The Mailbox

by Charles Wagner

Eddie rolled over and pulled the blanket up around his neck preparing for another two hours of sleep before he had to get up. It was not to be. Before he had closed his eyes again, the shrill piercing sound of the alarm rang in his ears. "Damn, I hate when that happens", thought Eddie as he squinted at the red numbers on the clock: 4:45 a.m.

It was cold in his room, and he could hear the wind howling through the trees. It was light enough to see where he was, but he knew that in December, the sun didn't rise until after seven. He walked over to the window and looked out. To his surprise, there was a blanket of fresh snow on the ground and the sky was clear. A full moon was setting in the west and it made it appear almost like daytime. Really beautiful, he thought. What he wanted to do more than anything else, was to crawl into bed and go back to sleep the restful, peaceful sleep of the gods. "But", he thought to himself, "the mail must go through".

Eddie Haggerty was not the best mailman in the whole world, but he was not the worst. It was a mystery to him why his supervisor Hank was always on his case. So he came in a little late sometimes. He didn't have to be on the street until 8:00 a.m. and if he was late, he just had to sort his mail faster to get it done in time to give it to the relay drivers, who carried it out by truck and deposited it in the green relay boxes on each corner. The other carriers would punch in at 6:00 a.m. and then sit in the swing room for an hour drinking coffee before starting their mail. Why couldn't he be home in bed sleeping?

His big decision this morning was whether or not to wear his thermal long johns. Often in the morning it was cold, but by the afternoon, it warmed up and his body would sweat as he walked up and down the streets. He could take off his sweater and stuff it in a mailbox until it was time to go home, but the underwear, now that was another problem. Once he put it on, he was committed for the day. In one of those fateful decisions that seem so minor at first, but cascade into a life-altering event, he decided against the thermals.

Eddie arrived at the Post Office at 6:20 a.m. Hank was at his usual spot behind the desk with the American flag on one side and a picture of President Nixon hanging behind him. After all, this was a federal office and if nothing else, they followed political protocol. Eddie very rarely saw the actual Postmaster, or as he was called by everyone, the PM. In fact very few people ever actually saw the PM, since he was a political appointee and did not involve himself in the day to day running of the office. In fact, he was the town drunk.

Sometimes, after a hard day of drinking and politicking, he would come storming onto the mail floor, yelling and screaming about how we were making him look bad, how the mail had to move faster and how we were a bunch of lazy good for nothing screw-ups. Of course, that certainly motivated us to work all that harder. Everyone loved Mr. Lenhart, I'm told. Of course, our only consolation was that if the Democrats took over the White House, he would be out in the cold on his ass and another moron would take his place.

"Reader's Digest today Eddie, let's get cracking."

Reader's Digest? God damn! Everyone hated the Reader's Digest. Almost everyone got one, and on the day they came in, you could be sure that it would be a long, hard day.

"Can't we hold them until tomorrow, Boss"?

Hank hated to be called Boss and he glared at him. "Even better news, Eddie. I got three bang-ins today and you got one hour overtime. Pick up Spruce and Elm from Route 11 and make sure everything is delivered by 4:00 p.m." Now Eddie knew he was screwed. Hank could have waited on the Digest and he could've given the two extra streets to a part-timer. He was just pissed at him in general and coming in at 6:20 could have been part of the problem. Of course, calling him Boss didn't help the situation. Black guys like Hank seem to have a special problem with that.

Eddie recalled the first time that he had ever delivered mail on Spruce and Elm. He was a new carrier and his uniforms hadn't arrived yet. He was given a small U.S. Mail badge to wear on his jacket and a set of keys for the relay boxes. Now as luck would have it, the house numbers on Spruce are the same as the house numbers on Elm. Eddie delivered the entire package of Spruce Street mail, walked to the corner and began to deliver the second package of mail to the houses on...Spruce? He puzzled for a moment, and then realized that he had delivered all of the Spruce Street mail to the houses on Elm Street!

He called the office and asked Hank what he should do.

"Go back and get it, of course, and deliver it where it belongs."

"How should I get it back?" Eddie asked.

"Go back and take the mail out of each mailbox on Elm and redeliver it on Spruce, you imbecile", raged Hank.

He almost said "OK, Boss", but thought better of it.

"But what if the people already took the mail out of the box?" asked Eddie.

