Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Postal Service’s incompetent management can’t even train its employees

My comments are not statistically valid in any way, since they are based on experiences that happened more than 22 years ago, but maybe they’ll shed some light on what the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General is trying to do, which is discover why the Postal Service is spending tens of thousands of dollars for each new hire and why they are nearly all quitting soon after starting work, and why the IG will write a report that’s ultimately ignored.

I was a mailhandler in the Postal Service from January 1983 to June 1994. I was eager at the start, as most postal employees are, to become good at my job and to advance my career. I had heard that the Postal Service was a bad place to be an ambitious worker but was determined to be different. Even when I discovered that the mailhandler craft was disdained as “the strong backs and weak minds” of the system, I was determined to prove everyone wrong.

Having worked for United Parcel Service, I had few fears of the prospect of postal privatization, which I saw as a steppingstone to advancement opportunity. I had thrived at UPS, where I was a Christmas-temp, and had even been advanced from unloading large trailers to pre-loading the famous brown trucks that drivers took on their routes. I worked in a facility that had 40 workers on the night shift and one supervisor, and the workers pushed hard to get the job done because they were paid for a full night even if they got done early.

After I was assigned to the pre-loading, a second manager was brought in for the holiday rush, and part of her job was to help me learn ways to become more efficient in my work. Through her, I learned the importance of putting items in the truck in the correct order so the driver could deliver them. On a few occasions, I’d see a box with the dreaded “OOP” notation, meaning “out of place.” That meant that the driver had found the box but had passed the package’s destination and could not backtrack. I would have “made my book” at UPS but for the bad economy in early 1983. Still, I learned that it was important to train everyone fully in their jobs.

Needless to say, the Postal Service was a culture shock for me. I had taken the test for several crafts shortly after my discharge from the military, but was not betting on getting hired anytime soon. Indeed, I was beginning to pursue educational opportunities and when the Postal Service did hire me, I spent a couple of days wondering what I should do, as I had just started school and the schedule was going to be impossible for me to do both. At the time, I made the least bad choice and took the postal job.

Unlike the UPS facility, the postal facility had a horde of supervisors and managers, and training was not a priority. You learned as you went – if someone wanted to teach you – and while I was criticized for being to eager to learn outside my immediate work area I soon became good at my job. I was working in the Long Island area, where the union was pretty strong and management pretty laid-back.

But I couldn’t afford to live in that area, and eventually moved to Florida. Here I could see the challenge of massive growth – part of the reason I moved there – and the desperate need for change. Supervisors were less tolerant of new-hires and some were very abusive toward workers. Sexual harassment of female employees was rampant and, despite the promises made at orientation, usually accusations were dealt with through threats and extreme abuse and retaliation.

Again, training was never conducted for mailhandlers or casuals. (There was training for LSM operators, and that had to go continually because management seemed to have a goal of 100 percent turnover on the LSMs. They came close, especially with new-hires, very few of whom made their probation.)

I made it clear to my bosses that I wanted training to advance into management, and was basically shot down. Still, I managed to learn that there were correspondence courses I could take, including an introduction to postal management. I was warned that taking correspondence courses could actually hurt my advancement chances, but decided to take them nonetheless, figuring I’d learn skills that I could use outside the Postal Service.

The basic postal supervisors’ course, which no one else took in my facility, was an eye-opener. I really worked that course hard, learning how to deal with people and how to talk to them. Needless to say, reality was quite different but I have always found theory to be a good place to start. I was advised to stay away from the local community college but found that some of the bosses were teaching classes there in postal operations, so I took them and was not afraid to express my views. I probably destroyed my advancement chances in the Postal Service but it was worth it.

The funny thing was that – especially after the violence that broke out in facilities – I was mainly parroting what the postmaster general had been saying. Employees were reporting abusive work environments and often paying the price in severe retaliation despite promises of no retaliation. I learned that postal management was a good place if you were a liar, a sex harasser, an abuser, a practitioner of “creative postal math” and an all-around bad person.

When I finally got a chance to put theory into practice, the reality was that I was a terrible postal manager, as bad or worse than those I criticized. I was relieved and sent back to the mailhandler craft.

