The Big Issue : Edition 453
RICKY PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) 12 THEBIGISSUE7–20MAR2014 Allsorts “Yes, the descriptions of cheap booze and cheaper sex in a dreary hovel are undeniably appealing, but his book is just too close to home. Like Bukowski, I once worked at the post office.” I’VE JUST FINISHED reading Charles Bukowski’s classic novel, Post Office (1971). Pass me a bottle of whisky and a dead-end job quick smart. Based on his own life as a postie in the 1950s, it’s a cross between On the Road and some extended, black-comedy adaptation of Catcher in the Rye. It could be the literary forerunner for post- punk music; certainly The Fall, The Jam and Joy Division would have copies of Post Office to inspire their tales of urban and emotional decay, wanton hedonism and the horrors of the workplace. A quick book review: Yikes! Yes, the descriptions of cheap booze and cheaper sex in a dreary hovel are undeniably appealing, but his book is just too close to home. For, like Bukowski, I once worked at the post office. It was my first job. Night-sorting was an initiation into grown-up hell. I was surrounded by adults for the first time in my life. They didn’t want to be there, and the place was clearly driving them mad. Workers, salary-earners, those who had planted their roots firmly at the post office were now firmly stuck in the mud. They called themselves ‘lifers’. Bukowski never considered himself a lifer. He quit and was rehired. He didn’t give a shit. Work was absurd. The people were absurd. His first boss was a sadist; others were just sad. In Post Office, Bukowski fights the power and is quickly crushed, but he has a fallback plan: nihilism. He becomes an A-grade slack-arse. During a flash flood, some guy calls to him, “The mail must get through!” He gives the guy the finger and wishes he were at home. “All I wanted was to get in that chair with that glass of Scotch in my hand and watch Betty’s ass wobble round the room.” Like Bukowski, us night-sorters also had places we’d rather be. Ivan was working it as his second job, trying to pay off his mortgage. Our job was to grab parcels from a shipping container and sort them into the right ‘run’, ready for the couriers in the morning. Ivan never learned a single run, or possibly a single thing. An unpredictable fool, he was prone to fits of rage that would usually end in him grabbing someone by the throat and pinning them against a wall. It happened to me once, but I was told not to take it personally. Nightshift brought out the disturbed, the unhinged and, in my case, the unlucky. Our forklift driver was a Rarotongan guy named Sakala who spoke no English but made up for it by laughing maniacally and unfathomably at anything, usually while manoeuvring a two-tonne pallet over our heads. Don was a longhaired, softly spoken, jittery ex-punk, smarter than the rest of us put together. He was, however, reduced to a broken man, resigned to his place among the unskilled, the unmotivated and (worst of all) the young casuals for whom a better life beckoned. I haven’t even begun peeling back the packaging of this postal family. But that’s what it was: a dysfunctional family. And, no, you can’t choose ’em. Factory workers of Australia know this. Many face being turfed out of the family nest. Part of me cheers for the release of their shackles. But that part is romantic, perhaps; stupid, more like it. They face, as the media insist on calling it, ‘an uncertain future’ and, as Jim Morrison added, the end is always near. I wish them well; I hope their co-workers are every bit as mad as mine were. These are the novels of our times. For all his rebelliousness, Bukowski stayed at the post office for 11 years. Only a book deal saved him. I hope one day to read a similarly breathtaking account of life at SPC Ardmona, Toyota, Ford and, eventually, the Australian Post Office. It would sure beat another book about Ned Kelly. The good mail must get through. » Ricky French is a writer, father and musician. He is also surprising. Looking at him, you’d swear he’s never worked a day in his life. But apparently he’s done all kinds of things.