My father was a mailman. A long, lean man when young, he walked his routes in good time. Back in those days, just after the war, mailmen (there were no mailwomen) were not well paid, but they delivered the mail no matter what the circumstances and their identity was deeply organized around their capacity to ignore discomfort or any external impediments; traffic, excessively sociable housewives, and, of course, obnoxious dogs. Their time was carefully calculated (fifteen minutes per mile), and they had to keep moving, if all of the contents of their bag were to be delivered to their appropriate destination.

There was, of course, a certain glory to their role. They wore crisp grey uniforms, carried bags made of substantial leather or canvas. They had large rings of keys that opened sundry mailboxes that contained, in those days, many secrets, and it was their responsibility, as mailmen, to preserve those secrets.  They knew who was writing to whom, who was receiving what and from where, and who received much and who little. They had to see and know without saying.  As letters contained human sentiment, however constrained, and mailboxes contained letters, mailmen, through their access to mailboxes, saw the letters and, to some degree, understood the language of the mail. They knew the predilections of life, and when you looked into a mailman’s eyes, you understood that behind those eyes was an awareness of how things stood with the world.

Further, the mailman was most of all a glorified messenger, and so he subsumed the soul of  Hermes, who regularly trafficked with gods and men. As messenger of whatever needed to be delivered, the mailman had to be a regular visitor to heaven and hell and everywhere between.  He walked his route, and the specifics of his route were determined by the mail-of-the-moment. If some sorry soul in hell merited the delivery of some ointment, then to hell the mailman went.  And he had to do this with the aplomb of a god because he knew that he might be back in hell seven times in the next month, what with the need for ointment among the condemned. 

But even among gods, particularly the Greeks, there is suffering, and mailmen, at least in the early months, tolerated blisters and sore feet, aching backs and necks, and, most of all, the yammering and baleful stares of the legions of administrators at central office, to which the mailman had to return each day.  These persons, who existed in endless duplicates, gazed out of eyes filled with panic and sadness, they continually looked back and forth from their superiors to their supervisees, wondering from which direction news of their fate would come. They longed only to “go upstairs” where a select number of men sat at big desks and had contact only with a few others who also sat at big desks. The upstairs men wore shirts and ties and spoke on the phone to Syracuse and Des Moines.  What they accomplished in a day no one knew, and no one questioned.

In time, my father became one of those upstairs men, and each day he donned his suit and disappeared into the megalopic fortress of the Post Office. He was one of those rare men who traversed the sea from a foreign land, walked the walk of a carrier, and then disappeared into the heavens.  There, before a big desk suspended above the ground floor across which millions of parcels passed each day, he trafficked in the movement of meaning throughout the known universe, indeed, he sat at times with other men in suits in glass enclosed offices around vast mahogany tables, no doubt discussing the difficulties involved in the movement of meaning in alternate or parallel universes, the effect of great galactic time vortexes on the punctuality of the mail, and, of course, the myriad moods of God, with whom they conversed daily, and who determined Himself the great Whether- that is, not if it happens to be raining or sleeting, with that a mailman is expected to deal without complaint – but rather whether there will be a tomorrow at all. It is this order of scheduling issue which men in suits address.

For the Post Office, along with everything else, carries the question: is it better to know, to have an opportunity to construe meaning, or to rest in a blissful darkness bereft of meaning? Is it better to know, or to have known, or to know at some future time? And when precisely is that time, for how is one to manage the schedule of millions unless one knows the exact moment when knowing becomes having known? Men who have long known have that wizened look and slowness of movement characteristic of those who know and are now among the having known. Men yet to know have that eagerness shot through with anxiety typical of those for whom knowledge is “pending arrival” but is not yet quite there. What if a train derails, or there is a ripple in the fabric of time or, worse yet, that damn Sullivan calls in sick for the sixth time this month? And those who know, are right now at this moment in the process of knowing, are walking around with that look of blissful but bemused transport, as if to say, “I am – now what the heck does that mean?”

For as there are innumerable stories below in the Post Office, there too are stories above, far above, where meaning is not only transported but in fact created, where men with light filled eyes sit before sparkling impeccable desks, and nearby is the Office of Reification and Reflexivity where you oh so tentatively push open the door only to find the same door before you as the one behind swings shut, and beyond that another door saying precisely the same, and beyond that – well, you get the idea, you are caught in one of those redundancy loops and your gut is for a moment filled with panic. But then you realize that you haven’t walked all those miles, faced all those feral dogs, banished all those over-friendly housewives, just to be entrapped in a simple deconstructive wormhole – you have seen these illusions before, and transcended them.

So you relax and watch as that final door falls away, sort of melts and disappears, like the dew in old Kerry under the bright morning sun, and there you are face to face with the One, the source of all, all the threatening dogs and sleet and buxom housewives, the fanatical supervisors and overtime cheats, the wind and rain and trees and trucks with huge tires splashing slush as you trudge over a curbstone, the ultimate origin of all the damn complexity and irreversibility of life on the surface, the pain and sadness when things are lost, and the even greater grief when they are delivered, and you see the glistening name tag on his breast pocket stating “O’Reilly” and you feel the comfort reserved for those who have seen the man in the ultimate suit and lived, and you see his hand reaching out holding something, something intended only for you, and it turns out to be a buck and O’Reilly says,

“Hey, Murph, get me a coffee from the machine, would ya? No cream”

Shortly after that my father took early retirement and spent his golden years blissfully  watching my younger brother’s hockey practices, for, in truth, after you’ve been to the top floor of the Post Office, where else is there to go?