At this point, I had a decision to make. My first instinct was to quit. I have always been a deliberative person, though, and in my late 20s was too mature to act impulsively.

So I decided that the Postal Service was not the career for me, but decided to stay and use it to further my own goals. Despite the warnings, I trekked to the community college and began the long process of applying to become a student there. It was a lot of paperwork, and I had to take the ACT, but in the summer of 1988 I began my first course, Introduction to the Social Sciences.

I was advised repeatedly by people in and out of the Postal Service that college was a waste of time, and everyone had a Cousin Harvey who had a fancy degree and was working the drive-through at McD’s but I also learned that when people are afraid of your ambition, they’ll do anything and tell any lies to try and stop you from achieving.

College was like a dream come true for me. Not needing to take out loans or use Pell grants, I eagerly took classes and in three years had a two-year degree. I transferred to the state university and finished my college degree there in April 1994.

I was unusual. The Postal Service had then and has now very, very few college graduates, especially in its management and executive ranks. The facility I worked at in West Palm Beach had almost no college graduates in management, several high school dropouts in management and even a person with just a seventh-grade education in a management position. I had stopped even applying for postal management jobs, knowing I’d be rejected out of hand, and was soon searching for a new job outside the Postal Service.

I was gaining work experience through volunteer work and soon I realized that the best way to escape the postal handcuffs was simple: quit, then I’d have to be more aggressive in my job search.

To make a long story short, I did just that and soon was landing jobs. The confidence gained was immeasurable, and I feel sorry for those who are having a hard time and lack that confidence. I hear “no” a lot more, but that’s age discrimination, sadly. Too bad. I’ve been working and improving my skills and it saddens me that I might soon have no place where they will be wanted. The skills will be needed, but by someone younger than me.

The Postal Service has again abandoned the idea of training, from what I hear. New hires are thrown into work and fired if they cannot figure out the job. It’s a waste of money to hire people just so you can fire them, but as I saw 22 years ago, it’s the only way the Postal Service knows.

I still remember one holiday season when we had a mass of temporary employees milling around, and a supervisor who reprimanded me for showing them how to do their job. “It’s a waste of time to train these stupid assholes,” she said. “They were looking for a job here, so I know they’re idiots. We shouldn’t train people who are just going to quit or be fired.”

I tried to explain that part of the reason the new hires were having problems was because no one was explaining how to do the job, but she was a postal supervisor and I was a worker. I mentioned the postmaster general’s comments, and she said, “Fuck him. The supervisors run the Postal Service and not the postmaster general. Listen to us and not him.”

That attitude is alive and well in today’s Postal Service, and why its grand strategies will always fail.


June 20, 2016 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

When committing astronomy can get you killed

Get a bunch of amateur astronomers together and eventually, after the tall tales of seeing the Horsehead Nebula and the wisps of the Veil Nebula, you’ll get to the strange encounters we’ve had.

It’s hard not to notice an amateur astronomer, alone or in a pack. We have this weird looking object that may or may not look like everyone’s definition of a telescope; we perform weird rituals around it, peering through a smaller scope or looking at a book or magazine; and we might be seen punching numbers into a handheld device, smartphone or laptop and then watching as the telescope mount points the telescope.

There’s the weird language, too. “Go from Enif in Pegasus and then across the Great Square, and you’ll see M31.”

Or, “I swear, I saw a star flare up in the Double Cluster. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

We in the U.S. might meet up with bad guys while observing the stars – though a look through the telescope might mollify them – or even law enforcement.

A story steeped in legend is about the time a group of amateur astronomers gathers on a hill overlooking their city on a dark, clear night, and soon had their array of telescopes set up.

Most telescopes of that time, and today, bear quite a resemblance to mortar tubes. It’s not intentional. The Schmidt-Cassegrain design is compact and easy to transport, and offers some pretty good-sized apertures up to 14 inches. They do look like mortars in the dark and at a distance.

The group noticed that there were several cars of law enforcement racing on the road up the hill, with lights flashing and sirens wailing. They felt a sense of relief. At least someone was out there protecting them.