"Then knock on the door and ask them to give it back"

"But how will I know if they took the mail out, or they just didn't get any?" asked Eddie. He was beginning to sense that smoke was starting to come out of Hank's ears.

"Never mind, I'll figure it out." He started back down Elm Street and stopped at each house, recovering the mail that was there and placing it in a neat pile. He had gotten to the fourth house when he saw a blue and orange county police car cruising up behind him. He thought nothing of this until the officer stopped the car and jumped out with his gun drawn.

"Stand still and don't move!" he shouted. "Put your hands over your head!" What the hell is this, thought Eddie. Then he realized what had happened. While HE knew that he was a mailman on official business, no one else observing him would have come to that same conclusion. They thought he was stealing the mail from the houses and called the police.

The cop was not convinced that any federal employee could have been so stupid (I guess he didn't know very many federal employees!) and insisted on taking him to the Post Office for verification of his official status. Although Eddie thought that the whole thing was pretty funny, Hank was not the least bit amused. Their relationship seemed to go downhill from that point.

Eddie really liked working for the Post Office. His status as a postal employee provided him with a certain amount of authority. He could park wherever he wanted when he was on duty and not even the police commissioner himself could stop him. He sometimes stopped right in the middle of a busy street and placed his "U.S. Mail Official Business" sign on his window. They used to say at the P.O. that if a police car, a fire truck or a mail truck came to the same intersection, that the mail truck would have the right of way. Eddie wanted to try that sometime, but the situation never arose.

He was also allowed to carry a container of MACE, which he wore proudly on his belt. MACE was illegal, except for mailmen to help them deal with angry dogs. Eddie had used it a few times and was amazed at the results. The dogs just went all crazy and rolled around on the ground. Once, although he didn't want to admit it, he did it to a particularly obnoxious little dog just for fun.

There was this one particular house where there was a big, angry dog that always struck fear in his heart. The dog was kept indoors, and there was one of those brass mail slots in the door for the mail to go through. Eddie would rattle the mail slot and when the dog came running and snarling up to the other side of the door, he would tease him with the letters, which the dog would promptly chew into little bits. Sometimes he fed the letters in one at a time, to be sure they were all properly "processed" before they hit the floor.

One day, he came to the door, and began to rattle the mail slot to get the dog's attention. No response. He rattled again. Still no response. Now he got down on his hands and knees and peered through the slot. No dog. He wondered what had happened. As he was preparing to get up, he heard a noise behind him on the porch. "Grrrr...owl!!" Ambush!!

One of the legends that persisted around the swing room was that one of the perks of the job was meeting beautiful, lonely, sexually frustrated women who came to the door naked to get their mail or called out to please bring it to them in the bathtub, or the bedroom. It never happened to Eddie, not even once. Not even close. The closest he got to being invited in was when old widow Johnson asked him to change a bulb in her kitchen light and offered him a cup of tea.

Like most mail carriers in his office, he made a little extra money on government time by doing handyman jobs for his customers, or mowing their lawns. After all, he had 6 and a half hours on the street and he could have probably delivered all of the mail in less than two hours. There was an unwritten rule, however, that the worst thing you could do was come back to the office before 2:30 p.m. The suits would see you doing this and put two extra blocks on your route.

But, it was a cold day in December and there was almost a foot of snow on the ground and Eddie had 435 stops to make today. And 350 of them got the Reader's Digest. But he slogged on as best he could through the snow drifts and the blowing wind. He had one of those little push carts back at the P.O., but it wouldn't have helped him at all today in the snow. There was only one way to do this. He had to carry the mail in his leather and canvas mailbag.

As he was walking down the streets, he thought about the pony express and the problems that they had to endure, like getting killed by Indians or having their horse drop dead in the middle of the desert. Most people didn't know that the Pony Express was rather short lived, and was never profitable and folded soon after it was started. His mind wandered to the mail planes that flew through storms and darkness on the first airmail routes across America. He thought about what dummies people were who actually bought air mail stamps and thought they were going to get better service. All the mail flew nowadays. Oh, there were still a few R.P.O and H.P.O routes in service, but 99% of all surface mail went by air. Same with Special Delivery. What a joke. Or Special Handling. Right. "Here Bob, this letter is posted for Special Handling. Now you carry it right down to where its going and deliver it personally." Yeah right.

