Mel Carriere is a recovering postal 204b, a job that still gives nightmares 8 years later. His shrink told him to write about it for therapy
They Didn't Fire Me, I Quit
No they didn't fire me, I quit, I say from across the swing room table, but I can tell by your snarky smirk that you don't want to believe me. Why would anybody leave a cake job like that on purpose and come back to doing this grunt work, hauling mail like a mule.
I'm not particularly interested whether you believe me or not. I've run into the likes of you before and I know your type - you've got your mind made up before you hear the facts. But there are better listeners than you out there and it is to them that I address this story, not so much as a cautionary tale but as a catharsis to purge my own sullied soul. Why I've waited until now to lay down these words I don't know, but it's something I've intended to do for a long time.
Just a brief note about the word quit before I get going. Quit usually means the act of physically abandoning a place, like when the landlord orders you to pay rent or quit, so you load up the truck and shove off to try your luck in the next town. But in this case I didn't shove off immediately, I was classy enough to give them a couple of weeks to fill my spot. Nor did I utter the words I quit to my boss until the following day. This story is about the day I quit in a spiritual sense, the day I ceased caring about being corralled in a stockade of imaginary numbers, the day the black cloud that had followed me around relentlessly finally lifted from my soul.
Can't Grow A Big Enough Pair
The day I quit came after slogging along as a postal 204b for about a year and a half, floating in an anesthetized, unresponsive fog of Sisyphean labors that were akin to trying to bail out the Titanic with a shot glass.
For those of you blessedly uninitiated into the arcane rituals of the postal cult, a 204b is a craft employee who has been temporarily deputized into management service. Sometimes this deputization lasts years - either because a 204b is dumb as a rock and can't pass the supervisor test, or smart like a fox, enjoying the freedom from physical labor and the elements, while cunningly aware it is much harder to fire a craft employee than a supervisor. Best of both worlds - job security and you don't have to sweat to earn your bread.
That is, if there is anything you can call "best" about the 204b job. I actually hated almost everything about it, and had been plotting my exit strategy nearly from day one. Something always held me back. I told myself not to be a quitter - I fancied myself the kind of leader the post office needed, and therefore must suffer for the sake of others. Either that, or a desperate manager would convince me to keep going. Don't let the stupid things I say or do influence your decision, one such chest-thumping ape told me.
I don't want to belabor the details of why I hated the job. I've written on the subject of being a 204b before and may write about the particulars of my case again, but suffice it to say at the time I quit I was working 15 hour days, from 6 am to 9 pm, without getting paid for all of it. My boss during this turning point in my postal career was a squat, bloated, emotionally unstable woman I half-jokingly referred to as The Toad with my wife. The Toad had two female supervisors who would rat on me to her for trivial offenses, such as leaving a stray scrap of paper cluttering the desk. The Toad would then call me into her office and lecture me about messing with her girls.
To be fair, my departure was not entirely because The Toad was stressing me out. Running a post office is a stressful operation, but I think I handled the tension with aplomb when left to do things my own way, being able to pull a rabbit out of my hat when the situation required. The Toad got that, and despite the petty complaints of her girls I believe she was satisfied with the job I was doing. The problem was really the Postal number crunchers sitting in padded cubicles upstairs, far from the grueling reality of the trenches, constantly micromanaging those on the battlefield, demanding they squeeze reality into a set of meaningless numbers, like trying to force a stubborn octopus down the neck of a bottle its tenacious suckers won't let go of. A lot of 204b time is spent tilting at these upper management windmills, mostly so some stuffed shirt can get his undeserved bonus.
Whatever the reasons, legitimate or otherwise, the expectation of having to do the impossible every day was a black cloud that followed me everywhere. I vividly remember sitting in a restaurant on my day off with my two sons during that time. Instead of enjoying the moment, the anxiety of how I was going to achieve the impossible the next day, then get berated about some minor detail I missed, covered me like a funeral shroud. That's a cliche analogy, I know, but it fits.