Soon, though, the police arrived and cautiously approached. It turned out that someone had called 911, thinking that a group was assembling mortars and about to start raining shells on the town. A few minutes later, after the police were shown that the telescopes were for extracting secrets from the sky and not harming anyone, the officers left and the amateurs resumed their work.

That story had a happy ending, but for some people the very act of not only looking at the sky but knowing about it can be a death sentence.

Carl Sagan once said that you never know where the seed of knowledge will sprout. Sometimes, in the most unexpected places, you will find people with a driving desire to know how the universe works, he said.

We know of Afghanistan as a place of endless war and tumult, murderous religious fanaticism and where young Americans have died to protect a government that seems incapable of supplying toilet paper.

And yet, among all that, there is a dedicated group of amateur astronomers. According to a story in Newsweek and other sources, the Afghanistan Astronomy Association has an 11-inch telescope and other gear supplied by Astronomers Without Borders. Its members try to find locations to observe and often are harassed by the local police, religious leaders and military troops who all believe they are up to no good.

In a society where the only knowledge worth having seems to be religious or military, and the only skill you should show is how to plant an IED, these men want to learn about the sky and teach others.

Here’s an excerpt from the start of the story:

“In most of the world, an amateur astronomer can drive to a dark place, set up a telescope and enjoy the beauty of the sky above.

“But in Afghanistan, a country plagued by 36 years of war, a few men gathered around a telescope pointing toward the sky, in the middle of nowhere, looks pretty suspicious.

“From a distance, the police thought the telescope might be a rocket launcher.

“After careful inspection, the police still couldn’t comprehend why anyone would sit in a field, in the cold, to look at stars. Although they’d never seen a telescope before, they conceded that this probably wasn’t a weapon.

“Calling the astronomers halfwits, the police left. Spooked, most of the stargazers took off too, leaving Bakhshi and two others.”

Religious leaders aren’t helpful, spreading wild stories about eclipses and other superstitions.

But the amateurs keep at it.

“On another late afternoon, as the sun disappears and the evening call to prayer echoes across the city below, Bakhshi, Amiri and a small group of men gather on the outskirts of Kabul.

“As he sets up a large telescope, cigarette dangling from his lip, Amiri recalls the first time he saw the moon up close. In an old schoolbook, he had discovered a guide to making a telescope and managed to fashion one out of an old chimney pipe.

‘I couldn’t move my eye away from the telescope that night,’ he says.

“One by one, the men peer at the moon through the telescope. The clarity is remarkable; the moon luminous and rugged with craters and mountains.

“For those who are looking through the telescope for the first time that night, each has the same reaction: astonishment and wonder, followed by a barrage of questions.”

Maybe there will be a time when amateur astronomers the world over can live and work in peace. In the meantime, there are those who are willing to risk it all for a glimpse of the moon or Saturn. It definitely makes you appreciate what we have here.



January 11, 2016 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Wonders of science no longer reserved for a select few

On Saturday night, Dec. 5, I took out the 14-inch for some driveway observing.

It was not the most propitious night to gaze at the universe. No planets are visible in the evening sky right now – you’re better off looking east before sunrise – and there were pesky clouds to contend with, but the night went off well.

The folks across the street from me are moving soon to a new house that they’ll own, and perhaps I’ll have new neighbors across the street in a month or so. They came by for a last look through my telescope, and we talked about the latest discoveries in space.

There’s so much going on out there. The Cassini probe – in orbit around Saturn since the mid-2000s, soon will send back its last pictures and then begin its final death plunge into the planet. Entire libraries of books on Saturn are now quaint museum pieces thanks to the discoveries made of Saturn, its wondrous rings and its amazing moons. In a photo that almost brings tears to my eyes, a crescent Enceladus seems to hover above the rings.

It’s sad to say that Cassini must die eventually. It’s running out of reaction control fuel. A mission that began at first proposal in 1982; launch on Oct. 15, 1997, atop a Titan IVB-Centaur rocket; gravity assists around Venus in 1998 and 1999; and the Saturn insertion burn on July 1, 2004, will end as follows, according to Wikipedia:

“The chosen mission ending involves a series of close Saturn passes, approaching within the rings, then an entry into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017, to destroy the spacecraft. This method was chosen because it is imperative to ensure protection and prevent biological contamination to any of the moons of Saturn thought to offer potential habitability.”

