I was hungover again, another heat spell was on--a week of 100 degree days. The drinking went on each night, and in the early mornings and days there was The Stone and the impossibility of everything.
Some of the boys wore African sun helmets and shades, but me, I was about the same, rain or shine--ragged clothing, and the shoes so old that the nails were always driving into my feet. I put pieces of cardboard in the shoes. But it only helped temporarily--soon the nails would be eating into my heels again.
The whiskey and beer ran out of me, fountained from the armpits, and I drove along with this load on my back like a cross, pulling out magazines, delivering thousands of letters, staggering, welded to the side of the sun.
Some woman screamed at me:
"MAILMAN! MAILMAN! THIS DOESN'T GO HERE!"
I looked. She was a block back down the hill and I was already behind schedule.
"Look, lady, put the letter outside your mailbox! We'll pick it up tomorrow!"
"NO! NO! I WANT YOU TO TAKE IT NOW!"
She waved the thing around in the sky.
"COME GET IT! IT DOESN'T BELONG HERE!"
Oh my god.
I dropped the sack. Then I took my cap and threw it on the grass. It rolled out into the street. I left it and walked down toward the woman. One half block.
I walked down and snatched the thing from her hand, turned, walked back.
It was an advertisement! Third-class mail. Something about a half off clothing sale.
I picked my cap up out of the street, put it on my head. Put the sack back onto the left side of my spine, started out again. 100 degrees.
I walked past one house and a woman ran out after me. "Mailman! Mailman! Don't you have a letter for me ?" "Lady, if I didn't put one in your box, that means you don't have any mail."
"But I know you have a letter for me!"
"What makes you say that?"
"Because my sister phoned and said she was going to write me."
"Lady, I don't have a letter for you."
"I know you have! I know you have! I know it's there!"
She started to reach for a handful of letters.
"DON'T TOUCH THE UNITED STATES MAILS, LADY! THERE'S NOTHING FOR YOU TODAY!"
I turned and walked off.
"I KNOW YOU HAVE MY LETTER!"
Another woman stood on her porch.
"You're late today."
"Where's the regular man today?"
"He's dying of cancer."
"Dying of cancer? Harold is dying of cancer?"
"That's right," I said.
I handed her mail to her.
"BILLS! BILLS! BILLS!" she screamed. "IS THAT ALL YOU CAN BRING ME? THESE BILLS?"
"Yes, mam, that's all I can bring you."
I turned and walked on.
It wasn't my fault that they used telephones and gas and light and bought all their things on credit. Yet when I brought them their bills they screamed at me--as if I had asked them to have a phone installed, or a $350 t.v. set sent over with no money down.
The next stop was a small two storey dwelling, fairly new, with ten or twelve units. The lock box was in the front, under a porch roof. At last, a bit of shade. I put the key in the box and opened it.
"HELLO UNCLE SAM! HOW ARE YOU TODAY?"
He was loud. I hadn't expected that man's voice behind me. He had screamed at me, and being hungover I was nervous. I jumped in shock. It was too much. I took the key out of the box and turned. All I could see was a screen door. Somebody was back in there. Air-conditioned and invisible.
"God damn you!" I said, "don't call me Uncle Sam! I'm not Uncle Sam!"
"Oh you're one of those wise guys, eh? For 2 cents I'd come out and whip your ass!"
I took my pouch and slammed it to the ground. Magazines and letters flew everywhere. I would have to reroute the whole swing. I took off my cap, and smashed it to the cement.
"COME OUT OF THERE, YOU SON OF A BITCH! OH, GOD O MIGHTY, I BEG YOU! COME OUT OF THERE! COME OUT, COME OUT OF THERE!"
I was ready to murder him.
Nobody came out. There wasn't a sound. I looked at the screen door. Nothing. It was as if the apartment were empty. For a moment I thought of going on in. Then I turned, got down on my knees and began rerouting the letters and magazines. It's a job without a case. Twenty minutes later I had the mail up. I stuck some letters in the lock box, dropped the magazines on the porch, locked the box, turned, looked at the screen door again. Still not a sound.
I finished the route, walking along, thinking, well, he'll phone and tell Jonstone that I threatened him. When I get in I better be ready for the worst.
I swung the door open and there was The Stone at his desk, reading something.
I stood there, looking down at him, waiting.
The Stone glanced up at me, then down at what he was reading.
I kept standing there, waiting.
The Stone kept reading.
"Well," I finally said, "what about it?"
"What about what?" The Stone looked up.
"ABOUT THE PHONE CALL! TELL ME ALL ABOUT THE PHONE CALL! DON'T JUST SIT THERE!"
"What phone call?"
"You didn't get a phone call about me?"
"A phone call? What happened? What have you been doing out there? What did you do?"
I walked over and checked my stuff in.
The guy hadn't phoned in. No grace on his part. He probably thought I would come back if he phoned in. I walked past The Stone on my way back to the case.
"What did you do out there, Chinaski?"
My act so confused The Stone that he forgot to tell me I was 30 minutes late or write me up for it.
About the book:
This classic novel- the one that catapulted its author to national fame- revolves around the hysterically pitiful world of Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chinaski, who takes up a job at the U.S Postal Service.
Bukowski's easy and inimitable style makes the reader swoon with delight at every line.
Excerpt from First Love
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Excerpt from The Sandman
- E. T. A. Hoffmann