Eat the Chicken, Leave the Drones.

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.

Random Twisted Thoughts

Random thoughts:

If we could find a way to preserve all this lovely, pristine snow until next July, we could make a Warren Buffet-sized fortune selling snow cones.

75% of all Wisconsinites buy underwear for their loved ones at Christmas.  85% of that underwear purchase is long johns.  It is just too cold here.  Suggestion for the white collar worker: buying long johns for your boss is not going to help you climb the corporate ladder — unless they are the frosted kind you find at the bakery. 

Wisconsin postal customers who buy long johns of either type for their mailman for Christmas will be adored.  In addition, have a hot coffee for him when he trots by, and you’ll receive premium treatment all year long.  Your mail will get delivered on time whether your neighbors’ does or not.

Funny article about Alan Greenspan’s solution for the economy.  Yes, it IS buying underwear for everyone at Christmas!  (We’re ahead of ya here in Wisconsin, Alan!)

I have proof that evolution is not true.  Fossilization does not take millions of years.   When my teen does the dishes, the dinner remains fossilize on the plates in the mere hours’ time before she gets around to washing them.  No more Hogan’s Heroes videos for you, Beebee!  Dishes first from now on.

Putting your holiday turkey outside the back door to cool is not a good idea.  The Great Dane next door might saunter over and have it for a snack.  I know.  Anybody want beans and weenies for Christmas din-din?

The Santa Claus at the mall makes $30,000 for approximately six weeks of work.  I know two of him personally and got the scoop.  There are a lot of overhead costs, though.  Eating at the Old Country Buffet five days a week in order to maintain his portly figure taxes his wallet.  And the gout medicine needed as a result of all that buffet eating is expensive.  Not to mention that Santa’s arteries won’t make it to ninety years of age.  Next time you see the old codger, sympathize a bit.  His life isn’t all that jolly. 

Regifting is not only acceptable in Wisconsin; it is our duty — to save on landfill space.  No one should have to permanently hang onto Grandma’s rummage sale purchase of three-feet-tall plastic butterflies, still shrink-wrapped.  It may be her way of saying “Merry Christmas” this year, but it’s going to be mine next.  If she waxes real forgetful in the coming twelve months, I’ll just give them back to her next December 25th.  She’ll never know the difference, and at last the butterflies will have a happy home.  Grandma will love them!

Startling New Cholesterol Findings!

The Masbur Medical Research Foundation has discovered a new miracle food that could revolutionize the treatment of high cholesterol patients. Up until now, doctors have been prescribing a variety of cholesterol-lowering drugs, including the “very safe” (but not so very safe) statin drugs, some of which have now been pulled from the market, due to killing the patients on which they were used.

In the meantime, health gurus have touted various cholesterol-lowering “miracle” foods such as brown rice, lecithin, garlic, raw onions, soy, and oat bran. Lowering fat intake, especially saturated fat intake, has been standard counsel for high cholesterol sufferers.

One of the Masbur scientists, a cholesterol victim himself, had personally tried soy, brown rice, and the eat-until-you-neigh oat bran, all without material success. Not wanting to be isolated from the rest of society, he opted out of garlic and raw onions therapy. He also eschewed any form of fat.

After getting thoroughly tired of eating everything tasteless, and upon hearing a nutritionist remark that the body needs a certain amount of saturated fat to keep it from going into cholesterol-producing overdrive, senior scientist Paul Masbur threw out his fat free margarine, began to once again enjoy an occasional gut-busting burger, and quit obsessing about his fat intake. At the same time, he developed an insatiable craving for a daily handful of peanuts.

Much to everyone’s surprise, his cholesterol levels began to drop. Initially, this was only verified by a do-it-yourself, cheap version of the cholesterol test, purchased at a local drugstore. The senior scientist’s wife was extremely skeptical, especially because the senior scientist had great difficulty poking his own finger and squeezing the blood out onto the provided disposable testing paper. (His aim wasn’t good, and the blood got smeared in unpredictable places, but never quite seemed to end up where it was supposed to.) These questionable tests took place periodically for about a year and a half. More conclusive evidence was provided when the senior scientist had his cholesterol blood work done in a real lab at a real doctor’s office. Those tests demonstrated that Dr. Masbur’s cholesterol had indeed dropped forty points since the official test two years before. Previously, his cholesterol had been rising steadily. After adopting the peanut diet his “good” cholesterol was up, and the “bad” was down. The consulting M.D. wanted to know Dr. Masbur’s secret.