I hope that, like the Galileo probe that went to its death in Jupiter, the Cassini will tell us even more about Saturn as it plunges to its fate. We will miss Cassini.

The year of Pluto
I was telling a neighbor, “All our lives, Pluto was a dot of light with an arrow next to it. Now, it’s a world of wonders. And we’re seeing it as it’s never been seen before.”

On the night of July 14, people around the world watched as NASA TV broadcast live the wait for the first signal from New Horizons. For years, since the Jan. 19, 2006, launch, we had waited for the spacecraft to make its long, long journey to Pluto.

The Atlas V rocket accelerated New Horizons to an amazing speed, and after a Jupiter encounter in September 2006, the probe went to sleep – with periodic awakenings – until it was time to get to work.

From a dot, Pluto and its moons grew in size. On July 14, we received the greatest signal in the history of space science. New Horizons had survived its close fly-by of Pluto and had acquired all the data it was expected to acquire, and now would begin the long, long process of transmitting it all back to Earth.

The other day, we got the best pictures we’ll ever get of Pluto. What a wonder it is.

And now, New Horizons is heading out for a Jan. 1, 2019, flyby of a Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69. If funding is achieved, we’ll be seeing a world so distant as more than a dot again.

Ceres and Vesta
The Dawn probe has achieved some amazing results around to minor planets in what used to be called the asteroid belt. As with the above missions, the data is put out to the public on the Internet, and we have a chance to see pictures of worlds we could only just imagine a few decades ago.

Abandon exploration?
Some say we need to focus on Earth, where we have plenty of problems that need solving. While we in the “West” wonder at the discoveries that are being made, others are in thrall to their favorite deities and obey the commands of self-appointed representatives, who seem to be ordering mass death and destruction.

Fighting them is a tall order, but we should not abandon our efforts to learn and discover. We have plenty of resources to fight and learn.

What Vesta is made of might not help us beat ISIS, but it shows that we’re able to focus on the cosmic issues.

Let’s close with a reading from the book of Sagan. “Cosmos,” episode 8, “Journeys in Space and Time”:

“Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours and every one of them is a succession of incidents, events, occurrences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history, what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants, it is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.”


December 6, 2015 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cities manage to live on despite threats of destruction

I was driving past Manatee Memorial Hospital today on my way back from getting my car’s oil changed when I saw a familiar figure on the side of the road.

It was a guy I’d talked to a few years ago. The man, who was and probably still is homeless, at the time was camped out in front of an old building on Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton, and he was trying to stop the destruction of an old building that was slated to be torn down.

On June 2, 2015, he was standing with a large cross on the corner, waving at drivers and calling on them to repent and accept Jesus.

He’s been doing this for some time now, and after he was unsuccessful in warding off the knockdown of the decrepit old building that had once been a church, he apparently found a new gig. I did, too.

What brought his effort to mind was something I heard on the public radio program “Marketplace” on the way to get my car worked on. The news, which broke the previous night, was that the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham had decided that the university needed to have its football team back. This is a sad day because the initial decision to end football because of its financial burden on the college was the right one, and one that needs to be made at many other universities.

Listening on the radio to the reporting, there were of course no dissenting voices. One woman insisted that the continuing state of “no football” at UAB would somehow “destroy” the city of Birmingham. The demonstrations in favor of football reminded of the infamous “Joe Paterno riots” at Penn State.

How absurd it is that people lose their minds over football at the college level. And how absurd it is to believe that if you don’t get your way, your city deserves to be destroyed.

But the reality is that people often make these outrageous claims to local governments to bolster their view that the commission or council should vote the way they want on a bill. I might add that this is their right, of course, but we should be aware that their arguments are often more rhetoric than reality.

For example, it is commonly stated at meetings that the approval of a housing development or business at a location will somehow “destroy” the county. Officials have to sit back and allow all sorts of high-flown rhetoric about how the entire history of the region depends on something not being allowed, and the warnings of destruction are repeated over and over.

