Dancing With the Devil - Life in Postal Management Hell as a 204b
A Modest Proposal - The Problem with Satire
Dictionary.com tells us that satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.
Satire has been an extremely effective literary form that has been used by writers throughout the centuries to expose abuses in every walk of life, including those perpetrated by politicians, the clergy, business tycoons, etc. - but then again it was employed mostly back in the times when people actually still read books.
The problem with satire, however, is that people can be too literal sometimes, and there are always a few who just don't get it. For instance, in 1729 Johnathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels fame wrote an essay entitled "A Modest Proposal," in which he suggested that the Irish should eat their own children in order to alleviate the problem of hunger in that country. Believe it or not my friends, but in writing such a shocking treatise Johnathan Swift's purpose was not to actually advocate the consumption of infants. He had a deeper meaning behind the expose, which was to denounce the shockingly severe poverty and famine that existed in Ireland at the time.
But some people read the essay, scratched their heads, and didn't get it. Swift was probably denounced as a horrible cannibal in some quarters. And even among those who understood where he was coming from, there were many who thought that he should just stick to the dry facts in discussing the plight of the hungry in Ireland. No need to use any fancy literary devices, Mr. Swift, just give us the straight poop, please.
A few months ago I composed my own "Modest Proposal," entitled The 204b Survival Kit, Parts I & II. Like Swift, I also attempted to use satire and a bit of humor to expose the often hostile work environment that exists for managers and supervisors in the United States Postal Service. For the most part my articles were fairly well received, but as with Swift, there were some people who didn't understand where I was coming from. For example, I quote you the following comment left by a reader of that particular piece:
I actually started reading this thinking it would be informative... Then I realized that you are in fact...an idiot smh
That's a real comment, I didn't make it up. I didn't even know what smh meant, to be quite honest with you, and I had to go on the urban dictionary to look it up, which probably proved the comment writer's assessment of my intellectual capabilities. But I think it's abundantly clear from this comment that some people don't appreciate my humor, which I suppose is understandable.
Therefore, since people seem to want to be informed rather than entertained, and are apparently adverse to being informed and entertained at the same time, I thought I would attack this subject again, but from a different angle. Apparently there is a dearth of information on the topic of the 204b on the Internet, and there are postal employees who have been approached about moving up into postal management that need some hard, fast, and sterile facts about what they will be getting into. So even though it won't be easy and you might find me slipping at times, in this current attempt to expose and define life as a Postal 204b I will do my best to be as sterile and bland as possible, and hopefully this time I won't leave you shaking your head.
Read Swift's Modest Proposal
So the purpose behind this article is to let you know what you will be up against if you decide to dance with the devil and make the leap to 204b. And dance with the devil you will, because the folks who populate the ranks of Postal Management are not bound by the normal standards of conduct that generally govern what is known as "decent" human behavior. Postal managers lie, cheat, and steal on a daily basis, and the ones who do not generally don't get promoted and stay at the bottom of the food chain, where they are likely to be consumed like one of Swift's Irish babies sooner or later. Once again this is not an exaggeration; I am sticking to the absolute truth here so as not to leave you shaking your head and calling me an idiot.
Perhaps the best way to reveal the dangers of what you will be getting into is to tell my own story. I'm almost ashamed to admit it now, but I spent about a year and a half as a Postal 204b, and hated every single minute of it from day one. My motivations behind the move were noble enough; I actually believed that maybe I could make a difference, that I could help to change the corporate culture and improve the Postal Service as a whole. My thinking was that if the Postal Service is to survive it needs good, smart, honest people leading the way, and I considered myself to be such a person. I also felt a sense of duty; thinking that I had been endowed with gifts from my creator that I should use to better serve the human race.
But after a year and a half of slaving away in the lower rings of hell I felt I was at the point of a heart attack and a nervous breakdown and I had to get out because I wasn't serving anybody, especially my family. Surviving and prospering as a Postal supervisor requires a cast iron soul, and this I do not have. Sensitivity, honesty and thoughtfulness are ruthlessly exploited in the supervisory ranks and the people who exhibit such traits are quickly devoured and spit out. Every day when I showed up to work I was sick to my stomach, and had to spend several minutes in the bathroom beforehand collecting myself. I wanted to be a productive human being and see positive results for my efforts, but this job had no connection to being productive. Every day was like trying to bail out the Titanic using a shot glass, and it left me empty and unfulfilled.
