Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of
night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Six hundred and thirty million pieces of mail per year: Theres
no way to make that number sound small. Maybe thats what made the job seem so
futile. Sure, I was delivering mail, but my humble little mail route made an
embarrassingly small dent in that daunting figure, and I at least like to pretend Im making a
difference. Of course, the numbers werent always that big. When I was hired as an
Official U.S. Mail Carrier prestigious title, I assure you at the age of
26, the United States population had been about 42 million people smaller. That means
math is right, I estimate that I got the job in the summer of
1993. On the same note, Im thinking that I reached a state of total career-related apathy somewhere between 97 and 98. It hadnt been
intentional; theres just so many times a man can recursively drive the
same route over and over again, delivering the same exact mail to people that rarely
change. Suburbia never reached a higher level of excitement. If someones mail
suddenly got more scandalous, then someone elses would slow down.
was another thing I read the mail. Not only read it, but thoroughly molested it. I tore out magazine articles and
attached them to my disgustingly yellow Maytag refrigerator. I filled out the surveys in
Cosmopolitan. Ive read more articles entitled some variation on 100 Ways to
Please Your Man than I care to remember. I always, always used the perfume samples wedged into the
pages of beauty magazines. Then I delivered that mail. If the residents on my route
noticed, theyd never mentioned it. Probably because most of them were a part of
Stans financial plan.
I cant even be sure that Stan has ever
had a legitimate job at any point during our
friendship. He used to say he was a computer security consultant for a few companies
in the city. He didnt make much money. He couldnt pay the rent for his
apartment, and so he needed a roommate That was when I came in. Stan was easy to
live with. He spent nearly all of his time in his office, a walk-in closet
that hed filled with assorted computer equipment and stacks of CDs. He made it
impossible to bring girls
home. Yeah, hed leave you alone, but that closet would be glowing blue from the
computer screens, and you couldnt talk to the girl over the sound of his blaring
Pink Floyd CDs.
Stan sprung the idea of making extra money
off of my job just after Id voiced my decision not to care about it. Like I said,
97, 98, somewhere around there. It was too repetitive. Kids put small animals in the mailboxes and occasionally threw rocks at the truck. Dogs chased me. No, thats not just a
stereotype. It happens, and Ive got the bite marks to prove it. You know those guys
who harbor a secret sense of insecurity towards their own occupation, so they look for
someone else to put down? Yeah, they almost always made irritating jokes about me snapping
and going on a shooting spree Good job, middle management. If I do, your place of
business is the first to go down in a glorious hailstorm of gunfire. Youll
finally make your front-page article. One of my co-workers will deliver it to your house,
and Ill read it from my prison cell. Ill eat bad jail food and watch cable TV.
Your family will eat fast food and watch cable TV. The only difference will be that
theyll have a nicer bed and Ill be more likely to endure prison
molestation. And then theres you, the drone worker of society, now the office
martyr. I dont know who will have it the worst.
Anyhow, I guess Stan sort of took advantage
of my economic angst.
Bob. Pink Floyd was rocking too loudly. I had trouble hearing him.
You dont like being a mailman anymore, right? I could hear the
perpetual clicking of computer keys as his fingers flew over the keyboard. He rarely
stopped typing. When he did, he either leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on
the monitor, or he punched the walls and yelled obscenities at the blue screen.
Ive never seen someone get so worked up over a job before.
No, not really.
Would it be ok if we ripped people off, then?
Yeah, I guess so.
It had really been as simple as that.
The idea behind The Financial Plan was
pretty simple: People bought magazine subscriptions all the time. For instance, on my
route alone, 400 different people were subscribed to Playboy Magazine. It was simple to
find a way not to deliver 10 or 20 of those each time a new issue came out. Stan would
undercut that price, and sell those 10 or 20 to other people. Every month, I was able to
steal a few hundred magazines, and Stan would sell them.
Bragan, Thomas. That was the first
guys name. At least thats what the label on the magazine had said. Stan had
told me, Either come up with a phony reason that the magazines didnt get
through, or just think of a reason not to like the guy, and thatll be
your excuse not to give him his magazine.
I ran with the second option. I didnt
need a fake reason to dislike these people. They annoyed me. Tom Bragan was a middle-aged
man going through a midlife crisis. For the past three weeks, hed met the mail at
the mailbox every day. Before then, hed had a job. His wife still did. I gave him
his mail, and he leafed through it idly. A barely perceptible nervous frown crept across
Its the 8th, and usually on the 8th I have a
magazine that comes in.