“Peanuts,” he smugly replied. “I eat a handful of peanuts every day. And I don’t watch my fat intake very closely anymore, either.”

The family physician, although suspicious of the lowly peanut therapy, and inwardly hoping that if word got out, his stock in the pharmaceuticals companies would not suddenly plummet, agreed that Dr. Masbur should continue his new dietary regimen.

More scientific evidence was now required, so Dr. Masbur attempted to expand the research. He suggested that the assistant scientist, Dr. Peter Masbur, also a victim of high cholesterol, undertake to be part of the peanut experiment. The assistant scientist had never bothered with oat bran, and did not go near fat free margarine. He also indulged frequently in his wife’s butter-laden desserts. 

The assistant scientist hypothesized that if one handful of peanuts proved effective, two or three handfuls might be even better. After swallowing the more concentrated daily dosage of goobers for a mere six months, to the shock of the entire medical community, Dr. Peter’s cholesterol dropped fifty points.

The experiment is now being expanded to people outside the Masbur Foundation. A not-so-controlled study is currently underway at the Greenbriar Post Office. (Postal employees are known to be prone to high cholesterol problems, no doubt due to stressful relations with management.) These postal workers have received new hope after the glowing testimonials presented to them by the Masburs. Since most of them like peanuts, and most are working enough overtime to afford them, trying the new miracle food should not be in the slightest bit painful. The Masbur Medical Research Foundation hopes to publish the results of their research within a year. 

Our cautious suggestion to the masses in the meantime: eat your peanuts everyday.  It can’t hurt.

Retirement Dinner

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the postal retirement dinner held in honor of my husband.  You might think it is odd to have a retirement party five months after the fact, but hey, they don’t call it Snail Mail for nuthin’.  Truthfully, they always have them in March, and all those who have retired during the entire previous year get their moment of glory … unless they have died before it gets a chance to happen.  The party happens even if no one has retired — because of the free dinner.

This year there were two retirees — a conventional one and the not-so-conventional one (my husband).  They both wore suits and ties, much to my surprise.  Beebee and I managed to keep our man from wearing the bowtie, so we were happy.  The conventional guy’s suit was ill-fitting, in keeping with how postal workers normally dress when not in uniform.   I have noticed this tradition before, at every retirement dinner I have attended over the last thirty years.  Mr. Not-So-Conventional looked dapper.  His suit fit him.  It did not sag and bunch in weird places.  My coaching on attire had absolutely nothing to do with it this time.  He pulled off a proper appearance all by himself.  I was proud of him.  (I married him for his elegant figure.)

We ate the standard banquet affair victuals.  Postal parties truly must be abhorred by banquet facility owners, due to letter carriers eating so much.  I do not know where they stuff it all.  Even the skinny ones manage single-handedly to put more chicken in their gullets than a whole pack of foxes invading the hen house could ever hope to accomplish.  I suppose a ten-hour day out in the cold contributes to this talent.  They slide it all down with the help of the cole slaw and jellied cranberries.

They all talked about the ten-hour days. Sixty-hour work weeks are the norm right now for everyone, and have been for the last few years.  It costs less to work them to death and then get new ones than it does to hire more help.  The morale is low.  They all thought the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but it has not taken effect in the U.S. Postal Service yet.  (They must have an exemption clause.)  Paul was one of the fortunate ones: he had a bum ankle and a consequent doctor’s excuse that kept him to a forty-hour work week.  If that had not worked, he might have tried what some of the others did: mental distress exemptions from the psychotherapist.  (I would have felt bad if he had had to stoop that low, but some did, in order to survive.)

The union representatives’ speeches were all the same as they are every year.  We heard about how much better working conditions are now than they were before the Rebellion of 1970 (the year of the illegal postal strike, which brought the Postal Service, the President, the Congress, Wall Street, and Joseph’s Fish Market to their knees, and introduced collective bargaining).  Even with working sixty hours a week, the guys were encouraged to be grateful that they no longer work seven days a week for $.35 an hour (my slight exaggeration) and live on cat tuna and welfare assistance.  Whenever the president of the union’s name was mentioned, there were little ripples of reverence in the speaker’s voice.  Someone should have played ethereal music to enhance the moments of awe, but I guess they didn’t think of that.

