'Post Office' by Charles Bukowski (1971)

Post Office - Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski, Post Office (London: Virgin Books, 2009), 160pp

 

"I met an old drunk on the street one afternoon. I used to know him from the days with Betty when we made the rounds of the bars. He told me that he was now a postal clerk and that there was nothing to the job. It was one of the biggest fattest lies of the century. I've been looking for that guy for years but I'm afraid somebody else has gotten to him first." (pg. 50).

Charles Bukowski entertains in this signature rambling confessional novel about his eleven years working in menial jobs at the post office. Reading Bukowski is almost cathartic, as he gives voice to your darker everyday thoughts about life. Many will find themselves relating to the emotions and cynicisms he describes, and it is rather pleasing to see such thoughts laid out in print rather than just swimming around in your head. His observations on the people around him are all on the money, particularly the pedants and jobsworths, the supervisors who all "had a look on their faces... they must practice it in front of mirrors... they looked at you as if you were a hunk of human shit." (pg. 52).

But more notable are his observations on the ordinary people, the wage-slaves - those people who have just given up on trying to make something of their life, and exist just to punch in and out each day and do menial labour. At one point, Bukowski poignantly chronicles the breakdown of 'G.G', an unremarkable old employee who "was neither liked nor disliked. He was just there." (pg. 30) and was heartlessly cast aside when he had nothing left to give (his supervisor's first response, when told of G.G.'s mental collapse, is "Who's manning his route?... I gotta get somebody to man his route!" (pg. 33)). The general theme of Post Office is that such work, particularly when run by those jobsworth types that every reader will have their own less-than-fond memories of, is soul-destroying, with your whole life geared towards servitude to the company. "Damn, they won't let a man live at all, will they?" Chinaski, Bukowski's alter ego, remarks on page 75. "They always want him at the wheel." What Bukowski did, in his constant non-conformity and eventual resignation and subsequent novel-writing, was to place both hands on the wheel and choose to veer wildly all over the road. Some of Chinaski's actions may seem petty (and if you had to work alongside Bukowski in such a job you would probably think he was a bit of a piss-ant) but you have to admire someone who is so intolerant of workplace servility that he could only suffer through it himself with an unstable mixture of stubbornness, indifference and outright contempt.