Transformation

there were always little tragedies we heard about
on the job, sitting on those stools eleven and one
half hours a night, every bit of outside information
was greeted by us much like the inmates of a prison
camp… every now and then a courier would come by
and say, “it’s 3 to 2, end of the 3rd…” and he
never said 3 to 2 who, because if you had been listening
from the beginning you were able to decipher all that.

one night I heard it from two fellows talking, “Harry
got sick last night, checked out early.   When he walked
into his house it was dark, his wife and her lover were
in bed and they thought he was a burglar and the lover
had a gun and he shot Harry…”

“where’s Louie?” I asked one night, I hadn’t seen Louie
in a couple of weeks, Louie had two jobs and when he
slept, I don’t know.   “Louie?” the guy said, “Louie fell
asleep in bed one night while smoking a cigarette and the
mattress caught fire and he burned to death…”

there were many deaths among the clerks, let alone feeling
like inmates of a prison I also felt as if we were
front line troops under continual attack and bombardment,
and when there weren’t deaths there were breakdowns–
people who after years of sticking letters just couldn’t
do it anymore, or there were dismissals for the slightest
of reasons, it was death and transformation and disfiguration,
people found they couldn’t walk anymore or they suddenly
came up with speech defects or they were shaken by tremors
or their eyes blinked too fast or they came to work drugged
or drunk or both, it was terror and dismemberment and the
survivors hunched on their stools wondering who would be
next as the supervisors brutalized us and were in turn
brutalized by their superiors who were in turn brutalized
by Washington, D.C. who always demanded more for less
and the public ranted at Washington, D.C., and it was
finally the little old lady pruning her roses in her garden
who was the general cause of misery for everybody, if you
know what I mean

and one night I asked, “Where’s Hodges?”   I don’t know why
but I always seemed to be the last to know anything, perhaps
because I was white and most of them were black, even though
they seemed to like me…

there was no answer about Hodges who was one of the meanest
supervisors in the building and white on top of it all, and
I asked again and somebody said, “he won’t be around a while,”
and then in hints and bits it was gotten to me:   Hodges had
been knifed in the parking lot on the way to his car and
then it was inferred to me that they knew who did it….

“would it be anybody I knew?”  I smiled and it got very
silent and Big George just put his mail down and stared
at me, he stared at me a long time and then he turned
around and started sticking his letters again and I said,
“I wonder who’s winning the old ball game?”

“4 to 2,” somebody said, “and of the 4th…”

Hodges never came back and soon I got out of there
too…

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