Sunday, February 1, 2009

About The Postal Exam (2005)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 1 - This originally ran in the February, 2005 issue of Punk Planet.


There are a few things you will need to know before you take the postal examination:

1) the exam is being held at the City Of Industry Mail Processing Center this Wednesday, February 9, at 8:30 AM.

2) You can’t park in that spot sir, you’ll need to park across the street.

3) Because page three of the exam booklet you have been mailed reads Come to the test physically and mentally prepared; Get a good night’s sleep, you will have been plagued by insomnia and nightmares of having to wash dishes naked at the Dischord House while young people laugh at you. The dog that bothered Son Of Sam will have been bothering you as well, all night long, from your neighbor’s yard. The phone will have rung, once, at 12:55 PM. In the morning, your drive down CA-60 will have been made in the haze of the undead. When news comes on the radio – virtuous anti-Nazi boxer Max Schmeling, dead at 99, is hailed as “a good man”; Christo’s “The Gates” installation wows millions in New York; the L.A. hotel workers union seeks to boost their bargaining power - every story will point irrefutably towards your own artistic and moral insignificance. This can be corrected by getting a good score on your postal exam.

Inside the testing center, your first peek ever behind the curtain of representative democracy, you will discover that America has secretly been governed by East Germany all these years. You will be lead down bleak hallways, past a picture of a man with a zippered mouth reading “testing in progress” that you will momentarily mistake for an Amnesty International poster. The safety glass of nearby offices, reinforced with hexagonal wire mesh, seems an ominous bit of overkill. Are they expecting violence? In the test room you will find rows of battered card tables and the cheapest sort of plastic furniture and a worn podium flanked by an American and a POW-MIA flag. You will suffer the distinct feeling of having been hauled in for detention (either Guantánamo or junior high).

But the test doesn’t scare you. You have a secret weapon; the Memory Palace of 16th century Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci. Hannibal Lector uses one of these in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. Yours is modeled after the 98-acre Empire State Plaza, in Albany, NY, and although you really haven’t been keeping up with the years of intensive rigorous mental exercise a memory palace demands, you have full confidence that this mnemonic leverage will give you the edge over your fellow applicants. In a strange coincidence, the Plaza’s architect George Dudley has just passed away, not two days ago, at 90. You like to think that you too will be passing away at such a ripe old age, only in scale; medical advances of the 21st century will ensure that the human life span is extended tenfold, giving you until 2869 to make your mark on society. This test, taken in the mere preamble of your long, 900 year life, will be a breeze.

Today is Ash Wednesday. What does it say about the demographics of the postal system that no ashy foreheads are in attendance? Does the USPS discriminate against practicing Christians? A paranoia will grip you. What are you thinking, coming to this test physically and mentally unprepared, not having gotten a good night’s sleep? You will remember something the late Tim Yohannon once told you about arriving for his Vietnam physical “zonked out” on no sleep with “shit” rubbed in his hair. Is that what you are trying to do here? Flunk the physical? You calm down; you don’t have shit in your hair. Everything will be fine. You will be gripped with a sudden and intense desire to not disappoint your friends or family or the POW-MIA’s still languishing in bamboo prisons overseas (earlier, when you called J___ of the Rah Bras, hours after $20,000 worth of equipment had been stolen from their locked van in Brooklyn, NY, the very first thing he had said was did you take the test?).

Forms will be dispensed and you will understand that your memory palace mind-tricks are useless here. This will not be that kind of a test. Your lucky pencils from the Carter and LBJ Presidential libraries impress no one and they might not even be number 2 pencils. You raise your hand in panic. Are these number two pencils? A lady will come to your seat and look at your pencils with disgust. A stern man who clearly has served in all three branches of the armed service as well as the state police reads from a short preamble, and then the test has begun.

In part A, Address Checking, you will suffer some confusion. These addresses bear no similarity to the addresses in the sample question booklet you studied at home. Where are Warnock St, and Girard road, and Markland Ave? A fat guy seated not quite directly opposite you will whisper wetly to himself, smashing your concentration. He has a “postalish” look. So does everyone else seated at your table. Do you share this look? You urgently try to picture your own face. Put your pencils down; this part of the test has concluded.

During section B, Memory For Addresses, you will consider randomly coloring in each oval. It worked on your SATs. But how could it have, if you are here? Several times you will notice that Whispering Fat Man has finished before you. He has something to prove. Clearly he will be incapable of the sorting, delivery, and collecting of all classes of mail up to 70 pounds. 70 pounds is a lot of weight. So what is he trying to prove? During Part C, Number Series, you will find yourself wondering, am I a veteran, or the mother of a veteran? If so, you can be awarded preference points. By the time you are on D, Following Oral Instructions, you will find yourself thinking maybe you can at least get a column out of this. Weeks later, you actually do write a column about this experience and you will be tempted to title this column, “Goin’ Postal”. Avoid that temptation.

4) You are going to make the best postman ever.