The speakers encouraged us to vote for Obama or Hillary, whichever gets the upper hand, so that all our postal workers do not have to go back to cat tuna or worse.  And the guys were also encouraged to think about using the hours left after working sixty hours a week to campaign for whichever Democrat eventually wins the nomination.  They wanted them to work hard campaigning for the incumbent Democrat in Congress, too, but most of the guys probably aren’t fool enough to do that, because in the last election, he promised the postal workers at our office a big box of free doughnuts if he won, and he never came through with the food.

When the union mucky-mucks got done with their speeches, the retirees got their chance.  The conventional guy made a standard speech of gratitude which was very nice.  He had to behave himself, because he had brought a whole tableful of his relatives to the dinner.  Mr. Not-So-Conventional behaved himself relatively well, considering he can always be a bundle of surprises.  He paved the way for the rest of his speech by telling what a wonderful support his wife had been to him through thirty years.  (I was, too!)  He had gone to all the effort of tallying up how many sandwiches I had made for his lunches in all that time (about 6900, by his count — that’s a lot of Wonder Bread!).  He went on to tell his funny dog stories in his engaging way.  And he topped it off the way they had all known he would, by telling them about Jesus, and how they could be as happy as he is, if they would give their lives to Him.

They gave us gifts.  Paul received a watch, and I got a green plant the size of a cedar tree.

I think Paul enjoyed his evening immensely, and the rest of his little family were pleased for him.


I still have a few things to say about Paul’s years as a mailman.  Today’s thoughts are on the serious side.  I’m remembering the fall of 2001, terrorism, and how it affected our lives.

9-11-01: A horrible day in our nation’s history.  Our local newspaper never told why the Appleton post office closed immediately after the attack.  Not only was the post office closed to customers, but everyone who worked there was evacuated and sent home.   Hours before the 9-11 horror took place, two men of Middle Eastern appearance had been spotted outside the back of our post office, where the loading docks are, taking pictures.  An off-duty policeman that happened to be driving by noticed them and thought this was odd, because the building is anything but picturesque.  He stopped to ask what they were doing, and they said they were testing the lighting effects on their camera.  Two weeks previously, the same strange activity had been noted at another post office in a nearby town.  The policeman reported the suspicious activity to the postmaster, and when the airplane attack began, the decision was made to shut down.

Meanwhile, shortly before the 9-11 attack, our future son-in-law had been prompted by the Lord, for no reason that he knew of, to pray for Paul’s safety at the post office.  He obediently prayed and then forgot about it, with all the trauma that happened so soon after.  But when he heard the story about the two men with the camera, he knew why he had been prompted.  To this day, we don’t know what they were up to, or whether anything serious had been planned against the post office, but I do believe that Chris’ prayers may have kept something nasty from happening.  Perhaps his prayers were why the policeman just happened to drive by right then, and perhaps the men were scared off from whatever plans they had had, by having been discovered.

In days to come, another terror activity came into our lives, when deadly anthrax began to travel through the mail system.  Frankly, I was scared.  It didn’t matter that Appleton was not a major metropolis, and that no one would probably think to send anthrax here.  Mail travels hither and thither all over the country, through many postal centers, and there was no guarantee that mail my husband was handling had not come into contact with anthrax-tainted letters.  I pleaded with him to take all the precautions possible, without much success.  The precautions that were available wouldn’t have helped much.  He agreed to wear the little face mask that was provided him, but we’d already been informed the masks were not adequate to prevent inhaling anthrax spores anyway.  The gloves that were provided to protect skin from contamination got in the way of handling mail, so Paul chose not to wear them after the first couple of times.  They wouldn’t have helped either, because if anything had gotten on them, Paul would have gotten it on his hands in the process of taking them off.

It was a hard time to live through.  Christians are not supposed to live in fear.  They are supposed to trust the Lord for every breath of life.  I did not do very well at being fearless during this time.  I didn’t live in constant anxiety about terrorists blowing us up, and I’m sure I was more peaceful than the average American citizen, but the anthrax thing hit a little too close to home.  This was my husband, not somebody else’s.  My pastor helped me at a key moment of anxiety with a few kind, comforting words that meant the world to me.

I am grateful that my husband and the other people at his post office were not harmed.  I am grateful that it’s all only a memory now, not a present-day trouble we are living through.

May God continue to bless America and keep us from ever going through such a trial again.

Please Don’t Make Me Write Anything!

The retired mailman continues to do a good job of looking convincingly busy.  I don’t know what he does all day, but whatever it is must be impressive — or else he is an extremely fine actor.  He is so busy that I cannot seem to get him to do what I think is important.

