Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Working the Graveyard Shift at the Post Office

When I first transferred to Washington in 1987, I worked retail hours pretty consistently from 7:30AM-5:30PM. I'd lost my in-office seniority when I transferred, so I was subject to being shuffled around. After my first year in that office, there was a shift in emphasis on where they wanted to use hours, so I was tossed onto the dungheap of the graveyard shift. We came in at midnight and worked until 8:30AM or whenever the mail was out the door. Man, was that ever a Zombie crew and a Zombie life. Of course, your family is keeping regular hours while you have this crazy shift. Most of us slept in two shifts of approximately four hours each; I say approximately because often home life prevented getting that ratio. Any family crisis, however small, would automatically cut into your sleep time.

Those graveyard shift people were the goofiest ones I've ever worked with; some of them preferred that shift and I think that was a major manifestation of their basic personality disorders. The nature of the work wasn't exactly inspiring. It was repetitive motion, rote memory sorting of mail for eight plus hours. Although I did postal work for a great many years, I always tried to get into job bids where there was some variation or variety to the work. Mindless, repetitive mail sorting, staring at the same sorting case for your entire work day was what I never liked and tried to get away from. So, after working graveyard shift ("Tour One" in the PO) for a year, one of our employees who did something else in the office went crazy and they asked me if I wanted to long-term sub in that job. This particular job involved a lot of varied duties, and many of these duties required a degree of technical knowledge (for the PO). The other, more senior workers in the office hated this job because they had to think to do it. Most of them actually preferred the mindless sorting jobs because not having to think or problem-solve kept them in their comfort zones. So, when I was offered this job, I didn't even have to think about taking it. I kept that bid, with variations, for the next 17 years until I retired.

One of the better things about this job was a late start time, 9:00AM for many years, then 9:30AM after that. That was another thing that the other employees didn't like. Most of them (who weren't on the graveyard shift) didn't want to start much later than 8:00AM, and 7:30AM was preferred. During the many years I was in this position, I had a rotating day off, so Saturdays off didn't come around very often. At one point, I applied for another job within the system at another office, and when that came through, my boss of the moment said, "What will it take to get you to stay here?" Just for the heck of it, I said, "Saturdays off." The boss said, "It's yours" so for some years, I was the only non-supervisory employee in the building who had Saturday-Sunday off. Now that the PO is going down the toilet these days, a whole lot more people may be getting Saturday off too.

One of the people I used to work with on the graveyard shift was an old geezer named Kirby. He was pretty weird; he claimed to be a pillar of his church, but then one time he told me in private that at the church he'd drilled a hole in the wall of the toilet stall in the men's room so he could observe what was going on in there. He was a USMC veteran of the Korean War. He'd seen some heavy stuff; he was one of the Marines that was evacuated as a casualty from the Chosin Reservior in December, 1950. I don't blame this experience for his weirdness. He was an alcholic, and kept a bottle in his locker in the men's room. He would occasionally get up for a "leak break" and while in the men's room, stop by his locker. Now in those early morning hours, it's sometimes easy to get drowsy under normal conditions, but add alcohol and I'm sure it's worse. We would sometimes watch Kirby sway back and forth on his stool, and every once in a while, he'd fall off.

Sometime after I left the graveyard shift, there was a change to area mail processing and this crew was transferred to a larger, centralized facility. I stayed behind in my original office. Kirby was driving to work one night at their new location, and hit and killed a pedestrian who was crossing the street. He wasn't found to be the cause of the accident, but I've always wondered if alcohol played a part in it.

Some of the people with whom I worked on that Zombie crew are still pretty deeply etched into my memory. Most, men and women, had been married and divorced, some many times. The bad hours alone could've contributed to marital difficulties. One, named Kat, had a favorite pass-time of getting and being pregnant. She'd had a series of husbands, and when I was working with her, she wanted to get pregnant again. Her husband of the moment wouldn't go for it, so she went out and got pregnant by a male cousin.

The fastest sorter in the office was a chain-smoking bundle of nerves who was never without a cigarette in her mouth (people could still smoke in the workplace then) She had developed that permanent squint from having smoke in her eyes all the time. She was like a mail-sorting machine.

One guy whom I was friendly with was named "D.L." He was single, lonely, and alchoholic. One night, he brought a Browning High-Power 9mm pistol to work and placed in on his sorting tray in front of him to intimidate a supervisor. That was many years ago; he was sent home from work that night, but long since then having a firearm on postal propery (even in your car) has become grounds for immediate and uncategorical dismissal. He had a very nice collection of pistols, but had them hidden in various places around his house, such as false bottoms in cabinet drawers, etc.

There was a guy named Greg who was so superficial, indecisive, and just plain wussy that most people couldn't stand him. One woman was a Korean immigrant and I never could understand enough of what she said to know much about her. There were two old guys who worked sorting flats (magazine sized mail), just loping along, sorting at just above the minimum acceptable speed. They were both sardonic but interesting characters. One had been busted from counter clerk to sorting on the graveyard shift; he was suspected of stealing but they just couldn't nail him down tight enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment