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"It began as a mistake." By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. This classic 1971 novel—the one that catapulted its author to national fame—is the perfect introduction to the
"It began as a mistake." By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. This classic 1971 novel—the one that catapulted its author to national fame—is the perfect introduction to the grimly hysterical world of legendary writer, poet, and Dirty Old Man Charles Bukowski and his fictional alter ego, Chinaski.
It began as a mistake.
It was Christmas season and I learned from the drunk up the hill, who did the trick every Christmas, that they would hire damned near anybody, and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back and was hiking around at my leisure. What a job, I thought. Soft! They only gave you a block or two and if you managed to finish, the regular carrier would give you another block to carry, or maybe you'd go back in and the soup would give you another, but you just took your time and shoved those Xmas cards in the slots.
I think it was my second day as a Christmas temp that this big woman came out and walked around with me as I delivered letters. What I mean by big was that her ass was big and her tits were big and that she was big in all the right places. She seemed a bit crazy but I kept looking at her body and I didn't care.
She talked and talked and talked. Then it came out. Her husband was an officer on an island far away and she got lonely, you know, and lived in this little house in back all by herself.
"What little house?" I asked.
She wrote the address on a piece of paper.
"I'm lonely too," I said, "I'll come by and we'll talk tonight."
I was shacked but the shackjob was gone halfthe time, off somewhere, and I was lonely all right. I was lonely for that big ass standing beside me.
"All right," she said, "see you tonight."
She was a good one all right, she was a good lay but like all lays after the third or fourth night I began to lose interest and didn't go back.
But I couldn't help thinking, god, all these mailmen do is drop in their letters and get laid. This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes.
So I took the exam, passed it, took the physical, passed it, and there I was -- a substitute mail carrier. It began easy. I was sent to West Avon Station and it was just like Christmas except I didn't get laid. Every day I expected to get laid but I didn't. But the soup was easy and I strolled around doing a block here and there. I didn't even have a uniform, just a cap. I wore my regular clothes. The way my shackjob Betty and I drank there was hardly money for clothes.
Then I was transferred to Oakford Station.
The soup was a bullneck named Jonstone. Help was needed there and I understood why. Jonstone liked to wear dark-red shirts -- that meant danger and blood. There were seven subs -- Tom Moto, Nick Pelligrini, Herman Stratford, Rosey Anderson, Bobby Hansen, Harold Wiley and me, Henry Chinaski. Reporting time was 5 a.m. and I was the only drunk there. I always drank until past midnight, and there we'd sit, at 5 a.m., waiting to get on the clock, waiting for some regular to call in sick. The regulars usually called in sick when it rained or during a heatwave or the day after a holiday when the mail load was doubled.
There were 40 or 50 different routes, maybe more, each case was different, you were never able to learn any of them, you had to get your mail up and ready before 8 a.m. for the truck dispatches, and Jonstone would take no excuses. The subs routed their magazines on corners, went without lunch, and died in the streets. Jonstone would have us start casing the routes 30 minutes late -- spinning in his chair in his red shirt -- "Chinaski take route 539!" We'd start a half hour short but were still expected to get the mail up and out and be back on time. And once or twice a week, already beaten, fagged and fucked we had to make the night pickups, and the schedule on the board was impossible -- the truck wouldn't go that fast. You had to skip four or five boxes on the first run and the next time around they were stacked with mail and you stank, you ran with sweat jamming it into the sacks. I got laid all right. Jonstone saw to that.
The subs themselves made Jonstone possible by obeying his impossible orders. I couldn't see how a man of such obvious cruelty could be allowed to have his position. The regulars didn't care, the union man was worthless, so I filled out a thirty page report on one of my days off, mailed one copy to Jonstone and took the other down to the Federal Building. The clerk told me to wait. I waited and waited and waited. I waited an hour and thirty minutes, then was taken in to see a little grey-haired man with eyes like cigarette ash. He didn't even ask me to sit down. He began screaming at me as I entered the door.
"You're a wise son of a bitch, aren't you?" "I'd rather you didn't curse me, sir!"
"Wise son of a bitch, you're one of those sons of bitches with a vocabulary and you like to lay it around!"
He waved my papers at me. And screamed: "MR. JONSTONE IS A FINE MAN!"
"Don't be silly. He's an obvious sadist," I said.
"How long have you been in the Post Office?"