All right, you who have never done it can accuse me of thin skin, you can tell me to grow a pair, to man up, etc. To which I answer Let ye who have actually sat in that angry chair cast the first stone. Maybe you're right. Maybe I quit too soon. Maybe if I had stuck it out I could have single-handedly changed the hostile work environment of an organization that has 31,000 post offices and 650,000 employees. Maybe the moon is made of green cheese. But maybe I would have just collapsed on the workroom floor in cardiac arrest.
Other people are better equipped emotionally than me to do the job, so I will let them carry the torch into our enterprise's uncertain future. Some postal supervisors endure because they can put their family life and work life into different boxes, then seal them so tightly the contents do not intermingle. Others bitch back so successfully at the alpha dogs that they eventually stop getting barked at. I admire these people, I really do. I wish I was one of them, but I'm not, so I quit.
Postal Power Lunch
A few days prior to the day I quit, I told The Toad I needed a day off to accompany my wife on a medical appointment, because she would not be able to drive. With a wide Bufonidae grin across her puffy cheeks and a sticky, elongated tongue merrily flicking flies from the air - signs her medication must be working that day, she happily agreed. Before I exited the office, she informed me I would be attending a supervisors training session in a couple of days. Great, anything to get me out of this place for a little while, I thought to myself, not realizing that this very training session would be the event to push me over the precipice between contemplating quitting and actually doing it.
Training day rolled around. By chance I encountered a former 204b co-worker of mine, one of the few non-toxic people I had met in the trade, a lovely little lady who had defended me against abusive bosses and once against some parasitic supervisor who tried to take credit for a spreadsheet I created. This girl had my back. She was a diminutive dynamo, a one woman supervising wrecking crew, a female field general who reminded me of a postal Napoleon in the way she swiftly assessed the tactical situation and made things happen. Yet just recently she had informed management she was going back to delivering mail.
Her unexpected decision came about after a cabal of overstuffed gorillas, taking one of their typical two hour management lunches where they joke about how lazy letter carriers are, decided to call and troll her. While they leisurely lunched she was left minding the store, so there she was scurrying around, trying to juggle customer complaints, carrier issues, and catch up on whatever admin work needed to be done. To add to this already impossible laundry list, the postal trolls phoned to send her off on some impossible snipe hunt, scrambling to find some report that probably didn't exist, justifying the inopportune order as a prioritization exercise. When the comedy troupe boys club returned two hours later and twenty pounds heavier, yucking it up when they confessed to their escapade, she flat out told them I quit.
I don't think she really meant to do it. I think she just intended to give them a scare. It worked, however, because later they slid her in to a pretty cushy desk job. At the time of the training I didn't know that, so I told her "I'm going to quit too, for solidarity."
Of course I was joking. I had no intention to quit that day. Little did I know what was coming, just around the corner.
Quit Doing Your Homework
My friend and I took our places to endure whatever passive aggressive abuse and pie in the sky nonsense awaited us next. In this, at least, we were not disappointed. They put us down in front of laptops where, naturally, some of the supervisors in attendance logged in and began taking care of odds and ends that needed to be attended to in their offices. After all, who wants to go home at dark thirty if you can mop up a little now and get a head start.
Then in walked the new sheriff in town, the freshly appointed postmaster of our fair city, who looked down at the kiddies assembled like a stern English nanny. Now I may look old school, but I'm a pretty free thinking guy, so I do not begrudge a woman working in a job that retains its masculine sounding title. Let's face it, the word postmistress sounds like you could be Mama-San in the local happy ending massage parlor, which is why I think the macho "master" label is still hung on men and women alike. Seriously though, I don't mind being bossed around by women, as long as they are reasonable, fair and respectful. In fact, sometimes female bosses are not quite as full of themselves.
But this new Elvira, postmistress of the dark, had power bitch written all over her. She hovered above us with a permanent, surgically implanted scowl on her face. Her glasses amplified her predatory eyes as she scanned the room, looking for a hapless little misbehaving 204b to chew up and consume. To her, mirth was a time wasting practice, and her very presence stifled whatever laughter lingered in the room. We are not amused was her unspoken mantra, and her cold shadow sucked out all happiness inside us, like a Dementor of Azkaban.
Quickly she turned upon those unfortunate supervisors who had made the ill-advised decision to get a leg up on their office work. "Anybody caught doing work for their station will have to come in on their day off to do a makeup session," our soul-sucking Dementor guardian pronounced.
