Wednesday, November 28, 2012

But I am Gonzales

In the summer of 1969, my brother and I applied for and then got summer jobs working for the post office. We both worked the parcel post belt for most of the summer. Occasionally we worked what was called "the bum room" where sacks were folded and stored, and every once in a while we were on the loading docks receiving incoming bags of parcels and placing them on skids.

The job was not that difficult; we knew we were only there for the summer so the problem with the work--that it was dull--would not be something we had to worry about. And we have great stories from some of the characters we met on the parcel post belt and thereabouts.  To be sure, the people I have met in so called white collar jobs are just as idiosyncratic as those in the blue collar post office. The difference is only the flavor of quirkiness.  I have met some strange ducks with very highfalutin college degrees, so my comments about the post office are not to be considered as condescending remarks from a college professor.

Our job on the parcel post belt amounted to waiting for parcels to travel toward us which we would then trow (as in throw) into bins.  A manager at one end of the belt would tell the workers there to "keep dumping" the parcels onto the belt, while my manager on the belt, would exhort us to "clear the belt" encouraging sometimes a frenzied tossing of the parcels just to clear the belt as more and more packages came our way.  Getting the parcels into the right bin became secondary to getting rid of the parcels. If the belt were to be clogged with parcels-- meaning we had not cleared them quickly enough--the fellows dumping the parcels and their manager would consider this a victory of some sort having dumped parcels more quickly than we could trow them.  The result was this folly of rapid dumping and haphazard trowing, an explanation perhaps for some slow delivery if you lived in Nassau or Suffolk county in the summer of 1969.

The post office we were in was really outdated.  It looked and was like an old factory. Cement floor, dust all over the joint, lunchrooms right out of 1950 industrial films.  And so, a new facility was being built for the modern '70s. On occasion we would be taken to the new facility to get it ready for its opening. We veterans of the old parcel post method were wide eyed when we saw the newfangled way parcels would be sorted.  Something like watching Mr. Wizard or the GE exhibit at the 1964 worlds fair.

Our work at the new facility involved moving things from here to there prepping for the grand opening. As was the case on the old parcel post belt, managerial instructions toward this end were haphazardly, but loudly, barked.  "You, take that bucket and move it here." "Push those skids to first class."  "Get those bum bags the hell out of here. Let's go."

The veterans and the summer workers were moving around like a poorly coordinated marching band in various directions pushing this and hauling that, crisscrossing, comically to any observer not her or himself engaged. One of the regular workers was named Gonzales.  A manager in a tie doing a management dance was pointing here and there giving orders.  To Gonzales, he gave a nod to a ladder that was lying on its side.  "Look," he said, "You and Gonzales take that ladder the hell away from here."

Gonzales, always in an old fashioned tank top undershirt--forever with a toothpick in his mouth--snapped his head back. With spittle coming out from around the toothpick he responded incredulously "But, I am Gonzales" he said.

The manager did not want to be bothered with this fact. He made a gesture with his hands that could have passed for the illegal procedure signal of a football referee before strutting somewhere else to bark some command.

To this day whenever I hear someone call another Gonzales I can't help myself from thinking if not saying, "But I am Gonzales."

I thought of the story today on the way to work even though I had not heard anyone say Gonzales.  I was thinking about something my dad had written recently about how we are all connected to one another. I responded to him that I agreed. I commented that the word "individual" refers to a bogus construction not a reality.  Yes, I am  in a different body than my colleagues at work. But maybe we ought to consider the possibility, as Rod Serling-esque as it seems, that we are otherwise connected in a way that cannot currently be explained such that no individual is a human entity by her or himself.

Lovers, in particular, are hinged in a way that is as real as the way the door to my office is hinged to its frame. Try to yank lovers apart and it is as unnatural and destructive as trying to rip a door off its hinge.  If we think of ourselves as individuals--discretely separated from others--it is difficult to function without something being set off kilter in our universe.

I've blogged about this before, but it is worth considering that we introduce toxins into our system once we deliberately separate from others and especially those we love.  "But I am Gonzales" is only true on a level related to hoisting ladders independently.  Gonzales is more than Gonzales and is not even Gonzales without the connections Gonzales has to others..

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