Which magazine? I dont remember seeing it.
He paused, trying to put it euphemistically. He looked at me
with one of those come on, youre a man, you can identify glances that
are invariably used to dodge the responsibility of being straightforward, and I shrugged. He
you know, some interesting reading.
You mean your porn, Tom? You want the porn. Lets be clear about it.
Dont go confusing me
if you wanted your full-frontal nudity, all you have to
do is ask for it.
He nodded. I continued.
All you had to do was ask, Tom. What happens if you get another job, by the
way? If your wife gets home before you and checks the mail, shell find it. Your
subscription wont be out for 11 more months. Shes not going to like that
youre cheating on her.
Im not cheating on her. He scratched the back of his neck
Well, not in a literal sense, no. But come on, Tom, we all know whats going on up in there. I pointed to his head. He was balding.
Shes going to be pissed. Shes a nice lady. Did you know she brought me
cookies, once? No joke. Oatmeal raisin. I hate oatmeal raisin, but I thought it was a
nice gesture. Youd better not piss her off. Ill deliver your phone bill late
every month for a year.
Ripping off the mail wasnt hard.
Selling it was evidently easier, since Stan usually did it within a day. There was a
catch, though The profit made off of the magazine sales was pretty insignificant,
but with Stans apparently long list of shady
contacts, using that money to buy various illegal substances wasnt hard. Once a
week, usually on Tuesdays, Stan gave me a list of addresses and an order number, and those
patrons of our fine delivery service would receive their drug of choice with their monthly
bills, letters of rejection, and Victorias Secret catalog.
We werent feeding one addiction. We were feeding a myriad. Our patrons saturated their
brains with cheap talk, flashy ads, and exposed flesh the same way they stained their
collective bloodstreams with intravenous drugs. I was helping, and
as long as they didnt care, I didnt care. I gradually began to despise these
people, who hid within their homes, watching television and hiding from their spouses, or
feeling sick to their stomach when they glanced at their illegitimate children. They
went to work and put in overtime and sexual favors for the financial
independence they could have had long ago, had they not spent money they didnt
have on trendy cars and imported clothing. Candy-coated suburbia was rotting underneath,
and I could never decide whether the drug abuse perpetuated this fact, or was a result of
it. I delivered the mail to these people for three months, and gradually watched their
It surprised me at first, that so many
people could harbor such a huge communal habit. I dont know how Stan supplied it
all, and I never asked. I was afraid he might tell me. The overwhelming majority of our
customers were middle-aged men and women seeking escape from the monotony of
career-dominated life, though almost as many were housewives, pumping amphetamines to get that edge on the work day,
to have the energy necessary to clean the house, pay the bills, pick the kids up from
I wanted them to slow down.
As I said, during my third month delivering
our little bonuses in the mail, things ceased to run so smoothly. There was this guy;
aside from his dog, he lived alone. Golden retriever. The guys name was Howard.
Nice enough guy, though the obnoxiously long driveway leading up to his secluded house in
the back of his neighborhood meant I never really saw him, cept once or twice.
Either way, I was nervous about the amount of meth I was leaving in his
mailbox on Mondays. This particular week, he hadnt picked it up yet. It was a
For the next several days, I continued to
stuff mail into his increasingly cramped mailbox. The following Thursday, I had another
drug order to drop off, and the previous one was still there, crammed into the back of the
mailbox. I pulled my truck over, stepping out of the passenger side and making my way up
his driveway. His
dog didnt attack me. In fact, I didnt see it. The grass was growing over the
edges of his driveway, and peeking through the cracks in the concrete. A small pile of
newspapers had collected in the front of his recently overgrown lawn. His car, however
a rusted out El Camino was still in the driveway.
It was finding the dog that set the tone.
Pissed off. You dont leave a dog chained to its doghouse without food for that long.
When I say that long, I dont know how long it was, but the dog looked
pretty damned emaciated, and was just sort of lying on its side. Not dead or anything,
but not exactly having a good day. You dont do that to animals. Theyre
I just assumed he was lazy. I walked around
to his front door, and rang the doorbell. I waited. Waited some more. Rang. Waited. I
cursed under my breath, and went around to the back door, stopping briefly on the way to
fill up his dogs food bowl and leave it next to the dog, not sure if the animal had
enough strength to drag itself to it. The back door was open. The stench of stale air
and marijuana smoke hit me as I slid the door open. Walking through the door was
stepping into a scene from a movie, cold and unfeeling, and me the actor on the wrong set
the only thing that I couldnt rationalize as a prop was Howard, lying face up
on the living room floor.
