Sunday, October 15, 2006


James Robert Smith

When I first became a letter carrier, I never knew where I'd be delivering mail. That's the curse and the blessing of being a new Part Time Flexible employee of the USPS. The Part Time label is misleading. There's no "part time" about it. I’d do fifty plus hours a week. But the flexible: ah, there was the rub. Until I walked through the door in the morning and went to the desk of my supervisor, I didn't know precisely where I’d deliver the mail. It might’ve been to a neighborhood where the houses all cost over half a million bucks apiece and the streets are fifty feet wide and lined with hundred-year-old oaks. Or it could’ve been a public housing war zone with not a tree in sight and stray dogs roaming about looking for a mailman to bite, and crackheads trying to figure out a way to fool me into thinking they live in a unit where I'm about to deliver a welfare check they can steal. I never knew.

One day I had the best of both worlds. I delivered to a war zone, and I dropped mail among the jillionaires.

In the low income area I tromped about in the sun, the temperature as usual was well into the nineties and approaching one hundred. Sweat poured off of my head and into my eyes and soaked my clothes from shoulder to ankle. But I didn't mind. I only had to think of merely one of the minimum wage jobs I’d had before the Postal Service rescued me and I was resuscitated. So I moved along, went from house to house and watched for mean doggies in this strange place.
Along one of the streets I happened upon a yard in which a rather large Rotweiler strained against chain and collar to get at my flesh. I gave the big doggie perhaps a wider berth than was necessary. And there came a young voice from behind me. "Hey," it said. I turned my head as I continued to pound the steaming pavement and noticed a group of kids following me. About seven or eight kids, one of them a white boy who glided silently along with the others on his bike.

"Hey," I returned.

"Are you scared of that dog?" The speaker was the kid in front, bigger than the rest of them and I figured he was their leader.

"Heck, yes, I'm scared of that dog."

There was a moment of silence from the kid. None of the others said anything. I got the distinct impression that they'd never heard a grown man admit that he was afraid of something. Finally, he spoke up as I approached my next stop.

"I'm scared of him, too," the kid said.

"I'm scared of all dogs," I told them. "They can all bite."

The kid considered that for a second as I put the mail in the box on the front porch of the house and turned toward the next one. "You're scared of all dogs," he asked.

"Yep." I moved efficiently along and the kids followed me, silently.

"Are you scared of cats?"

I smiled. "Nope. Cats don't weigh one hundred pounds and bite your ass," I told him. He laughed.

"Well, goodbye," the kid said. And he and his partners peeled quietly away and vanished down a side street. I walked on.

At the next house in this "bad" neighborhood, as I walked up to the front porch, I noticed that the stairs and the porch itself were covered in kittens. Yes, kittens. Little, furry, delightful kittens. They all turned my way and mewed oh so faintly and made me want to take them home with me. As I stooped to pat a particularly friendly little tabby on its tiny head, the front door opened and out came a young black man.

He smiled at me, said "hi" and I returned the greeting and handed him his mail. He was dressed in a uniform and obviously works for a big landscaping company here in town. I asked him about the kittens. "What are you going to do with all of these kittens," I said. "Are you giving them away," I added before he can answer.

"Yeah," he told me. "You're welcome to one. Me and my wife are buying a house. Moving to a much better neighborhood," he added. "She feeds these cats and they take up here and start having kittens, and I don't want them at the new house so we're giving them all away."

"Wow. Did one cat have all these kittens? They all look the same age." I indicated the dozen or so baby cats lying about.

"No. Two cats." He pointed to a calico. "That one had all the colorful ones." And he showed me a yellow cat lying under a chair. "And she had all the dark ones. About a day apart."

"Well, I can't take one right now. I just started the day and a kitten would die in my jeep on a day like this. But can I come back some time and get one?"

"Yeah. Sure. Just come by after work and you can have one. We're moving soon. To a nice neighborhood," he reminded me.

I waved at him and said goodbye, left. As he drove off I mentally kicked my own ass for not introducing myself.

And this dumb little poem comes to me.

Kittens here and kittens there.
Kittens, kittens everywhere.
Kittens on the porch
and kittens on the lawn.
Kitten siblings and kittens' mom.
Now I don't know if this is bad,
but there was no sign of kittens' dad.

We all have our ways of staying sane. So, there. There was my day. Another typical day in the life of this mailman.

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