What’s funny is that there are people living in subdivisions and developments whose construction, the same commissioners were told, would somehow “destroy” the county but didn’t.

Flights of fancy
The building on Manatee Avenue West, called the Bradenton Revival Temple, caused no small amount of wild rhetoric, to the point where police officers had to be posted at the Bradenton City Council meetings. Talking to the opponents of the destruction, their arguments mainly were along the lines that the owners of the building were scumbags and pieces of shit and the professional architectural firm they hired to evaluate the building was run by an asshole who didn’t know what he was doing.

Here is my story on the building getting a reprieve. Another story appeared a few months later.

Their presentation on the building was detailed and thorough. The building was built long before building codes existed in Florida, in the 1930s, and the building was used as a church for much of its existence. Eventually, the use as a church ended and the city ended up with the building until the current owners bought it. Unfortunately, its odd-looking façade hid a rather ordinary building that had multiple structural faults and the inability to withstand strong winds.

Homeless people had been breaking into the building and using it for shelter and as a toilet, the wooden rafters showed evidence of a terrible termite infestation and it was clear that the building had not been maintained in years. The owners had rather foolishly bought the building without an inspection and believed that they could fix it and use it for their legal business, with its proximity to the county courthouse, but now found that the only value left in the place was the lot itself.

Those in favor of its destruction included the owner of the building next door.

Many people of a religious bent talked with fervor of establishing a “24-hour prayer center” and other activities in the building, which in their view was not in such bad condition.

Camped out
I became aware of the building when I saw this man camped out in front of the building with signs declaring that America and Bradenton were doomed if the building came down. I sent a reporter to talk to him, and later talked to him myself, and it was clear that he had some, well, issues.

He insisted that if the building came down, the city of Bradenton would be destroyed by fire and possibly meteor strikes sent by a wrathful god.

He attracted a minute following, and pretty much went nuts when the building finally was approved for demolition. Here’s my story on it.

I was there as the demolition work began, and the man told me that America was doomed now, as was Bradenton.

Here is my story on the demolition.

The building is gone, but Bradenton lives on despite the threats. So, apparently, does the man.

Addicted to old buildings
Let’s face it. Buildings sometimes have to go. People who do not own or pay taxes or try to maintain an old building might feel a sentimental attachment to it, but those who do have to pay the bills have to be able to do what they think is best.

We live in an era of property rights, and that might be disturbing, but there are limitations in place that prevent egregious destruction, and a process to make sure it’s done according to the rules, but I can see an owner’s position on a building as well as the opponents.

In Sarasota County, one of the biggest fights ever was wages over a school that was not a very pleasant place but had been designed by a famous architect, Paul Rudolph.

While there was much emotion by people who didn’t attend the school and who claimed a coming tsunami of crime and misbehavior from students when they realized it had been knocked down, the school was knocked down and rebuilt.

Students and staff had complained that the building had a mold problem, its classrooms were outdated, it leaked like a sieve in heavy rain and students had to dodge puddles in the hallways.

The main argument in favor of the building seemed to be that Paul Rudolph was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay.

The community around the school would be destroyed, and wasn’t it worth it to go to school in an architectural marvel designed by a man who was gay?

The school district wanted to be done with the building because of its code violations and hazards, and finally managed to get the approval to knock it down amid threats that never came to pass.

Apparently, if you own a Paul Rudolph house, it’s not really yours.

June 2, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My very scary hospital adventure

It was all the fault of the Marine Corps. I ended up at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s emergency room on a Sunday morning at 9 a.m. because of the way I was taught to shave in basic training.

As recruits, we were instructed to shave as close as possible to avoid having late-afternoon facial hair. It’s the same today. Look at recruits in Marine basic training, and most seem to have facial skin that is covered in sores and cuts. That’s from shaving too close.

For most of us, our faces heal after basic training and we’re not shaving as often.

My adventure began one day when I was shaving my chin, and I accidentally nicked myself. I thought the bleeding would stop soon, and it did – after I went to work with a Band-Aid on my chin. Even then, blood still seeped out.

For a couple of weeks, I had tried to shave around the cut, then decided to stop shaving altogether. Still, I had a pimple of sorts there, and occasionally I would touch it.

