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.

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.

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