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Guy’s World: Going Postal In Khandallah

I was told by a postie that the phrase ‘going postal’ was coined for Vietnam War veterans, who had work found for them in U.S. postal service. It was thought that delivering mail would be easy, soothing work that wouldn’t trigger flashbacks to their war experiences. Inevitably though, they’d be attacked by a dog or a crotchety old woman demanding a registered letter (both expert at spotting neurosis and exploiting it) sparking off a psychotic episode that came to be known as ‘going postal’.

National Radio recently featured the reminiscences of a couple of posties who delivered mail in Khandallah during the Seventies. Having been a Khandallah postie myself, I could not miss this show. “The cats out of the bag now,” I thought, expecting revelations that would shock and stun the matrons of Khandallah.

Initially my fears seemed unfounded, as the pair of posties tamely recounted stories about houses with no letterboxes, dogs that chased them down the street, and their campaign to replace their old boots with Bata Bullets so they could sprint through their run and play soccer all afternoon. But they soon got into the good stuff. In their version of the classic missing mailbag story, celebrated poet and archetypal hedonist/artist Khandallah postie James K. Baxter threw a mail bag he didn’t want to deliver down a bank, putting an end to his postal career.

One of the posties remembered opening a letter and finding some sheets of LSD, taking a few for himself, resealing the letter and posting it on. He said the acid was soon being sold all over Wellington. “It wasn’t particularly good acid,” he remembered. Posties know these things. One of the great things about delivering mail six days a week is it keeps you fit enough to take drugs and stay healthy. They also solved the mystery of the missing Time magazine. Your postie is reading it at home.

Early this year, I got an urgent call up from the Khandallah post office, where I had applied for casual work, because one of the posties had gone postal. It didn’t surprise me. He was an acquaintance, and the last time I had seen him he was telling me his alarm clock was bleeding every time it woke him up and was insisting that he pulled a browneye at Arthur C. Clarke from a yacht in the Marlborough Sounds on new year’s eve. Apparently he’d been telling everyone in the office they were numbers, and his work had deteriorated. He had crossed the line from the harmless madness that gets you through sorting mail six days a week, into genuine psychosis, and was sent off to chill out in the psychiatric ward.

It was apparent from the first day that this was not a normal job. From behind the sorting cases, the posties alternately made smutty jokes and broke into animal noises. The office reverberated with the sounds of majestic wildebeest, faraway lions and lemurs. The post is a career that attracts society’s misfits, throwing together artists, bogans, Pentecostal heavy metal guitarists with OOS, catholic unionists, pharmaceutical experimenters, African American basketballers on the wrong side of the world and would-be journalists in a demented and occasionally explosive social experiment. Fortunately, it only lasts a couple of hours every morning, before the posties go out on the solitary task of mail delivery.

The youngest postie at Khandallah delivery branch was a hyperactive 17 year old who would attack you without warning, triggering a beating or a rubber band war (posties use the big fat rubber bands that sting real good on uncovered legs). Somehow he got away with accusing the boss of various sexual perversions without being fired. The kid (called ‘the gnome’ by the boss because he was as short as he was cheeky) had been tormenting another postie for weeks, ignoring warnings to quit while he was ahead, before the other postie calmly chucked a coffee mug at him, strolled over and kicked him in the ass, and then went back about his work as if nothing had happened. Somehow, it was the gnome that got the telling off.

The postal postie returned after a couple of months downtime at the ward, but due to other posties’ knee and occupational overuse injuries, I was kept on. He had some hilarious habits. Whatever was being talked about he would add the prefix “dirty filthy” to. We were the “dirty filthy posties.” Among his repertoire of stock phrases he would exclaim at the top of his lungs, as if he had Tourette’s syndrome, were: “Jezebel, temptress of Babylon,” and “slimy eels.” Somehow, smut seemed to follow him around, or he had such a keen eye for it he would seek it out. On more than one occasion he found postcards with topless pin up girls on them amongst his mail. No one else seemed to.

The posties on National Radio seemed to be looking back at their postie days through rose tinted glasses, talking about how the sun always seemed to be shining as they ran through the Khandallah hills, their long hair flowing in the wind. Funny thing is, I remember it just as fondly. Once you’re out of the madness of the office, the job can be very Zen. You rarely get very cold if you’re busy, most people are nice, or they at least ignore you, and although I got barked at a lot, no dog ever attacked me. A lot of dogs and cats regularly wait for their postie to pat them.

If there are Khandallah residents who disapprove of their posties, they should give them credit where it’s due. Most of the mail gets to the right box six days a week. As long as the posties achieve that goal, they’re fit and free to be as mad as they want to be.

Feedback to guy@scoop.co.nz

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