James Robert Smith
According to Robert Graves, that nastiest of curses (you know, the one that begins with “f”) is derived from the Celtic word fachen, which means, literally, to seize.
I had been holding down the route of another carrier who was out on maternity leave. She was going to be gone for a couple of months, so I was getting spoiled doing her route. It was a nice one in a safe, secure neighborhood with lots of trees and wide lawns. A pleasure to walk.
One particular elderly couple had taken to talking to me every day. Eventually, they began to expect me to take a seat on their porch if the weather was really hot and humid and they’d offer me a glass of tea or a soft drink so I could cool off for a few minutes and talk with them. They liked square dancing and, it ended up, had met my in-laws who were also into that.
I enjoyed the brief respites from the labor of lugging the mail across that section of the route. On the occasions when they weren’t at home, they would leave me a canned soft drink in the mailbox and it would always be frosty since it would be in one of those can insulators. I’d take the drink and the packet of crackers that would also be left for me. It was all rather pleasant.
The only drawback to this section of the route was a particularly nasty Dalmatian that lived across the street from the old couple. I’d have to pass the dog each day and it would roar and bear its fangs at me and I always thought blessed be the fence-builders, for my ass is safe. But I knew that if that dog ever got out, I’d be in big trouble. Some dogs, you just know are going to tear you apart if they get the chance. This was one of those.
A day came; you get into a groove after a while and it’s all very comfortable doing a route. You cross this street, you walk through this yard, you detour around this flowerbed, and you walk up this set of steps. The day was nice, not too hot, and partly cloudy, I was happy and oblivious and across the street from the old couple’s house. I walked past the fence where the Dalmatian usually waited to snarl, growl, and slobber at me. But he wasn’t there and I figured he was in the house.
I was wrong.
The dog came roaring at me as I approached the front steps. He was out in the yard and I didn’t see him until he was bearing down on me full speed. The dog’s owner was standing about twenty feet away, watching, talking on a cell phone. I froze. The owner continued to stand and talk. The dog ran toward me and all I could see were teeth.
Just about the only thing you can do in a situation like this is to get your mailbag between your flesh and the dog’s jaws. At the last possible instant, I was able to do this. I dropped the mail I was carrying and put my satchel as a barrier between my flesh and the dog’s muzzle. The dog bit the mailbag instead of me, tore at it, and actually tugged me from side to side (and I’m not a small man).
I looked up. The owner was still talking on the phone, casually, as if nothing was going on.
The dog let go of the bag and lunged at my legs. And once more I got the bag down low enough so that he got a mouthful of canvas instead of my calves. I screamed for some help from the dog’s owner who continued to chat on the cell phone. There was another lunge, and the Dalmatian got canvas again, tearing at it.
Finally, the dog’s owner put the phone in his pocket and walked over, very casually, as if this were no big deal. He grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him away, the hound slobbering and snapping and growling all the while until he was shoved into the house.
The dog’s owner stood at the front door and looked at me, saying nothing. I looked at him.
And at the top of my lungs I burned his ears with my rage. I stood there, surrounded by the mail I’d had to drop to defend myself while he talked on his cell phone. Larry Flynt wouldn’t print what I yelled. The dog owner said nothing and retreated into the house while I picked up the scattered letters and magazines.
Shaken, my head aching, the blood pounding in my ears, I continued my route. It was some time before my heart stopped hammering in my chest. Back at my postal vehicle, I just sat and collected my wits. This happens a lot, but I never get used to it. All you can do is try to put it out of your mind.
The next day, the dog was behind the fence again. No one else was there. I delivered that mail and crossed the street to the old couple’s house. The woman opened the door a crack as I was placing the mail in the box.
“Hello,” she said to me from behind the door. I could just see her in the space she had opened.
“Hi,” I said. “How are you today?”
She ignored the greeting. “Was that you yesterday yelling across the street?”
“Oh. Yes, ma’am. The guy over there let his dog out on me and wouldn’t get it off of me.”
She closed the door without another word.
I never saw either of them again, and that was the end of the soft drinks and packs of crackers waiting for me in their mailbox.
Seize the day.