Eddie got to the corner of Roosevelt and Park Avenue and he opened the relay box and threw in the empty canvas mail sack. He now regretted not wearing his thermals and besides, his feet were cold and wet. His legs were cramped from walking through the heavy snow and his arms were sore from carrying those damn magazines. He just wanted to go home, but he still had to go over and pick up the two streets from route 11. He looked at his watch; it was just after 2:00 p.m. He thought about going to the diner a few blocks away, but that would mean more walking and he was dead tired.

The relay box was empty and there was just a shelf which also served as the bottom of the box. It was about a foot off the ground and he figured that he might be able to sit down on it for a few minutes. It worked perfectly. In fact, there was more than enough room. He sat there for a while, smoking a cigarette and resting. The cold stung at his toes and made him shiver. He slid his body back against the back of the box and started to doze.

He began to realize that his main problem was his feet. They were planted in the snow and that was making him uncomfortable. He lifted one foot up and put his heel on the shelf. "Hmmm," he thought, "not too bad." He pulled the other foot up in the same manner and moved his butt further back into the box. Delightful! Outside, the wind began to howl as the sun was starting to go down in the west. Snug as a bug in a rug, he thought.

Just then, a large gust of wind blew across Roosevelt Street and sealed his fate. It grabbed the door of the box and slammed it shut with a loud bang. Eddie was in complete darkness. It did not immediately dawn on him what had happened. He pushed the door to open it, but it was locked shut. He reached into his pocket for his key, but soon realized that the lock was only accessible from the outside of the box. The engineers had never envisioned a situation in which someone would end up inside the box.

At first, Eddie was calm as he tried to figure out how to open the door. He reached in his pocket to find some matches to light so he could see better. He maneuvered his hand in front of him and managed to light the match. He damn near set his hair on fire and soon decided that this was not going to work. He tried prying at the lock with his pocket knife, but again to no avail. Finally he decided that he would just have to destroy U.S. Government property and break the lock open. He pushed as hard as he could against the door, but the lock would not give.

Now, panic began to set in. He envisioned the headlines on tomorrow's newspaper: "Mailman Found Dead in Mailbox- Foul Play Suspected". Of course. No one would ever have thought that anyone could get into this predicament by accident. He tried to push harder against the door, but he just couldn't get enough leverage in the cramped space. His life began to flash before his eyes. Not much of a life, mind you, but it was his life. And it looked like it might be a little shorter than he had expected.

But adrenaline was beginning to flow. He positioned his feet against the door as best he could and in one huge surge of force, attacked the door with vengeance. He heard the snap of the lock as the door flew open and Eddie plunged out head first into the snow, face down.

At about the same moment, this old guy came around the corner walking his dog. As Eddie looked up, the old guy was just standing there staring at him, frozen with shock. Eddie just smiled weakly and began to get up. The old guy then sprang into action, bent down and picked up the dog in his arms and began running down the street. "I wonder what his problem is", thought Eddie, totally relieved at having been spared the irony of succumbing in a green coffin on the corner of Roosevelt and Park.

Eddie closed the door as best he could, wondering to himself whether he should tell Hank what had happened. All things taken into consideration, it was probably best to pretend it never happened and let the Postal Inspectors chalk it up to teenage vandalism. Eddie finished the two extra blocks and began to walk back to the Post Office. He walked rather slowly, since it was only 3:20 p.m. and he was going to get the hour overtime. He certainly had earned it.

When he got back to the office just before 4:00 p.m. Hank was still sitting behind his desk, but upon seeing Eddie, he rose and walked out from behind the desk.

"Haggerty, come over here a minute".

"What's up Boss?", said Eddie.

"Were you out around Roosevelt and Park this afternoon?"

Eddie thought that someone had discovered the broken lock and reported it. His mind raced to decide what to say.

"Yeah, I was out there today", said Eddie.

"Did you notice anything strange going on?" Hank inquired.

"No Boss, not a thing. Normal business."

"Well this world is just going crazy. It must be all of those loonies that they're letting out nowadays"

Eddie just stared at him.

"You'll never believe what happened about an hour ago. Some old guy called on the phone and said that he was walking his dog down the street and the door of a mailbox flew open and a guy came flying out onto the street. You sure you didn't see anything strange?"

"Not at all Boss, just a regular day."

Hank shook his head incredulously. "Just when you thought you heard it all..."