On the day before my hospital visit, I drove to a local car dealer to buy a new car. On the way there, I realized that I had opened the cut again. I went into a men’s room and managed to stop the bleeding, but it might have just been bleeding into my beard.

I bought the new car and later left for work. That night, I came home and went to bed. The next morning, I awoke and realized that there was blood on my pillow. I raced to the bathroom and tried to stanch the bleeding, but it kept on going. Mind you, I wasn’t bleeding profusely, just in a way that meant Band-Aids were soaked in 10 seconds. I was going through towels, dripping some blood on the floor and finally reached the terrible realization that I had to go to the emergency room.

While keeping pressure on my chin, I managed to get dressed without bleeding on my clothing, then collected a couple of towels, checked my wallet for my insurance card and headed for the hospital.

Manatee Memorial’s configuration is such that I had to make a left turn at a long light, then go around the long way to get to the ER. I had a towel against my chin and bled on the seat belt as I drove to the hospital. Finally, I got there, parked the car, locked it and walked into the emergency room.

The nurses at the desk moved quickly, as my towel was very bloody. Soon, I had a bandage tied around my head, with gauze on my chin. After taking my information, the nurse moved me to a room to be treated. I was given a package of gauze and advised to keep pressure on the wound. Another nurse came in about 10 minutes later and we began the long process of getting me fixed up.

Efforts to stop the bleeding had proved unsuccessful, so the hospital wanted to do a blood workup on me. They were worried that if they stuck me on the arm for a blood sample, I might not stop bleeding. Finally, they decided to risk it. Needless to say, the blood sample taking went off without a hitch, and I soon stopped bleeding from the needle cut in my arm.

The “facial laceration” on my chin continued to flow, and I was getting worried. I mean, what if the blood test revealed something awful, like leukemia or another type of cancer? I have had very little contact with medical professionals in the past several years simply because I feel fine and haven’t had any injuries.

Finally, a doctor arrived and checked me over. I was given a choice to have cauterization or stitches, or both. I choose the latter. A nurse came in and gave me a couple of local anesthetics so I wouldn’t faint when she began cauterizing the wound and sewing it up.

“How is my blood?” I asked.

“Perfect,” she said. “No problems at all. You are in great health.”

That was a relief.

I lay back as instructed, and saw that she had a device like a soldering iron. I felt nothing, but smelled burnt flesh for a moment as she cauterized the wound.

She inspected her work, then asked again about the stitches.

“Go ahead,” I said.

So she put two stitches on there, and the bleeding was stopped now.

“You have to have your own doctor take out the stitches soon,” she told me.

I left the hospital after about three and a half hours and thanked my lucky stars for insurance.

About a week later, I had the stitches removed. I refuse to shave that area now, and am careful about how deeply I try to shave.

Believe me. Lesson learned.

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The paradox of becoming educated

Recent news at the newspaper where I work caused me to think a lot about education, and my past efforts to improve myself and my lot in life.

A top person at Florida Polytechnic University recently took the top job at Palm Beach State College, one of my alma maters. I graduated from PBSC, as it’s known now, when it was Palm Beach Community College, and attending the place was one of the greatest things I ever did. At a time in my life when so many wanted me to fail and so few wanted me to succeed, I succeeded brilliantly and moved on to Florida Atlantic University to finish my bachelor’s degree.

But the seeds of that achievement were planted by the dedicated teachers at Palm Beach Community College.

There’s a tendency in some segments of society to dismiss educated people and people seeking to improve themselves through education through a variety of dismissive and abusive terms and phrases. Believe me, I’ve heard them all and nearly all were directed at me at some time in my life. Even the venerable high school diploma can, in the right hands, be dismissed as a waste of time.

I first became aware of this derisive attitude when I reported to my first duty station in the Marine Corps in early 1979. I had finished basic training at Parris Island, then aviation and electronics training at the naval air station at Millington, Tenn., and was sent to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif., to get my next assignment.

It was an adventure for me. I flew on a 747 from New York to Los Angeles, and the plane blew several main landing gear tires on touchdown. We taxied to the gate and debarked, and saw the rubberized mess that was the planes’ main landing gear.

