Walking with the Mailman


Chapter One


Deus Ex Machina


[Latin phrase meaning: An improbable solution to an apparently insoluble problem.]



The soft grass felt good under my winter feet as I strolled across the lawn.  Spring was waking up from a deep sleep and the whole world seemed to be smiling in response.  In this upper class neighborhood the mail weighed heavily on my back, but I really didn’t notice it, for it was a gorgeous afternoon, perfect really, and I felt free and light in my short sleeved shirt.  I could feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and the forgotten songs of birds filled the air.  All was well.

Rarely is a new mailman, a true bottom of the barrel letter carrier with mere crumbs of seniority, assigned such a lush route.  But somehow on this particular day the circumstances worked out just right, a sweet providence, perhaps, and City Route One fell to me.

Few routes equal City One.  It’s a glowing place, a parade of immaculate lawns where one not only catches the fragrant scent of blooming flowers, but the aroma of old money hangs thick in the air.

I’d be prepared to argue that the best relay in our city is located on this route.  Maybe the world.  It’s an enchanting little walk.  You follow a quiet, bending road under a high canopy of oaks and maples.  As squirrels play in the swaying branches, sunlight dances on the earth below.  The houses are all nestled in the woods on one side of the street, which means that when you drop the mail off at the last box, you’re free to stroll back in an easy fashion and enjoy the tranquility.  This single relay can wash away a week’s worth of anxiety.

Later that day, I glanced down at my watch.  Ten after three.  The work day was nearing its end.  Standing at the back of my truck, I examined the last few remaining relays.  They were short and sweet. 

About an hour to go, I thought to myself, starting to think about my evening plans.  I loaded up my bag, grabbed a small parcel, shut the back door and headed off. 

This particular relay is “T” shaped.  The carrier starts at the bottom of the “T” and follows the shape around to the right, across the top and back down, returning to his truck in about twenty minutes.

All was quiet as I moved from one two-story brick house to the next.  I fingered the letters and then the flats, delivered the mail and proceeded on.  I fingered the letters, and then the flats, my head lifted up and… I noticed something. 

Some distance away, across the street, I distinctly saw a dog running toward me.

Now one must understand that in the animal kingdom there are different running styles to suit different occasions.  There is the frightened, full throttle sprint one will see in an animal facing mortal danger.  Their faces are full of dread and terror.  Sheer panic propels them as they run for their lives.           

The dog coming toward me wasn’t running like this.

We can also talk about the free spirited gallop.  If you picture a giraffe trotting happily about under the African sun with a well pleased look on his face, then you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the “Hey, let’s jog over to this water hole” kind of run.

The dog coming toward me wasn’t running like this either.

There is also the “My master is home and I’m running to greet him” kind of run.  This one is quite common with dogs.  At the sight or sound of their owner, the dog’s face is marked with excitement as their tail wildly wags back and forth, “My master is here!  My master is here!  Go, go!  Run!”  And with all the animation of an amusement park they slam into their owner, bending back and forth at the midsection like a large bass out of water.  A few reassuring pats on their side with a bit of “Good boy, you’re a good dog,” usually calms the animal slightly. 

The dog coming toward me definitely wasn’t running like this. 

No, his manner of running resembled something altogether different, something far more disturbing, something like the “I’m gonna eat you for lunch” kind of run.  It’s predatory in nature, ferocious and chilling; like a cheetah bursting out of the tall grass for his prey, his sleek body flexing with each great stride, ears back, eyes focused, his almost gravity-defying speed lifting him off the ground. 

Unfortunately, the dog coming toward me was sprinting just like a hungry cheetah. 

Fear instantly gripped my heart. 

It should be noted that this fear didn’t spring so much from the “I’m going to eat you for lunch” kind of run- for I had dealt with that on other occasions- but it sprang from the realization that this wasn’t just any old dog coming towards me.  It was that creature of postal infamy which mailmen of old have spoken about with great sobriety and earnestness.  From the lips of these postal ancients, terrifying traditions have been passed down so as to warn and prepare green little carriers for just such an occasion as this.  Now my time had come, and I could only stand there with wide, shock-filled eyes at what was rushing towards me.  For there, now only 70 feet away, was the awful and dreaded pit bull.  