Just about every document published by the United States Postal Service contains a statement mandating mutual respect at all levels of the organization, but once I put on my 204b shoes it didn't take me long to understand that these soothing assurances of "...proper regard for an individual's dignity that is reciprocated" were mostly bunk, and if the concept did exist in the Postal Service it most certainly did not apply to me, the 204b, the lowest form of life on the Postal Planet.
I was given a verbal beat down by every Postal Manager I ever served. I am not talking about a dignified, calm redressing of issues that the manager might have had with my work habits, which I could have accepted, but an actual red-faced verbal butt kicking. At least most of the managers were polite enough to take me into the office and beat me up in private, but there was one over sized swaggering lout in particular who used to delight in using me as a whipping boy in front of all of the letter carriers and other employees on the workroom floor. He played the good guy, bad buy strategy to the tee, and would point me out as the source of all the letter carriers' woes in front of everybody, even though I was only enforcing his policies. After these incidents he would typically take me in the office and beg me not to quit.
This same man would also get me involved in his private politics with the Area Manager. When he went home early, which was almost every day, he would instruct me to lie to the Area Manager about his whereabouts, and then become raging angry if I didn't tell a clever enough lie.
Needless to say, going to work was not an enjoyable proposition with volatile, explosive people like these all around me, when I had to wonder at every minute if they were going to explode like a volcano and bulldoze me down in the path of the raging lava flow.
Burning the Midnight Oil
These days when I talk to my fellow letter carriers about how I voluntarily stepped down from being a 204b, the number one reason I cite for my departure is because I was working 15 hour days, and not getting paid for it. When I tell them I was slaving away from 6 AM to 9 PM the response I usually get is "Doing what?"
Yes, the misconception is prevalent among letter carriers and perhaps working people in general that supervisors don't do much of anything except take two hour lunches and play blackjack on the computer, but the laundry list of mostly meaningless tasks and reports that I had to complete before going home were mind boggling. And then just out of pure spite, every couple of months or so some ivory tower high level manager would come up with another meaningless, probably redundant report for the 204b to complete because Lord knows those lazy, inefficient people in the trenches didn't have enough to do.
In the event that you are contemplating the plunge into postal hell, here is a short list of the things will be expected to do once the last carrier checks in from the street at the end of the day: Run a report to make sure the collection boxes have cleared, verify every express mail item has been delivered, count all misequenced, missorted, and missent letters in the 3M case then take a picture of a few sample pieces and submit a report, clear all customer complaints by calling and speaking to each customer, fix clock rings, do a floor check for outgoing mail, conduct vehicle inspections for outgoing mail, run timekeeping reports, run DOIS reports, send an email to the Area Manager about all carriers out after 6 PM. And remember, all this is being done while simultaneously answering the phone to probably respond to some idiotic request from the Area Manager and while also dealing with countless other crises that pop up inside the post office from minute to minute.
I'm sure that I've missed a few things on this list, because it's been a few years now. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't also point out that the time involved to complete these already laborious labors is aggravated exponentially by the fact that postal computers are notoriously outdated and slow. Some of these reports require uploading photos, something that the crippled Postal PCs struggle to do, so settle yourself in and don't expect to be going anywhere for a while, because the world's largest computer network is a very sluggish beast indeed.
While on the subject of uploading photos, the task I hated with every ounce of burning passion in my being was to take a picture of the outgoing mail truck and upload it to the Internet, where I imagine it remained in limbo until absolutely nobody looked at it. This is definitely an example of the kind of useless, meaningless busywork that Postal Upper Management invents just to remind the lowly 204b who is in charge.