At El Toro, I learned that I would be going to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona, and after a couple of weeks was given a ticket on a flight to Yuma. It was a night flight, and I remember looking out and wondering just where we were. It was pitch black outside. The plane landed and I eventually found myself at the receiving barracks. Mind you, it was a Saturday night, and the duty Staff NCO was watching a TV show that featured Prince.

He checked me in, got me assigned to a barracks room and I settled in. On Monday morning, I reported to the famous Hootowl hangar at the base and began checking in to VMA-513, a Harrier squadron.

Upstairs in the hangar, where the administrative offices were, the mood was typical office of the late 1970s. I handed over my orders and my service record to a corporal who didn’t seem all that receptive to new arrivals. I was a private first class at the time, I think, and was used to being intimidated by people above me in rank.

The corporal flipped through the thin record, then stopped and looked at something.

He looked up at me and declared, “Well, just because you have a high school diploma doesn’t mean you have any common sense.”

I was stunned. I hadn’t done more than hand over my papers, and suddenly judgment was passed.

I figured that the corporal was probably a high school dropout – as was common at the time – and he was just establishing that while I might have the piece of paper, he had the rank. So there.

A few weeks later, I was up in the administrative offices for something and I noticed that he had taken a magazine page, cut it out and taped it next to his desk on a wall. Hustler magazine then had a feature called “Asshole of the Month,” spotlighting some politician who had earned the ire of publisher Larry Flynt. Taped over the caricature of a politician was a picture of me, taken for a new ID card. He must have grabbed the second shot taken and appropriated it.

I could never understand the reason for this hostility. I mean, I didn’t brag about my educational accomplishments to him. Maybe others hurt him and he realized that I couldn’t fight back so he targeted me, or maybe he targeted others, too.

The military is notorious for the ridicule heaped on educated troops, especially if they are enlisteds with either some college or an actual college degree. A familiar taunt aimed at those who try to act above the lowest military station in life is, “If you’re so smart, why are you in the Army (Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, etc.)”

Indeed, showing too much intelligence could border on insubordination, and some folks hid their intelligence, though it hurt them, to be more acceptable to their superiors.

I found it odd that this also happened in the Postal Service.

Brutalized for brains
It often shocks people when I describe the way the Postal Service viewed workers with an education. While my orientation in New York was normal, the one in West Palm Beach included a declaration that we were not to consider ourselves above anyone else in intelligence. It was not uncommon to be told, “People come to work at the Postal Service because they’re too dumb to get jobs anywhere else.”

There were almost no self-improvement programs or even formal training programs available for postal workers, and the few I found were correspondence courses that offered no formal recognition or training for understanding postal operations so you could do your job better.

Managers would tell me that the worst thing you could ever do to a worker was train them to do their job better, because it gave them “ideas above their station in life.”

There weren’t even very many formal management training programs in the 1980s and 1990s, though there was a college course through Palm Beach Community College in postal operations. I took it, and it was mainly a postal manager reading from the Domestic Mail Manual. Boring with a capital B. I took the course and got an A, but it offered no road to advancement for me.

I soon realized that if I was going to do anything useful and productive with my life, I’d have to get a college degree. I began the long, challenging process of getting myself into Palm Beach Community College. It was pretty intimidating, even for me. I had to fill out a lot of forms, study for and take the American College Test, get a number and wait on line to register and then finally begin taking classes. Since I worked at night I could take daytime classes, and soon found that I was finally respected for having intelligence.

People think my fondness for community colleges is because I’m going senile, but it’s because that was where things really started to swing my way and I found myself. It sounds trite, but it’s true. I began to see a world of possibilities where none had appeared before.

It was blasphemy in the post office to even imply that you might be qualified to work somewhere else, and I still had to deal with the negative vibes at the West Palm Beach General Mail Facility. My break and lunch times were spent munching meals and studying while listening to classical music on my Walkman, but I couldn’t help but hear the derisive and disrespectful comments.

“He thinks he’s better than everyone else,” I’d hear co-workers say to each other.

One boss told me, “Henry Ford said workers need to know just three things: what time to be at work, where to be and what to do. Everything else is just a waste.”