Id always heard that death has a
certain atmosphere, a certain stench, a certain pale languidity that supersedes everything
else about the personality of a corpse. I got none of that. The atmosphere was that of
semi-comfortable living, the stench a sickening mixture of smoke, drugs, new leather, old leather, microwave meals, and air fresheners. No, deaths
dead giveaway was the eyes. I recognized them. Howards gaze was the same one I met
at the mailbox every Tuesday, the glazed-over yet strangely malignant stare from the
languid replicas of life I called customers. It wasnt the morbid reality of
Howards unfortunate demise that struck me. It was the fact that I was making a
living by assisting a few hundred more Howards in their own slow
suicides once a week, one delivery at a time. I might as well have fallen head first into
the postal stereotype.
I guess it simply hadnt occurred to me
that in leeching off of human characteristics that I saw as evidently self-destructive, I
wasnt helping anything. Or, well, thats not true I knew I was
perpetuating it. I just didnt care, because it had never occurred to me that I might
be able to change it. And even as I helped Howards dog struggle to climb up into the
passengers seat of my mail truck, I hadnt really gotten that. All I was sure
of was had I not given Howard the drugs to overdose on, he
wouldnt have died. At least not then, and not there, and not with me connected.
I didnt make the rest of my
deliveries. Instead of going to lunch, I went to the veterinarians
office, where I received a good verbal grilling before theyd help the dog. They
wanted to know if Id neglected to feed it. I told them I hadnt.
They wanted to know if Id beaten
it. I informed them that the it they were continually referring to was
very clearly a he, if theyd care to take a look, and that as
veterinarians they ought to worry less about who to blame for animal cruelty and more
about fixing a broken dog. I was home before the end of my lunch break. Stan
wasnt. Temporarily hijacking his computer, I set to work on what I hoped would
absolve me of the sins of the past three months. Im sure it sounds as futile to you
as it did to me.
The keyboard felt foreign, the chair
strangely uncomfortable. Somehow, I felt it was appropriate that the object that was so
instrumental to Stans success in his part of the scam Really, the most
important part would now be used to bring the whole thing down. If possible. My
only real goal was subversion, just like before, but different this time.
I had the drugs again, and no desire to
deliver them. I didnt have any intentions of delivering another Howard into the
recesses of a grave. I considered going to the police with it perhaps theyd
offer reward money but the thought made me nervous. Id been worried about
police involvement from the beginning. After all, it only took one person
cracking and calling the cops to bring down everyone involved in the Financial Plan. Stan
assured me that the people I was delivering to were all addicts, and that they needed
their fix much more than they needed a clear conscience. I didnt know what do with
any of it, so I just let it pile up in the back of the truck, behind the mail. Under
normal circumstances, the truck would be returned to the post office at the end of the
day, and anything left in the truck would have been discovered. However, due to
renovations and space issues, mail curriers were given the esteemed privilege of keeping
their mail trucks on their own property until everything was cleared up. I wasnt
thinking about what to do with the drugs so much, though.
I had new packages to deliver. They looked
like the old ones, but they werent. They were empty. Almost.
Wednesday. Frustration. The customers wanted
I considered it a bad sign that the
mornings first delivery was interrupted by a graying soccer mom in her early
forties. One Mrs. Angie Blessing,
if my memory serves correctly. Her hands on her hips, she leaned against the side of her
brick mailbox, smoking a cigarette anxiously. Howards dog was in the passenger seat,
newly released from the vets office. Under the glare of her scrutinizing gaze, he
jumped out of the seat, crawling into a lonely space between the towering stacks of mail.
In her hand she clutched a half-crushed cardboard box, which she tossed into the mail
truck. What the hell is this? Her tone was openly accusatory.
I picked up the box, opening it up. It was
empty, aside from a small slip of paper. In bold text, the following words were
pretending that youre happy.
Id put a different message inside each
fake drug package. I felt like it was the personal touches that would make my aggressive
new campaign worthwhile. I felt like running with the ignorance plea, though. I looked at
her and shrugged, tossing it back. She continued.