"MR. JONSTONE HAS BEEN WITH THE POST OFFICE FOR 30 YEARS!"
"What does that have to do with it?"
"I said, MR. JONSTONE IS A FINE MAN!"
I believe the poor fellow actually wanted to kill me. He and Jonstone must have slept together.
"All right," I said, "Jonstone is a fine man. Forget the whole fucking thing." Then I walked out and took the next day off. Without pay, of course.
Excerpted from post office by Charles Bukowski Copyright © 2007 by Charles Bukowski. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 13, 2010
Bukowski ends his novel with Chinaski claiming he decided to one day sit down and write his life story down, "and so he did", but not everything needs to be written. While some of the story was amusing, it arose mainly from the mundanity of such an ordinary existence. Chinaski was really quite ridiculous... the story begins when he is quite young and the last age he mentions is 36 before the end; however, the whole time I was reading this story I had the feeling I was reading the life story of a much older man who had lost his will to experience life and he was just waiting for death to come take him. Chinaski never really ever had any ambition to do or BE anything or anyone and just moved through life when he was forced to (like when his girlfriends decide to choose another man over him, he just quietly packs his clothes and leaves)... it's a really sad existence that I can't feel sorry for and the longer it went on I couldn't even find it amusing. I wanted some insane suburbanite (perhaps the crazy woman he faux-rapes) to just blow him out of the book so that Something would happen and this ridiculous excuse for a human being would quit taking up oxygen someone using their brain could find useful.
Perhaps it's the current economic and global political situation, but other than the fact that the story is semi-autobiographical and Bukowski obviously went on to do something with himself, I couldn't find anything redeeming about a man who only did enough to get by (in squalor most of the time) and feels comfortable judging the rest of the working world. (Which goes along with Bukowski's constant portrayal of anyone in a management/supervisor position as an insane narcissistic power-tripping jerk.)
Not my taste and mildly aggravating.
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Posted January 18, 2008
While it is very much the norm in modern literature to focus on the self as the central theme of the writer's work, the novelist choses this motif at his own peril. Bukowski's grasp somewhat outstrips his reach this is because his talent to describe a reality is so much more powerful than the material that he chooses to create that reality. Very few writers since Hemingway can set the scene and paint the stage with such remarkable economy of the written word. I see the main difference between a great writer and a good one (and Bukowski is a very good one)is the scope and breadth his material. But Hemingway's world was much larger while Bukowski binds himself too closely in his nutshell. He takes us into strange fields filled with enchanting flowers, only to describe, in breathtaking detail, a blade of grass. Bukowski's fearless approach to truth as a writer comes from (what one can only assume) is his relative poverty as a human being...however well he reveals to us in this novel the transcendental beauty of his blade of grass, we long to be able devour the scents and absorb the sunlight which we can only sense is just outside the writer's realm of experience. Hattely
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Posted February 16, 2006
This is my second favorite Mr. B. Book, the first place going to his HAM ON RYE. While there are similarities in cynicism, wit, and style to other writers--think Chuck Palahniuk with his CHOKE or McCrae with his KATZENJAMMER, there's only ONE Bukowski. If you're not familiar with his works, again, I'd start with HAM, but this one works just as well.
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Posted November 6, 2014
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Posted December 10, 2013
Posted October 25, 2013
This book was a real treat. I only wish I had discovered Bukowski earlier. This is an interesting look into a degenerate, alcohol dependent, sex driven, poet working in a mundane job. It is a combination of memoir and fictionalized account of a life and choices that are both impossible and real.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Consice and entertaining. I feel this is Bukowski's best novel, which is surprising considering it was his first! In this novel he opens the seal behind the post office walks to show us what the job of sorting and mail carriers is really like. A great read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 7, 2012
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Posted August 10, 2012
As a USPS vet of 25 years, I can relate. Thankfully, I'm not haunted by Bukowski's inner demons. Speaking of which, a whole bunch of this iconic writer's work is currently up for $1.99. HURRY,HURRY,HURRY!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2012
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Posted October 22, 2010
This is the perfect book to bring on a weekend trip. It's short and Bukowski writes to the point, centering on the frustration of working a soulless job and feeling like a nobody. His character is obviously himself. It's not all dour. Much of it is funny and much of that has to do with Bukowski's world weary sense of humor. Life can be a trial, and this book underscores that. Idiot bosses and emptiness and tedium of day to day life as a working stiff. I related to this. Great book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.