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The postman rings twice

By Jack J. Woehr
web posted October 29, 2001

It's Autumn in Colorado. Maybe it's Indian Summer, maybe it's global warming, but Autumn this year is Fall, a treat for eyes and noses which Western Nature doesn't always offer us.

Some years Colorado snows early and heavy. Then the leaves freeze green with ugly dark blotches and hang on the limb mournfully well into winter, or come down with the branch in the 65 m.p.h. winds that accompany such unseasonable seasons.

But this year it's Fall, one very light snowfall early in October, followed by hazy, golden days. Wispy clouds drift high above the mesas. Hillsides are patchwork quilts, freckled with reds, yellows, browns and golds.

Blackbirds flock overhead, circling, climbing, diving, still rehearsing their increasingly postponed migration. The crows, who live in the moutains during the summer and down on the Front Range in the winter, arrived at their winter nesting in the arroyo early this month but then left again. They'll be back when the arctic winds finally, inevitably roar down the face of the Rockies later this year.

The geese never leave, wintering instead on the golf courses.

Ground Zero in New York seemed very far away on this lazy Saturday. Though the headlines of the morning newspaper trumpeted the signing in Washington of legislation which symbolically sacrifices the Constitution on the altar of Expediency, politics and pessimism seemed out of place, a shameful, sanpaku waste of precious time drifting lazily past us like the smoke of dry cottonwood leaves burning in a neighbor's yard.

Waiting like the drowsy air for a breeze to blow me in some direction, I stood outside in the yard as the U.S. Postal Service truck pulled up by the mailbox. Our postman ­ ours because he has been our postman so many years ­ climbed out to hand me the mail. In that moment I flashed on what work must be like for him.

I gave the postman a big smile and a cheery, "Surviving all the B.S.?"

He made a wry face as he climbed back into the truck."Yeah, right!" he laughed.

America is still America, I thought, and went back into the house with the mail.

A few minutes later the doorbell rang. It was the postman. He's a big fellow. We've talked many times, and by tacit agreement I stand on the front step while he stands on the sidewalk so that our eyes meet.

"I thought you deserved an answer," he started, uncertainly, almost sheepishly but determined. "You just can't believe it. I'm so fed up. I feel like my dad tells me he felt when he came back from World War II."

"Pretty bad, huh?" I asked.

"People on my route, people in this neighborhood, people I've talked to for years won't come near me, won't open their doors anymore. They think we're all infected."

"I don't," I said and offered a hand, which he shook.

"And then there's all the meetings at work, where the big shots in the $500 suits come down and lecture us every day how it's going to be. Every day rubbing our noses in it. Look," he said earnestly, "I could get rammed on Interstate 25 any day. I'm not scared. I have my beliefs. But it's like they want us to be afraid. I've been on the job for almost thirty years. They leave us greybeards alone, but most of the people there are pretty new. Many of the other workers, they're like sheep, they're terrified and want to be led by the nose. They're already wearing the gloves and the masks while sorting."

"Well, like you say, people are scared," I opined. "They have to deal with their fear as best they know how. In the 1960's when I was a kid I used to spend weekends with my uncle in Washington DC, a scruffy hippy, wandering in and out of public buildings, fascinated by our heritage. No one bothered me or even looked at me. But even in the 1980's it had changed. Guards with machine guns all over the place. Concrete barricades. I guess it's much worse now."

"I just worry what kind of America your kids and mine are going to have," he said. "People are getting stampeded. This year it's 'we're doing this to defend our freedoms', in a few months it could be 'more powers to the government', and then an authoritarian system. Maybe a monarchy. You can look at these politicians' kids and say to yourself, 'One of these is going to be president someday' and you're probably right. It's getting to be hereditary."

"Maybe someday Gore III vs. Bush III?" I joked.

"It's terrible what happened in New York," he said with feeling. "It's awful those people getting killed like that. We've got to deal with it. But a lot of what they're doing, I don't think it's because they care about what happens to the average person. We're expendable. A lot of it is just about people keeping what they've got."

"The facial scan cameras were going up at the intersections long before the crisis," I agreed. "Recent events have been very convenient for some people."

"Some people are getting rich off of this," he said ruefully. "I'm not a joiner, but now I see why there is an American Civil Liberties Union."

"Whatever happens," I said, "A few times a week I'll be standing by the mailbox and we'll still say hello when you drive up."

He smiled that wry smile. "Yeah, some things don't change."

Jack J. Woehr of Fairmount, Colorado, doesn't wear gloves to open his mail. Mostly he just tosses it in the can.

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