You dont pull this bullshit with
me, ok? Ive got things to do. She accentuated every sentence with a violent
hand motion, her jitteriness manifesting itself in an arrhythmic foot tap and
spiteful stare. She took another exaggerated drag on her cigarette, before tossing it to
the ground. She stomped it out with the padded bottom of a slipper, then immediately lit
another. I give your friend money, you give me what I need. This is real simple
arrangement. The lines around her face were pronounced beyond her years. I handed
her the note, then accelerated, ignoring the rest of her tirade.
Id left the notes in the mailbox of
every drug user on my route. Each was written individually, though I didnt really
know most of the people on my route, so what resulted was a series of semi-profound
statements that I could only speculate would mean something to them, if they cared to
think about it.
To Billy Hedrick,
a struggling architect and full-time workaholic:
The money wont buy you sleep.
Cunningham, administrative assistant for a large firm by day, highly-paid exotic dancer
Beauty is a false god.
Hundreds of short
notes, all delivered in the same packaging as marijuana, heroin, LSD, ecstasy.
Aside from Mrs. Blessing, nobody else spoke to me about the switching. As usual, they
stayed locked inside their homes. Stan, however, was brooding. Visibly frustrated, he made a daily
habit of smashing things in his office. He yelled obscenities at names
Id never heard before, and occasionally a CD flew out of the door, skimming across
the apartment kitchen and lodging itself into a couch or wall. It took him two days to
work up the resolve to confront me, despite the fact that both he and I were losing
incredible amounts of money. Apparently when it all comes down to the grind, theres
a reason Stan hangs out in a dimly lit closet all day and makes money through scams at
night Hes a pansy, and he wants to partake in actual
human interaction about as much as he wants to partake in a vasectomy.
I was hunched
quietly over our disintegrating wooden table in what the landlord dared call a kitchen,
eating a bowl of Capn Crunch. You want to know what annoyed me to no end the first
week I moved in with Stan? Hed tell me not to hog all the Captain
Crunch. Does the box say Captain on it? No. It says
Capn. I swear, I wanted to hit him every time he ever ate breakfast with
I grabbed a
handful of cereal from the box, tossing it onto the linoleum beside me. Syd
thats what I renamed Howards dog, in mocking honor Stans musical
taste lapped it up off of the floor, then rolled over onto his side, staring blankly
forward, tail wagging gently. Currently, Stans music wasnt too loud, and I
could faintly hear the television in the room next to him. A reporter was droning
endlessly about a major arrest in the process, but was cutting to a commercial break.
A crumpled up ball
of paper hit the table, sliding across the glazed-over plane before rolling against the
side of my bowl. I set down my spoon, momentarily glancing at my rippling reflection
across the surface of the milk, partially blocked by the hard, crunchy little pieces of
whole-grain goodness. I uncrumpled the ball of paper. I remembered this note; it was my
personal favorite, written to Mark Edwards, a member of the school board in a nearby
county known for its ultra-conservatism. From reading his mail, I knew a large part of
what Mr. Edwards did was ban books from the
public school system. When his office deemed a book inappropriate for kids to read, they
were disposed of. My note read as follows:
If book companies start publishing flame-retardant books, will you
burn the kids instead?
explanation I offered Stan was an expressionless glance. He glared back indignantly,
pushing his wire frame glasses up his nose a little. If youre not going to
make the deliveries, I will. Ill get in the mail truck right now, and Ill go
drop off the merchandise. You cant back out halfway
through the month. He picked my keys up from the counter, and put them into his
pocket. I shrugged. I knew he was too lazy to do it himself.
The doorbell rang.
Syd barked wildly, jumping at the front door, leaving a trail of dirty scratch marks
across it. Stan walked to the bedroom and moved towards the window, clandestinely sliding
back the curtains to peer outside. The doorbell rang again, and I slid open the chain
lock, opening the door.
police officer stood on the walkway. The glare from the sunlight reflected off of his
sunglasses, and I squinted, holding up a hand for cover.
I shook my head.
It occurred to me that Id never heard Stans last name before. I saw the
flicker of multi-colored lights outside the doorway, and pushed my head outside a
bit, surveying the scene. Three squad cars had parked themselves perpendicular to our
apartment buildings sidewalk, and policemen stood behind them, crossing their arms
in a sort of pseudo-casual manner, leaving enough room to quickly reach for their weapons if need be. Apparently this was considered a fairly
large-scale drug bust. Rightly so. I noticed all this, and instinctively looked back
towards the bedroom. Stan was gone, and the bedroom window was open, the curtains
fluttering in the breeze.