Oh Mommy, the pit bull; the Rippus Leggus Offitus, the most feared of all dogs.  It’s said that this fiend has been forged out of the very pits of hell.  I mean really, can we call something that’s half devil a breed of dog?  We’ve heard the stories about their “lockjaw” and how someone will have to use a crowbar to free the poor victim from the dog’s mouth.  We’ve heard the stories of cops shooting the animal five times in the face to no avail.  We’ve heard how they’ve been bred to continue fighting through dehydration, broken limbs and even decapitation.  And now, here in what should have been one of the most unlikely neighborhoods, I was standing directly in the crosshairs of a very, very ticked off pit bull. 

It’s funny how quickly one can forget the pleasures of the day. 

So there I stood frozen in the middle of a well manicured lawn watching this dog barrel towards me.  A deep chill ran up my spine, and I could feel the blood draining from my body as my mind raced for answers.

“Oh, no…” I murmured. 

In a flash, my mind began to operate more rationally.  One word came to me, Mace!   My hand dropped to grab the good old trusty can of dog spray at my side, but to my absolute horror, it was gone. 

Gone!  How was it gone!?!  I always carry mace.  Where is it!?!  Did it fall off? 

Oh, no!    

It’s hard to describe the flood of emotions that hit me all at once, though it felt as if I had been suddenly struck by the blast of a shotgun with every little pellet cutting through me producing a different effect: shock, terror, sorrow, anger… But most clearly felt of all was something like the sensation of being buck naked.  It was an acute awareness of just how poorly equipped we humans are for combat, in comparison to animals, anyway.  My finger nails tend to be too long, but they would hardly pass as claws.  I suppose I do have a strong bite, but it’s terribly unwieldy.  I can’t outrun the dog, I don’t have wings, and I can’t even crawl up inside a shell.  I’m just a thin, white, juicy steak with a head.   

As the dog closed in, I had to make a decision.  Would I run or make a stand?  The thought jumped into my head: Just kick that thing as hard as you can! 

That’s it!  I’ll kick it! 

Kick it?  What was I thinking?  What a moron!  Was I really going to put my leg out there so that Lockjaw could clamp onto it forever?  I might as well set my leg on a plate with a fork and knife and hand it to him.  

It was too late for further deliberation.  I had made my choice. 

As the dog came in hard, I pulled back my leg and shot it out with all the might I could muster.  I suppose someone who knows a thing or two about Karate would say that I attempted, at least in theory, a front snap kick.  As this “front snap kick” went out, I actually felt it connect.  To my utter amazement, it was a solid hit and the dog, well, at this point I wish I could boast of having kicked the dog so hard that I sent him flying through the air in a back flip, but it was much more modest than that.  I had merely deflected him.  The kick simply kept him from slamming into me.  But it worked.  So there he stood, about four feet away, momentum gone, snarling something vicious.     

If I thought the dog looked ticked off before, I could now see hell-fire blazing in his eyes.  And with those eyes, he communicated to me one very clear message, “Bad idea, mailman.  Now you gonna die.” 

I wish I could say that I followed up my “front snap kick” with a roundhouse or something Jackie Chan-ish, but the whole thought of making a stand seemed like a really bad idea.  I still had my right leg and I liked it that way.  So the decision to run came quite easily.  In a flash, I turned and began to run away like a little girl. 

There then followed something most unfortunate. 

Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I didn’t realize that there was a street sign only a few feet behind me, and so when I spun around, of course with my head turned to watch the dog, I proceeded to slam right into the metal pole with a “thud.”  Yep, my face and shoulder smacked right into that stupid thing, which pretty much ended my mad dash in an instant.  It had the effect of spinning me about so that I was facing Lockjaw again.  His eyes gave me a slightly new message, “Real slick, stupid.  Now you gonna die.” 

At the Post Office, sometimes we’re required to watch instructional videos about safety.  Early in the morning, the supervisor will yell out, “Gather round everybody- Safety talk!”  With a few protesting groans we grab our stools and lazily plop down in front of a 24-inch Zenith.  As the supervisor fumbles around with the remote, we rub the morning sleep from our eyes and try to get comfortable.  The blue screen of death flickers a bit and the movie starts up. 

On one such morning the video began with the frozen image of a snarling and wild eyed German Shepherd staring us down.  Intense music blared out of the speakers and a bold red title slowly took form.  It read, “When Dogs Attack.” 