Great, I'm back in kindergarten, I thought. One little nudge toward the edge.
I can't remember exactly what sort of training we kindergartener 204bs were spoon fed that day. Maybe my mind was in other places, or maybe the agenda was so similar to other dull drudgery I'd been force-fed in the past that my brain failed to retain it. A copy of this file already exists. Would you like to save it anyway? - Uh, No.
The attitude in the room was pretty glum, so I guess Postmistress of The Dark decided we needed a little comic relief, to liven things up. To this end, she had a regular standup comic stored in her back pocket, to pull out like a baseball skipper going to the bullpen with no outs and runners in scoring position.
So some other high and mighty muckety-muck took the floor to give us a little pep talk, I guess you could say a good old fashioned helping of postal Chicken Soup for The Soul - as if anyone would ever bother to compile such an insipid anthology. Here was inspirational wisdom we could take back to our stations, to draw upon whenever we felt worthless and abandoned.
I don't recall the name or title of this motivational speaker, who used the front of the training room as a stage, strutting and prancing about like he moonlighted at the Improv, but he was the kind of comic wannabe his friends warn please don't quit your day job. In fairness his performance did illicit some nervous chuckles in the audience, but I couldn't tell if they were borne of real humor, or were of the okay you're funny, now shut up so we can get the eff out of here variety.
Encouraged by the sprinkling of courtesy giggles, the comic moved on to his tour de force. He felt the audience in the palm of his hand and now he was going to reel 'em in. At once he turned to the subject of disciplining letter carriers, that unruly bunch of pampered, overpaid never-do-wells whose constant foot dragging and clever avoidance of work was the sole reason the Postal Service found itself in a financial crisis. He intended to demonstrate to his captive audience how problematic carriers could be punished for their sins while entertaining oneself in the process.
When I think about it eight years later, our comic relief act was definitely aping the late George Carlin's style. I am reminded in particular of one famous Carlin routine about baseball vs. football:
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!
The famous comedian's joke begins in a low, John Facenda NFL films narrative growl, but climbs into a merry emphasis on the word home that is almost a squeal of delight.
All our guest appearance jester did was replace Carlin's baseball-football compare and contrast with a postal-discipline-related monologue.
You'll issue a two-week suspension, which will eventually be shot down by the Union and probably reduced to a letter of warning that will disappear from the letter carrier's record after six months (Low Growl).
But in the meantime, you'll have fun! You'll have fun! (High Squeal)
Listening to these words buzz in my ears like foul, blood-sucking bugs, I was teetering on the brink of the precipice, looking down at the bottom of the cliff hundreds of feet below and thinking I would rather take my chances down there.
Have fun? Okay, I won't lie, every office has one or two letter carriers who milk the job for everything it is worth, making life miserable for management but also putting extra strain on their fellow letter carriers, who are often unwillingly forced to go rescue them. Sometimes the foot dragging of these postal sloths is intentional. They can easily finish the route on time, but they dog it deliberately to stick it to the man, and to hell with any collateral damage to co-workers they cause.
These disagreeable sorts deserve any discipline that it is meted out to them.
But fun? Who the hell said this was fun? Who hath decreed that wasting a perfectly good afternoon spying on somebody, trying to catch them in the act of extending a lunch break or doing their grocery shopping on the company nickel, then coming back and dealing with the required disciplinary paperwork - was fun?
Besides, 90 percent of the carriers they send you out to harass are just honest people chugging along with overburdened routes, doing the best they can. There is nothing fun you can nail them for even if you wanted to, which I don't want to.
If this is their idea of fun - I was thinking, I'm getting the hell off this crazy train right now.
Severing with Psychopaths
We are not amused now applied to me, but I politely squirmed through the rest of the afternoon, feeling like the time in the first grade when my bladder was about to burst but my teacher told me no, you cannot go to the bathroom yet - wait. At that age I had not learned the word bitch yet so I had no appropriate words to respond. Therefore, I endured as stoically as a six year old possibly can, until finally surrendering to nature with a yellow puddle on the classroom floor. Told you, you old bat.
