19 June 2011
"Nobody's safe," said the trader. "If I felt safe, I wouldn't be talking to you next to a fridge in a dark space at the back of the stall."
"But, there were still bits of action. One guy was caught on the same stairway that I had been trapped on. He was caught there with his head under some girl's skirt. Then one of the girls who worked in the cafeteria complained that she hadn't been paid, as promised, for a bit of oral copulation she had supplied to a general foreman and 3 mailhandlers. They fired the girl and the 3 mailhandlers and busted the general foreman down to supervisor.
Then, I set the post office on fire.
I had been sent to fourth class papers and was smoking a cigar, working a stack of mail off a hand truck when some guy came by and said, "HEY, YOUR MAIL IS ON FIRE!"
I looked around,. There it was. A small flame was starting to stand up like a dancing snake. Evidently part of a burning ash had fallen in there earlier.
The flame grew rapidly. I took a catalogue and, holding it flat, I beat the shit out of it. Sparks flew. It was hot. As soon as I put out one section, another caught up.
I heard a voice:
"Hey! I smell fire!"
"YOU DON"T SMELL FIRE," I yelled, "YOU SMELL SMOKE!"
"I think I'm going to get out of here!"
"God damn you, then," I screamed, "GET OUT!"
The flames were burning my hands. I had to save the United States mail, 4th class junkmail!
Finally, I got it under control. I took my foot and pushed the whole pile of papers onto the floor and stepped on the last bit of red ash.
The supervisor walked up to say something to me. I stood there with the burned catalogue in my hand and waited. He looked at me and walked off.
Then I resumed casing the 4th class junkmail. Anything burned, I put to one side.
My cigar had gone out, I didn't light it again.
My hands hurt and I walked over to the water fountain, put them under the water. It didn't help.
I found the supervisor and asked him for a travel slip to the nurse's office.
It was the same one who used to come to my door and ask me, "Now what's the matter, Mr. Chinaski?"
When I walked in she said the same thing again.
"You remember me, eh?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I know you've had some real sick nights."
"Yeh," I said.
"All right, Mr. Chinaski, now what's your problem?"
"I burned my hands."
"Come over here. How did you burn your hands?"
"Does it matter? They're burned."
She was dabbing my hands with something. One of her breasts brushed me.
"How did it happen, Henry?"
"Cigar. I was standing next to a truck of 4th class. Ash must have gotten in there. Flames came up."
The breast was up against me again.
"Hold your hands still, please!"
Then she laid her whole flank against me as she spread some ointment on my hands. I was sitting on a stool.
"What's the matter, Henry? You seem nervous."
"Well... you know how it is, Martha."
"My name is not Martha. It's Helen."
"Let's get married, Helen."
"I mean, on the work floor."
She wrapped on some gauze.
"You mustn't burn the mails."
"It was junk."
"All mail is important."
All right, Helen."
She walked over to her desk and I followed her. She filled out the travel form. She looked very cute in her little white hat. I'd have to find a way to get back there.
She saw me looking at her body.
"All right, Mr. Chinaski, I think you better leave now."
"Oh yes... Well, thanks for everything."
"It's just part of the job."
A week later there were NO SMOKING IN THIS AREA signs all around. The clerks were not allowed to smoke unless they used ashtrays. Somebody had been contracted to manufacture all these ashtrays. They were nice. And said PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT. The clerks stole most of them.
I had all by myself, Henry Chinaski, revolutionized the postal system."
—Charles Bukowski, Post Office