heard from him again. I often wonder what happened to him.

In 1986, I moved to West Palm Beach and began working for the Postal Service there. It was quite a culture shock, with very short breaks and wash-ups, and there were a few people who just went through the motions at work. The brass didn’t care, so long as there were enough foolish people to compensate – and take the blame when things went wrong – they could make the numbers “come out right.”

For me, it was always frustrating that I did all the work I was assigned to do, and then was blamed for those who didn’t work. I couldn’t make anyone else do the job, so I did mine, went to college, and eventually moved on in life.

I still think about Mike occasionally, and wonder what happened to him.

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August 29, 2010 - Posted by | Life lessons | , , , , , ,

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