Thursday, October 12, 2006

Harry Potter and the Wage Slaves.

James Robert Smith

Well, it was a first for the Postal Service, as far as I knew. Granted, I’ve been with them less than ten years, but a standup talk concerning the legalities of delivering a newly released children’s book had to be unique.

There we were, called away from our cases where we’d all been busy getting the mail ready for delivery. These talks are almost a daily occurrence, yes, but they generally involve safety issues or changes in protocol. This time, however, the talk was about HARRY POTTER.

And the “something or other”.

The USPS had an exclusive contract to deliver some unknown hundreds of thousands of copies of this book. They were to be delivered on Saturday. The station manager reinforced this fact a number of times. “Saturday only,” he repeated. If we were to find any copy of the book in our parcel bins before said Saturday, we were to turn them in to our supervisor where they would then be locked in the manager’s office until the proper date.

Anyone caught delivering a HARRY POTTER (“and the something or other”) before the aforementioned Saturday would be fired.

That’s fired. Not spoken to. Not written up. Not disciplined.


I returned to my case after the talk, sweating the possibility that one of the hideous novels might be in my parcel bin early and that I’d deliver it by accident to some horrid kid who would rat me out. It could happen, I supposed. How would I know if I had one? Aren’t they delivered in plain brown wrappers, I thought? I asked my shop steward about that.

“No,” he told me. “They have HARRY POTTER written on the package.”

“You’ve seen them?” I asked.

“No. But I’ve been told.”

Great. Something else to worry over. I began to think of them as something more like THE NECRONOMICON than a children’s book. Maybe one would worm its way into my mailbag and wreak havoc. When, an hour later, I was ready to hit the streets, I pawed through every package very carefully. Maybe my skin would crawl when I touched one. There were a number of brown boxes in there from Amazon and B&N. None of them had ‘HARRY POTTER’ printed on them. Cool. I was safe.

But the USPS is notorious for blaming employees for events far beyond the control of those employees. I’d been dressed down for not delivering mail that arrived in the office long after I’d left for the street. As if I could do anything about it. Cold sweats again, so I pushed it out of my mind.

Saturday, the books arrived. I had a dozen of the little bastards. HARRY POTTER & THE SOMETHING-OR-OTHER. My shop steward was right: it was printed on the outside of the packages. I got the mail ready and hit the streets. I placed the novels in mailboxes, put them on porches, leaned them against doorjambs and rang the bells.

I handed one over to a mom who happened to be waiting at the door. She called to her daughter. “Your Harry Potter book is here,” she yelled. A blond-headed ten-year-old appeared from within the air-conditioned depths of the house. “Oh my God,” the little girl yelled. “It’s here!”


My job was safe for another day. But, last week, word in the office was that more than one letter carrier had been fired for delivering that damned book a day early. Anecdotal material, unverified by either management or union, but there it was.

All I cared was that I was home free. Harry Potter be damned.

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