Tonight we did the annual USPS letter carriers’ retirement banquet for the umpteenth time. We do it for the chicken, served gratis, compliments of the union. They would extract the union dues from our pension whether we ate the chicken or not, so we might as well eat it and enjoy.
The chicken is not really free. It bears the hefty price tag of enduring through speeches delivered by the union high command. Every year, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers sends his regrets for not being able to be with us. (Yes, we know, Mr. President. You are way too busy and important to come to Wisconsin in March. I wouldn’t be here either, if I had a choice.) But we are still obligated to listen to a couple of other mucky-mucks who fly in for the chicken and to hear themselves talk.
Their orations do not vary much from year to year. We are indoctrinated for fifteen or twenty minutes about how the Postal Service is being torn limb from limb by the Republicans. In order to save the P. O. (and our pensions) from total destruction, all good letter carriers, active or retired, must vote for Democrats, because they, of course, love letter carriers, and will see to it that retirees never have to eat out of garbage cans or sleep under the bridge. And so it has gone for the past thirty-eight union dinners we have attended.
However, this year we broke from tradition. They brought in a guy who had missed his life calling. No doubt he had truly wanted to be a college professor, but had joined the Postal Service instead, so that he could partake of the annual chicken dinner. It was not a speech, but a lecture, complete with asking the class questions to keep us on our toes. I listened carefully, in case there would be a quiz at the end. Perhaps the top ten students would get to take a bag of chicken home with them.
Now, I did fairly well in high school. In fact, I graduated at the head of my class. But because I have a bit of a mule streak in me, and because I have been a nonconformist from the bassinet, I refused to go to college. I have done all right, I think, in educating myself without spending those additional four years being bored daily into a coma. At sixty-two years of age, I have no pleasure in attending lectures now, either. The chicken we had just downed was beginning to seem not worth its cost.
Our speaker enjoyed himself immensely. The longer he went on, the more animated he became. The arm-flapping was vaguely reminiscent of what those chickens we had eaten may have done before they had ended up in the broaster.
I seriously thought about pulling out a pen and decorating the tablecloth with stick figures carrying postal bags and macing snarling mongrels. But that would not have been kosher, so I restrained the impulse. The napkins had already been removed by the servers, so a little impromptu origami was also out of the question.
I glanced at the lady seated across from me. She mouthed, “Should we skip out of here and let our husbands find their own way home?” Still, we knew that would not be decent, since it’s an unwritten law of the union that you must pay for the chicken by listening to the speeches. If this man ever finished, there might be time for the four retirees we were there to honor to say their few words before the dining hall locked the doors for the night. Maybe, maybe not.
Our speaker finally asked if there were any questions, and I saw a hand shoot up. No! Please! How can you do this to us? He will go on for yet another hour if you give him the opportunity!
He smiled broadly. “Yes, sir! Your question?”
“Yer time’s up, buddy.”
Slightly abashed, Mr. Professor sat down hurriedly, and we all clapped enthusiastically.
And that is how we managed to get home before every bar in town closed for the night.