That’s funny.  They didn’t say, “If Dogs Attack.”  They said, “When Dogs Attack.”  Is this the Post Office’s not so subtle way of telling us, “That’s right boys and girls, sooner or later they’re gonna jump ya, and we can’t afford for you to sit in a hospital, so pay attention.” 

It’s interesting that they also didn’t say, “If A Dog Attacks,” but they said, “When Dogs Attack.”  Good grief, can we expect to be assaulted by a whole pack of dogs? 

Needless to say, the video definitely had our attention. 

There then followed the all too typical cheesy acting which seems to be a universal given for such productions.  Some of the guys chuckled and elbowed each other as we watched a smiling mailman walk down the street and get ambushed by a lunging German Shepherd.  Just before the guy was devoured, the picture froze and some instructional bullets highlighted the proper procedure for dealing with aggressive dogs. 

The first one said, “Don’t panic.” 

Don’t panic?  You’ve got a hell hound trying to tear you apart and you’re not supposed to panic?  The room was beginning to liven up with laughter.    

The next bullet read, “Use your spray as a defense.” 

Great idea!  But what the heck are you supposed to do when your dog spray magically disappears? 

Another bullet came into view, “Use your bag as a shield.” 

The video proceeded to demonstrate the technique.  The mailman, who by now had an incredibly overacted expression of fear on his face, stuck his bag out in front of him and held the dog at bay.  It worked wonderfully!  The dog was thwarted and the mailman escaped from the German Shepherd’s clutches.  Simple as that.   

That was it!  All I had to do was use my bag as a shield and all would be just fine.  And so that’s exactly what I did next. 

The dog’s muscles tightened as he prepared to charge in for the kill, but just as he was about to pounce, I pushed out my blue mailbag like a gladiator using his shield to deflect an incoming sword.  I couldn’t believe it, but it worked.  It deterred the dog.  The pit bull could have easily swallowed my bag whole if he so chose, but for some reason he was a little confused by the action and chose instead to try to circle around and flank me.  But with every dart to the left and jump to the right, I pivoted and wheeled around to meet him.  I held out my bag like a crucifix and marveled at how the vampric beast kept his distance. 

This was all good and dandy, but what next?  All my attention had to remain focused on keeping that dog in front of me.  I didn’t look around for a tree to climb.  I didn’t think to yell for help.  I didn’t try to steal a look at the ground for a missing can of dog spray.  I could only play defense.  But I knew that I couldn’t keep it up much longer. 

What happened next still astonishes me to this day.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of something moving in our direction.  Daring a look, I saw a large, grey-colored Buick heading straight for us.  Inside I could see a little old man with a plain hat, both hands on the steering wheel at ten and two, picking up speed as he was obviously going to try to run us over.  Wait!  No, not us, but the dog!  He must have seen what was going on as he was cruising down the top of the “T” and decided to change his coordinates for the pit bull.  He was trying to save me.  He was my Deus Ex Machina!  And so, while laying on the horn, he drove right up into the grass in order to spear the dog. 

I jumped to the side and the pit bull backpedaled with a confused expression on his face.  As the Buick’s horn thundered, the dog displayed complete alarm.  The old boat revved and lurched forward with threatening jerks as the driver slammed the brakes, pushed the pedal, slammed the brakes and revved the engine.  The dog had no idea what to do.  Who would?  I hardly knew what to do.  It isn’t every day that you see an old man drive across someone’s yard in order to squash a dog.  

I stood there dumbfounded for a moment and then realized that gawking wasn’t the smartest thing to do.  I had a clear opening of escape, and so I took it.

In my line of work it’s always good to remember that someone at any given time may be watching you- a chance glance out an upstairs window, a peering look down a side street.  I wonder if on this day anyone had the privilege of watching my struggle come to an end.  Perhaps only the birds and the squirrels saw the man in the blue uniform running frantically down the street toward the parked truck.  They would have watched his run stutter with short hops as his hand worked hard at pulling out some keys.  They finally would have witnessed his dive into the truck and the slam of the door.  Peering down from their branch, they would have seen a very pale mailman panting heavily with a look of disbelief on his face.  And if they looked very carefully, they may have noticed that he still clutched in his left hand a bundle of letters that were still somehow neatly in order.


Copyright (c) 2010 by Austin Brown. All Rights Reserved. Walking with the Mailman.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations.  For more information contact the author.