Just like Stan
short, to the point, no unnecessary interaction. I saw him running across the
parking lot, taking an awkward looking leap and dive through the drivers side window
of the mail truck, and half-climbing, half-falling into the drivers seat.
Officer, Mr. Clairborne isnt in right now. He seems to be escaping in that mail
truck though, if you care to chase him.
Id like to
be able to say we engaged in an A-team-esque car chase that resulted in several million
dollars of collateral damage and casualties numbering at least in the double digits, but
it was nothing so spectacular. In retrospect, I suppose Stan didnt think hed
be noticed so quickly. He still hadnt realized that this was something more, at
least in my mind, than making money off of a conveniently placed system. He
didnt realize that I wouldnt even hesitate to point out to the police that he
The boxy mail
truck lurched forward as Stan threw it into a higher gear, gaining a surprising amount of
acceleration across the parking lot before launching out onto the road. The officer at my
door yelled at the policemen at the cars, and almost immediately behind followed the three
squad cars. Officer Edwards I could see his nametag now slapped a pair of
seemingly unwarranted handcuffs on me, totally unannounced, and hurriedly grabbed hold of
my wrists, pulling me towards the parking lot. Wheres a car we can use?
he asked, sounding much more nervous than I was.
I nodded towards
the Volvo. The keys in my pocket.
To understand the events that would
occur momentarily, one must understand a few things:
My car starts only sporadically. As a result,
I have Stans spare key.
2) Stans car starts perfectly, and is almost invariably parked next
to my truck.
3) A mail truck doesnt go very fast,
and squad cars do.
4) Stans Volvo doesnt go very fast, either. Its not a
mail truck, though.
Volvo is rated number one in safety by Consumer Reports.
Seconds later, the dirty white Volvo
rocketed out of the parking lot, angrily churning out black plumes of smoke. Stan had
taken the liberty of turning off of the main road as quickly as possible, taking a
shortcut to nowhere through a recently pillaged forest. The marks of
burning tire treads on the thick pavement arced gracefully from the main road onto a dirt
road, bordered by woods and the occasional patch of subdivision development work.
Do you spend
a lot of time on this side of town? I asked amicably, rolling up the Volvos
window to avoid choking on the cloud of dust kicked up by the combination of squealing
tires and uneven road.
didnt respond. Instead, he muttered some
really impressive-sounding non-sense into his intercom.
ask, I continued, because Stans heading straight for the quarry.
I paused. He didnt seem to be listening. His eyes were riveted forward, and he
focused intently on picking a line through the treacherous bumps. I decided to make the
connections for him: And the road ends. And theres water. And he doesnt
I was still
watching the officers facial expressions when the car threw itself into an abrupt
slide, fishtailing, the cop clutching the handbrake. Through the haze of
whirling dust, I could see that hed stopped mere inches from hitting the back of one
of the preceding squad cars, which had formed a sort of semi-circle around my mail truck.
The truck was perched precariously on the edge of the quarry, front tires dangling over
The police yelled
at Stan and drew weapons, cocking pistols and aiming them in his general direction. He
backed up, bumping softly into the back of the truck. The boxy mail vehicle groaned on its
axles, leaning forward a bit, and paused momentarily, as if to rub it in when it actually
did fall. And fall it did, plummeting onto the dangerous combination of large rocks and
shallow water below, smashing into the ground and erupting into
flames. It produced an acrid gray smoke; the disgustingly dizzying kind produced only
through the combustion of narcotics.
Stan vs. Me, in
the eyes of police, was an easy call. I told them Stan had done it all, Stan told them the
truth, and in the end, they went with the friendly and upstanding mail carrier over the
unemployed drug dealer and recent fugitive. Since I was a nice guy, they were willing to
believe most of what I told them, and I was awarded a slap on the wrist for negligence
and little else. Stan was awarded the opportunity to watch cable TV from a cramped cell
and spends hours lifting weights with men four times his size.
In the end, my
assault on society hadnt gone unnoticed. Society, in fact, had turned the other
cheek only long enough for me to get my confidence up, at which point intervention had
See, it was the
television that gave us away. News reporters had been enjoying a field day with stories
about a dead guy whose body said drug overdose but whose house had clearly
been broken into, and his dog stolen. Stolen dog. New dog in the apartment next door.
Sketchy anonymous guys in the apartment next door. They did
some math. Crazy. Either way, the amount of drugs delivered was never really divulged;
most of it had burned away.
As for myself, I
took Syd and Stans Volvo, and drove away. I havent missed the job.
Everything will be OK.