But cheer up. Since my departure things have only gotten worse. With scanning fever in the air and competition for package delivery with FedEx and UPS heating up, the closing postal supervisor is now required to verify that every single package was scanned, and then investigate missed scans with the responsible letter carrier, who most certainly will not answer the phone once departing the postal premises. Just in case you didn't have enough to do before - well, good luck actually finding your family awake when you get home now.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention - do you actually think you are going to be paid for these interminable hours spent in postal hell? In it's infinite wisdom the Postal Service has decreed that there is more than enough time for a postal supervisor to accomplish all of this massive laundry list in a normal eight hour shift and if you work late it is only because you're too inefficient to get the job done on time. In other words, don't auto asphyxiate yourself waiting for your overtime pay.
Lie, Cheat and Steal
When I said earlier that Postal Management success means abandoning all of the moral values your Momma taught you I wasn't kidding. If you expect to prosper and thrive in Postal Hell and move up to the higher rings of the Inferno you better be willing to throw all of your coworkers under the bus, to shift the blame for your screw-ups by lying through your teeth if necessary, and to do whatever you have to do to ensure that you "make the numbers" for your delivery unit, even if it means doing something illegal.
To prove my point, I cite a recent case here in California in which the manager of a postal facility ordered a custodian to throw away mail that was being stored on the back dock. The custodian wisely refused and called the Postal Inspectors instead, who entered the facility and walked the manager off of the workroom floor. The manager stayed fired for a few weeks but then was reinstated, after which time he received a promotion from Manager to Area Manager. A paid vacation with a promotion waiting at the end - can't beat that! You see, contrary to what Momma told you crime does pay, as long as you have enough fellow criminal cronies in the upper ranks to make sure that you get a really soft landing after your temporary fall from grace.
Don't Get Left Holding the Bag
The last thing I want to caution the 204b prospect about is to avoid being used as a disposable pawn by your immediate supervisors and station manager. They will try to pin the blame on you for their malfeasance, and they'll get away with it if you let them. Remember, you are lower than the primordial ooze from which the original amoebas and other gelatinous, slug-like life forms emerged. Who's going to believe you?
As a case in point, I was temporarily fired during one political campaign season for curtailing political mail that had passed the cutoff date and turned into first class. But as those fine gentlemen at Nuremberg said to excuse themselves, I really was only following orders. Prior to this my station manager had been illegally curtailing the political mail for several consecutive days, and it should have set off a red flag when my fellow supervisors decided to abandon me one Saturday and let me run the station by myself. What an opportunity for a slug like me!
The station manager had to make an appearance that day anyway for an employee retirement, and while she was there she instructed me to keep curtailing the piling up political mail so that all the carriers would be off the clock in eight hours. Like a dummy I agreed and I paid the consequences.
A couple of convenient hours after the station manager departed an inspector from the Operations Department showed up and busted me with all of the political mail on hand. I had to go back to carrying mail for a couple of weeks before they called me up to supervising again, and the manager who had actually made the decision to curtail the political mail naturally got a promotion to a bigger facility. Throwing your 204bs under the bus is considered "resourcefulness" by postal standards, and resourcefulness is a valuable characteristic that should always be cultivated and rewarded where encountered.
So learn from my mistakes - be on the lookout, stand your ground, and don't be the sucker left holding the bag.
Conclusion - No it Wasn't the Carriers
People always assume that I gave up my 204b position because I got tired of dealing with lazy, surly, bad attitude letter carriers, but that is not the case at all. Yes there are a few bad apples in every letter carrier basket, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that interacting with these hard working people on a daily basis was the one part of my job that I did like, and believe it or not I was successful at it. I actually made good numbers, which was why the Area Manager kept sneaking me back in, and I think this proves the rarely implemented school of management thought that if you treat people with respect and demonstrate that you care about them they will bust their butts for you. What the Area Manager did not know was that I was not beating on these people to get them to work hard, but they were doing it on their own because I think they liked me and they wanted me to look good.
So I hope I've given you enough information to make a sound decision on whether postal promotion is the path for you. On the one hand you can worry about your morals, your self respect, and the fate of your eternal soul. But if none of that really means anything and you are willing to shake hands with the devil and do whatever it takes to move up the ladder then - Congratulations! I think you really are postal management material, and I see a cozy throne in the sulfurous pits of postal hell in your future.