I’d hear one fellow declare loudly when he saw me studying, “You’re wasting your time.”

Everyone seemed to have a relative who had attended college and graduated, but “ha(d) no common sense” and was working at a minimum-wage job.

Postal bosses, many of them high school dropouts (and one elementary school dropout) would lord it over me that I was busting my ass in a “futile” effort to advance. “Look at me,” one female supervisor said. “I never graduated high school and now I supervise supervisors. Education is a waste of time.”

Many of those bosses who lack formal education are now high-level postal officials. If people wonder why they can never get a straight answer from the post office on a question, it’s because the organization doesn’t reward knowledge and education.

The great escape
Those who are negative about education and your attainments at school are just the losers of our society, and there’s a simple reason for their attitude.

They’re jealous.

I realized this and it motivated me to carry on.

When I quit the Postal Service, I was taking a leap into the unknown that was even bigger than when I left the Marine Corps. I was scared, but I did it, and I never regretted doing it.

It might seem that I was jumping from an airplane when I left the Postal Service, but that college degree was my parachute, and it has helped me to many a soft landing. I wonder about those who ridiculed me for my educational pursuits, and how their lives turned out.

Not as good as mine, I bet.

Never let others define your success. Keep at your education and remember that even if it takes you 10 years to get that degree, it’ll be worth it.

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vincent Safuto's Weblog

The article is devastating. One of the greats of not only Mets baseball but also baseball in general is losing his battle with cancer.

Doctors have found more tumors on Gary Carter’s brain. It makes me so sad.

There was a time when Gary Carter was a dreaded batter. He was a catcher, and one of the game’s greatest, and he wore the uniform of the now-gone Montreal Expos. That bat was a holy terror, though.

One of the greatest joys in my life was when the Mets traded to get Gary Carter. Here was an experienced catcher needed to handle Mets pitchers and a dangerous power hitter who could turn the game around with a swing of the mighty bat. In 1985, the ownership of the Mets had some hot players coming up from the farm system, but was not averse to a trade or two to make things…

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February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

President Barack H. Obama

Our new president. Let us hope he can turn our nation around.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Why my blog has gone quiet

I haven’t run out of opinions.

This is a busy week, and I am attending the Poynter Institute’s “Standing Up for Journalism” seminar with a hard-working and motivated group of fellow journalists who are between jobs (a couple of people actually are starting new jobs soon) and looking to upgrade their skills for the new world of multimedia.

It’s a very interesting and educational experience, and I hope to be back to blogging next week.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


November 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A day like no other

It’s 11 p.m. and this is a day that will be looked back to for decades, if not centuries, to come.

History has been made, and I feel so privileged to live it. I have my worries and fears about the future, and my future employment, housing and so much more, but when the sun rises again, something else rises with it.

Hope. And hope has a name: President-elect Barack H. Obama.

It’s historic – no doubt about that – to see a black man bearing the title of president-elect of the United States. But it’s something else: reassuring.

In these uncertain times, Americans decided it was time for a bold move in a new direction, and they have handed the reins of power to the 47-year-old Democrat and given his party larger majorities in the House and Senate. We Americans kind of worry when one political party has so much power, and that’s a good thing, but we worry more when it seems like our future is less bright, our economy is skidding, our jobs are disappearing and our futures seem to be so gloomy.

Maybe it’s all in our heads, but the statistics on jobs, the economy and 401(k)s show that we have reason to be concerned. Where is our country headed? Where is our world headed? Will there ever be good economic times again, or will the wealthy take it all and leave us with table scraps?

President-elect Obama can’t fix everything, and not right away, and I’m sure that there are disappointments aplenty ahead, but I feel that our country has taken a step in the right direction. We didn’t just elect a black man – we elected the right man for the time.

He has a giant challenge ahead. I just hope he’s equal to it.

Finally, I have to add that this is a moment that I wish my late friends Paula and Bill could have seen.

And on Jan. 20, 2009, there’s a new beginning in our nation, and hopefully some of the scars of the past will be healed and we’ll start moving toward a new era for our nation and the world.

November 5, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment