"It began as a mistake." By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers. This classic 1971 novel—the one that catapulted its author to national fame—is the perfect introduction to the grimly hysterical world of legendary writer, poet, and Dirty Old Man Charles Bukowski and his fictional alter ego, Chinaski.
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About the Author
Charles Bukowski is one of America’s best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of two. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for over fifty years. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.
Abel Debritto, a former Fulbright scholar and current Marie Curie fellow, works in the digital humanities. He is the author of Charles Bukowski, King of the Underground, and the editor of the Bukowski collections On Writing, On Cats, and On Love.
Date of Birth:August 16, 1920
Date of Death:March 9, 1994
Place of Birth:Andernach, Germany
Place of Death:San Pedro, California
Education:Los Angeles City College, 2 years
Read an Excerpt
post officeA Novel
It began as a mistake.
It was Christmas season and I learned from the drunk up the hill, who did the trick every Christmas, that they would hire damned near anybody, and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back and was hiking around at my leisure. What a job, I thought. Soft! They only gave you a block or two and if you managed to finish, the regular carrier would give you another block to carry, or maybe you'd go back in and the soup would give you another, but you just took your time and shoved those Xmas cards in the slots.
I think it was my second day as a Christmas temp that this big woman came out and walked around with me as I delivered letters. What I mean by big was that her ass was big and her tits were big and that she was big in all the right places. She seemed a bit crazy but I kept looking at her body and I didn't care.
She talked and talked and talked. Then it came out. Her husband was an officer on an island far away and she got lonely, you know, and lived in this little house in back all by herself.
"What little house?" I asked.
She wrote the address on a piece of paper.
"I'm lonely too," I said, "I'll come by and we'll talk tonight."
I was shacked but the shackjob was gone halfthe time, off somewhere, and I was lonely all right. I was lonely for that big ass standing beside me.
"All right," she said, "see you tonight."
She was a good one all right, she was a good lay but like all lays after the third or fourth night I began to lose interest and didn't go back.
But I couldn't help thinking, god, all these mailmen do is drop in their letters and get laid. This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes.
So I took the exam, passed it, took the physical, passed it, and there I was -- a substitute mail carrier. It began easy. I was sent to West Avon Station and it was just like Christmas except I didn't get laid. Every day I expected to get laid but I didn't. But the soup was easy and I strolled around doing a block here and there. I didn't even have a uniform, just a cap. I wore my regular clothes. The way my shackjob Betty and I drank there was hardly money for clothes.
Then I was transferred to Oakford Station.
The soup was a bullneck named Jonstone. Help was needed there and I understood why. Jonstone liked to wear dark-red shirts -- that meant danger and blood. There were seven subs -- Tom Moto, Nick Pelligrini, Herman Stratford, Rosey Anderson, Bobby Hansen, Harold Wiley and me, Henry Chinaski. Reporting time was 5 a.m. and I was the only drunk there. I always drank until past midnight, and there we'd sit, at 5 a.m., waiting to get on the clock, waiting for some regular to call in sick. The regulars usually called in sick when it rained or during a heatwave or the day after a holiday when the mail load was doubled.
There were 40 or 50 different routes, maybe more, each case was different, you were never able to learn any of them, you had to get your mail up and ready before 8 a.m. for the truck dispatches, and Jonstone would take no excuses. The subs routed their magazines on corners, went without lunch, and died in the streets. Jonstone would have us start casing the routes 30 minutes late -- spinning in his chair in his red shirt -- "Chinaski take route 539!" We'd start a half hour short but were still expected to get the mail up and out and be back on time. And once or twice a week, already beaten, fagged and fucked we had to make the night pickups, and the schedule on the board was impossible -- the truck wouldn't go that fast. You had to skip four or five boxes on the first run and the next time around they were stacked with mail and you stank, you ran with sweat jamming it into the sacks. I got laid all right. Jonstone saw to that.
The subs themselves made Jonstone possible by obeying his impossible orders. I couldn't see how a man of such obvious cruelty could be allowed to have his position. The regulars didn't care, the union man was worthless, so I filled out a thirty page report on one of my days off, mailed one copy to Jonstone and took the other down to the Federal Building. The clerk told me to wait. I waited and waited and waited. I waited an hour and thirty minutes, then was taken in to see a little grey-haired man with eyes like cigarette ash. He didn't even ask me to sit down. He began screaming at me as I entered the door.
"You're a wise son of a bitch, aren't you?" "I'd rather you didn't curse me, sir!"
"Wise son of a bitch, you're one of those sons of bitches with a vocabulary and you like to lay it around!"
He waved my papers at me. And screamed: "MR. JONSTONE IS A FINE MAN!"
"Don't be silly. He's an obvious sadist," I said.
"How long have you been in the Post Office?"
"MR. JONSTONE HAS BEEN WITH THE POST OFFICE FOR 30 YEARS!"
"What does that have to do with it?"
"I said, MR. JONSTONE IS A FINE MAN!"
I believe the poor fellow actually wanted to kill me. He and Jonstone must have slept together.
"All right," I said, "Jonstone is a fine man. Forget the whole fucking thing." Then I walked out and took the next day off. Without pay, of course.
Excerpted from post office by Charles Bukowski Copyright © 2007 by Charles Bukowski. Excerpted by permission.
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