Luckily, there in postal elementary school I did not wet the proverbial pants, but contained the ire in my ballooning spiritual bladder until the end of the session.
I bid farewell to my friend, then made my way hastily across the parking lot toward my car, wanting to flee the crime scene as soon as possible. On the way, it occurred to me that I better remind The Toad about my wife's appointment the following day. I picked up my phone, dialed, and connected as I walked.
The Toad started off all syrupy sweetness as she picked up, but her tone instantly degenerated into complete, raging psychosis once I told her I wouldn't be coming in the next day. That is, once I reminded her about not coming in the next day, something she had eagerly agreed to a few days earlier. She literally screamed at me in a language I think was English, but in retrospect I cannot remember any of her individual words. I recall only the unmistakable tone of her message, which left little room for misinterpretation. It was like I was watching the movie Attack of The Killer Toads from Planet Schizoid, without subtitles.
The only reason I can think of for The Toad's nuclear meltdown was that I must have inconvenienced one of her precious girls. Her cup running over with proprietary sugar coated affection, she must have granted one of dem bitches the same day off as me, having forgotten about agreeing to my day off, there in the fog of fondness for her favored femmes.
I can't remember exactly how the conversation ended. Was I so brash as to hang up on The Toad? I don't think so, that just doesn't sound like me. Did I shout back? Most certainly a little - even Mother Theresa probably got a little feisty when they were all up there in her face. Most likely The Toad finished spewing her magma, calmed down a little, and the dance ended in unspoken agreement, both of us hanging up in a huff, once the dissonant voices in her head stopped singing.
But that was it, I was done. The Toad had pushed me over the cliff. I was through dealing with psychopaths.
At that moment, I quit.
The exact sequence of events is lost in a fog so many years after the fact, but I think the ending of the story goes something like this:
Unlike so many times before when I had let myself cool down before making a rash decision, this time I acted. I didn't even wait until the day after my wife's appointment. I talked it over with the missus, she seemed to be in agreement, so immediately after the doctor's visited I called The Toad and broke the news. I quit, I said. Yeah okay, I'll stick around a couple weeks until what's her name beatch gets back from vacation, but that's it. I cited family reasons - I can't take care of my family sufficiently while doing this job, I said in mock moral grandeur.
The next day The Toad called me into her office. For a slimy terrestrial amphibian she was no dummy, she knew her meltdown had triggered my decision. What really happened? she pleaded, there behind the closed door of her office.
What really happened? How about the time the 300 pound station manager pulled a phone out of the wall and almost threw it at me in a fit of frustration? How about all the times that same steaming Hulk berated me on the workroom floor in full view of the letter carriers, throwing me under the bus for his own sins so that he would come out looking like the good guy. Or how that same brute would go home early, then pounce upon me when I didn't make up a creative enough lie to explain his absence to the Area Manager. Oh yeah - let's not forget when another station manager curtailed political mail during an election season for two weeks, then left me holding the bag one Saturday when inspectors from the plant showed up to make sure all the election mail been moved. I really did get fired for that one, but the gorillas upstairs snuck me back after a couple of weeks. I was not grateful - I was tired of being their pawn, I was tired of being their patsy.
I didn't say any of this out loud to The Toad, of course. I didn't want to stir the pot on my way out the door. I didn't want people pointing fingers at one another on account of little old me. They might vow to clean their act up and play nice in the future, then I would be backed into the uncomfortable corner of looking like a jerk for not giving them them a second chance.
So I told the same lie - which was only partly a lie. I need more family time, said I.
The next day the Area Manager showed up, specifically to try and convince little old me to stick around, but I could not be shaken. I need more family time, I repeated, the lie getting so tired it was making me yawn. He nodded respectfully, even though I'm sure he knew the reality.
That was all she wrote. How many times, in how many ways do I have to say it? I stuck it out the two weeks, but now it was over. I was done.
So why are you still staring at with that smug grin across the swing room table, you knucklehead, dying for me to stop lying and just admit I got canned.
I don't care what you think, if you can think at all with that invertebrate brain of yours. This is the truth, believe it or not, the truth is I quit!