Some mailmen bag groceries to avoid boredom once they retire.  Mine, to my great delight, is going to enroll in the River Church School of Ministry (RCSM).  They used to call him Pastor Paul and Parson Paul at the P.O.  Now he’s apparently going after the real thing.

I had been bugging him for days to get his application for RCSM done, since it is due tonight.  He couldn’t see what the rush was until, GASP! we noticed he had to write a 250 to 300 word testimony as part of the application.  Last night he finally worked up enough gumption to get it done.  I heard a whining sound, like unto what a humongous disgruntled mosquito would make, coming from the direction of Paul’s chair.

“What’s the matter?”
“I think they are being awful hard on us, expecting us to write all this!”   Whiiiine!
“Paul, 250 words is not ‘all this.’  It’s a very little bit of writing.”
“I don’t know.  I haven’t got that much to tell.”
“Well, talk about what a great inspiration your wife has been to you in your Christian walk, then.”

I encouraged him to do it in Word on the main computer.  He insisted on doing it in Wordpad on his laptop, and then copying and pasting it into his e-mail, and sending it to himself, and then opening his e-mail on the main computer.  From there, he pasted it into Word.  Of course it did not come out the way it was supposed to.  Too much paste will turn anything funky-looking.  I sat down to fix it for him, knowing he would not have the first idea how to make it look right.  The word count — 495 words!  This, from the man who was sure he wouldn’t be able to come up with 250.  (I knew it!)

I proceeded to hack at it to get it down in size. Acid-free paper is always best.  This would not be an acid-free paper, as the editor-wife was being quite caustic. All the poetic phraseology had to go — including the flickering candles in the military chapel where he gave his life to Jesus.  Description of the guitar-playing lady who led him to the Lord — hack.  Explanation of his search for God through Eastern religion — hack.  How long his hippie-looking fellow converts’ hair was — hack.  Paul likening himself to the Apostle Paul in his religious good intentions previous to conversion — hack, hack, hack!  My husband, the budding Charles Dickens.  It wasn’t a testimony; it was an epic saga!

The testimony is ready to go now — respectable, likely to qualify him for inclusion in the school, and not nearly as interesting without the Apostle Paul thrown in for color.  At least we know that Paul will have no trouble whatsoever completing the required five-page term papers.

Accidents Will Happen

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young mailman named Paul.  Every day he kissed his very lovely wife Lee Ann goodbye, shouldered his mailbag, and courageously headed out into the concrete jungle to deliver vital pieces of junk mail to every home.  Daily, many dangers faced him, but he laughed in the face of hardship, as he did his duty to his country and neighborhood for, “The mail must go through.”

The difficulties that opposed him came in various shapes and forms, most of which would not be appear, to the uninitiated, to be dangers.  There were bird feeders and ladders lurking around every corner, hoping to smack him in the forehead and knock him silly.  (But his official postal jungle helmet always saved the day and his noggin.)  There were ankle-biting Chihuahuas hiding behind the petunia patches.  In the winter, there were sidewalks with hidden ice patches, just waiting to rise up and bang the honest man’s backside or cranium.  AND there were dump trucks.  Dump trucks here and dump trucks there, all waiting to run into our handsome hero’s mail vehicle and flatten it into a pancake.

Let us examine, a little more closely, just one of these dump truck incidents.  Our dedicated letter carrier was minding his own business, attempting to deliver mail to a curbside box.  Unbeknownst to him, construction workers have a certain quota of mailboxes that MUST become casualties to their construction job, and a dump truck driver had chosen that very mailbox to help him meet his quota.  Unfortunately, the dump truck driver had determined to back into said mailbox at the exact moment that Paul was putting mail into it.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep,” went the dump truck, as it relentlessly bore down on the mailman and his faithful mount.  “BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!”  went the mail truck’s horn, as our horrified hero thought, “This is the end of me!”

Fortunately, the dump truck hit and destroyed the front end of the mail vehicle, not the part where Paul was located.  Shaken, but happy to still be alive, he called headquarters to give them a report of how much fun he was having delivering mail.

In the days that followed, our courageous hero found out that he was NOT a hero.  He was the object of wrath, for everyone knows that being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the same as being completely at fault when there is an accident of this magnitude.  The Postmaster General does not like to hear, while sitting at his fine desk in Washington D.C., that another postal vehicle has been demolished and must be replaced.  He worries about the price of stamps going up, each time this happens.  He has a very hard job, poor thingie!  Mailmen are easy to replace, but alas! mail trucks are not.  Had our hapless letter carrier been outside of his truck and been hit in his own insignificant person, there would not have been much problem.  But such was not the case.

