POST OFFICE – CHARLES BUKOWSKI
When I first read Post Office by Charles Bukowski as a teenager I didn't really rate it. Reading it again years later, however, I appreciate it much more and am duly impressed. Why might this be? Age and experience, I presume? As a teenager I would have had little concept of the world of work apart from the fact that I didn't wish to get too heavily involved in it. Having now worked at a variety of jobs of the kind that Bukowski writes about in Post Office, I can now understand where he's coming from. In addition, now that I know a bit more about Bukowski and thanks to YouTube have now heard his beautiful voice, I appreciate him much more as a writer.
Post Office is a book that probably everyone should read, particularly those stuck in low-paid, menial, exploitative jobs. And believe me, that's a lot of people. Bukowski nails it again and again by highlighting all the small but universal things that come with having a crap job. The low pay (of course), the impossible hours, the petty rules, the strict productivity, the impossibility of saving anything from the low wages, the overtime to make ends meet, the mealy-minded managers, the constant tiredness, the resultant ill health, the high turnover of staff, the cretinous work colleagues, the constant fear and threat of dismissal, the repetitiveness, the stupidity, etc, etc.
That's not to say it's all doom and gloom because when you're working in a low-paid, menial job there is always a dark humour to it. For those who have a sense of the ridiculous there is never ending laughter to be had either at your own expense or the expense of those in job positions above that of your own.
And so it is with Bukowski's Post Office. There is a sense of humour that pervades the whole book be it when he's writing about his job or when he's relaying comic tales from his social life. Alongside this there is also madness, sadness, celebration and hope. All the stuff of life, essentially.
Bukowski weathers the storm and at the end makes his move to a better life by resigning from his job after enduring it for twelve long years. Not to move into better employment but to move away from employment altogether for the sake of his health, his sanity, his soul – and for the hell of it.
'Maybe I'll write a novel,' Bukowski thinks to himself. And so he did, and he called it Post Office.
There's a quote by Charles Bukowski where he says: 'How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8.30am by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?'
Is this not a universal truth? There are jobs that can be enjoyed, of course, and there is such a thing as the dignity of labour but when you're talking about low-paid, menial, exploitative jobs this all goes out the window. The tragedy of it is that a huge swath of people have no other option but to work in such jobs if they wish to survive in the world. You work or you starve. You work or you lose your home. You work or you die. Or so we're led to believe. The even greater tragedy of it is that still to this day nothing is very different to how it's always been and in many ways is actually even worse now.
It's just the way it is, you might say? And you wouldn't be wrong. But does that mean it's just the way it's always going to be? Does that mean it must only get worse, with all those stuck in the drudgery of rubbish jobs being ground down ever further year after year, generation after generation?
There must be some kind of way out of the poverty trap, surely? And there is. For the individual – on their own – there are indeed ways to strike out for a better life. In Post Office, Bukowski writes his way out using the subject of his job at the post office as source material, along with tales of his life in the gutter as he looks up at the stars. And that's fine. That's all well and good. But rather than individuals escaping one at a time, what is really required is for there to be a mass breakout, for everyone to escape en masse and for there to be no-one left behind. For until all are free, none are free.
That is the dream...