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 18, 2019:
Thank you Pamela. Good to see new faces here. The post office itself is tolerable, although it is getting worse, but management is a nightmare.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 18, 2019:
I didn't know working in the post office could be so awful. I think you have a great sense of humor considering the indignities you suffered. I loved the description of "The Toad."
I enjoyed reading this article.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 10, 2019:
Very well spoken Jerry. Thanks for sharing that. I don't think all of them start off as bad people, but the unrealistic expectations of upper level managers who have never been on the front lines make them that way. I saw it happening to me and I got out.
Jerry Totten on March 10, 2019:
In 1978, during my ninth year as a PTF letter carrier, the local management team asked me to take a 204b position, to fill in for the supervisor who opened the building at 1:30 a.m. for the morning clerk crew. Said supe, Les B. (know by the clerk crew as Less Brains), had suffered a heart attack, and was going to be off work for an extended period. During this stint, the USPS conducted a two-day seminar for future postal management personnel at the hometown university. During those two days, I was exposed to what eventually became the toxic management system of the USPS. The people who had clawed their way up to high-ranking positions in the MidAmerica region were among the worst human beings I ever had the displeasure of meeting. I stuck out the 204b stint until Less Brains returned to work, and returned to the much more enjoyable job of carrying mail. I became an NALC union activist, and a shop steward, and enjoyed a relatively good career for the next 33 years. UNTIL 2013, when because of the creation of the CCA letter carrier status in the NALC's arbitrated union contract, the district head ordered her minions to exert pressure on retirement-eligible carriers, so we could be replaced with the new cheaper labor. In my 43rd year as a carrier, for the first time, my job performance was questioned by the new postmaster in town (a woman very similar to the Toad depicted by Mel). After I proved her wrong by the numbers from a week-long route check by an out-of-town team, I retired to avoid the Polar Vortex winter of '13-'14. I'm still active in the local NALC branch, and the stories of toxic USPS management have steadily increased as the "manglement" wanna-be's claw their way up the dysfunctional corporate ladder.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 09, 2019:
Thank you Dana Tate. So good to hear from you. Yeah that job was digging me an early grave. Thanks so much for dropping in.
Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on March 09, 2019:
I have an acquaintance who's worked for the postal service for sixteen years and I have heard horrid stories about the supervisors. It took a lot of guts and self-respect to walk away from that position. Well done! Life is too short. Be blessed not stressed.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 08, 2019:
Thank you Gilbert. The job is not all bad, but the supervisor position can be particularly unforgiving, especially for 204Bs. You probably made a wise choice.
Gilbert Arevalo on March 07, 2019:
Mel, I thought about working for the post office one time, and you make me feel glad I didn't. I imagine I would have been harassed like you were. It sounds like a place where you're not allowed to breath, at least I get that impression from reading your story.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 02, 2019:
Yeah Mills there are Toads everywhere, and junior Toads in the making. One thing I left out is that it started to get easier to raise my voice with people. Toad see Toad do. That was another reason I got out in the nick of time. Thanks for dropping in.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 02, 2019:
Road Monkey, this goes to show that the cream definitely does not rise to the top in the post office or anywhere else. I really appreciate you talking the time to read this.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 02, 2019:
Too many superiors are like The Toad. One of mine berated me in front of the whole staff. Others didn't like that I wouldn't join them in their bigoted quest to change the staff. Somehow I managed to persevere as they found their way to other things. This tale was probably not easy for you to share. You obviously don't want to be a Toad, so thanks for sharing.
RoadMonkey on March 02, 2019:
Great story, and so funny and well written but sad that it was a real experience. So sorry that people have to put up with this type of treatment.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 02, 2019:
Thank you AlexK. I just told the story as it flowed out of me.
AlexK2009 from Edinburgh, Scotland on March 02, 2019:
Nice one. Perhaps you should have told about the bad things and then said you would leave instantly to avoid embarrassing others.
A story well told anyway.
Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on March 02, 2019:
Well that hero would be me Bill. One upside is that experience gave birth to my Mel Carriere identity, and here I am scribbling away. Thanks for dropping in buddy.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2019:
Been there, done that, life is much too short, bravo to the hero of this story. :)