Weeks went by, during which the fearless? young mailman tiptoed gingerly around the post office, hoping the postal hotline would not ring with orders from the top command to eliminate the foul perpetrator of the crime (himself).  Ahhh!  But while being interrogated for the umpteenth time about HOW such a thing could happen to a postal truck, the light bulb suddenly went on, and he remembered a very important piece of evidence: the dump truck driver had been wearing hearing aids!  This undoubtedly meant that there was a reason that the driver did not stop backing up when the mail truck’s horn went “BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!”  He did not hear it!  Perhaps he had forgotten to replace the batteries in his hearing aids, did not hear the BEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!  and this was why he destroyed the poor little mail vehicle.

The result of this important bit of data was that the Postal Service went after the construction company to pay for the replacement of the mail truck, the price of stamps therefore did not go up, the Postmaster General stopped treating his stress with TUMS and resisted the temptation to go postal, and …

Our handsome, courageous, completely competent, and perfectly vindicated young mailman hero and his very lovely wife lived happily ever after.

Man’s Best Friend Is Not 

Dogs have always been attracted to my mailman husband, but not in a “man’s best friend” kind of way.  It’s been more along the lines of them thinking he was a giant chew toy, waiting to be pulled apart.  There is a reason that the top-selling bumper sticker among letter carriers is one that announces, “I hate your dog!”

Anyone who has delivered mail for any length of time accumulates mutt stories, and Paul is no exception. There was the beast that took Paul’s daily appearance on the scene as his cue to tone his muscles by doing body slams against the picture window.  The day came when it shattered.  Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.  How melodic falling glass shards sound!  Fortunately for Paul, the window was double-paned, and Pooch must have decided that was enough exercise for one day.

Then there was the pit bull that was tied to the front porch pillar — and ripped the pillar off the porch in his frenzy to devour the mailman.  He made his dash for the kill, but Paul, not having time to grab his mace can, called out, “Help me, Jesus!” and the dog swerved past him and kept running.

Just like with people, some dogs are sneaky types.  Paul experienced one that seemed to be the model of comportment while his owner was standing nearby, but the moment the man’s back was turned, the dog took a quick look to make sure he would not be discovered, and then wrapped his teeth around Paul’s kneecap.

Letter carriers keep mace handy for the emergency cases, but putting their mailbag between themselves and the aggressive dog is usually the first line of defense.  Mace is generally a last resort, since dogs who have been treated to mace are not forgiving.  If they merely wanted a little snack of flesh to entertain themselves with before, once maced, their intent is murder and a full course meal.  Most people probably don’t know, but before mace was invented, mailmen packed guns to dispatch any troublesome canines.  Bizarre, but true.

Dog owners are mighty defensive about their darlings, and generally have the notion that Fido wouldn’t harm a flea.  Maybe Fido leaves his fleas alone, but the mailman is another story.  Paul has had the beasties growling and lunging, their lips curled back over their teeth, while the owners stood by doing nothing, except to assure him from a distance that their baby wouldn’t hurt anybody, and is just playing.

On one occasion, when Paul resorted to his can of mace, the dog’s owner suddenly appeared from out of the bushes, and snarled at him that if he ever did that again, she would bite him herself.  Paul’s eyes got wide, but he wisely refrained from saying anything, and just kept movin’ on down the street.

Paul has never had hand-to-hand combat (or shall we say, mouth-to-mouth combat?) with any critter, but one of the other carriers did.  The dog bit him — and he bit back.  It must have been one of those moments when survival instincts rise to the surface and dignity takes a leap off the cliff.  I wonder what dog ear tastes like?

As retirement drew near, Paul began to fantasize about farewell messages he would like to leave for several of his favorite pooches.  He talked about how much fun it would be to finally get back at all the mutts who had tried to nibble his fingers through those mail slots that are on the doors of some homes.  He could just squirt a little mace through the slot and go on his merry way, whistling Dixie, a satisified smirk plastered on his lips — but it wouldn’t have been fair to the letter carrier destined to succeed him.

Fortunately, although there were a few small bites through the years, Paul never had any dog chomp down badly enough to break the skin.  I attribute this to my daily prayers for him that God would protect him from accidents, bad dogs, and terrorists — but terrorists are another story for another day.

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