When I was carrying mail near the Berea community outside of Oxford, I used to see a lot of weather balloons dropping back down from the stratosphere into treelines between mobile homes, or loping along the scabby furrows of spent tobacco fields. At first, when I was just picking up the route, I couldn’t justify stopping the vehicle and chasing after the balloons because despite all the lip service to safety management paid during all too frequent morning huddles, they wanted you to bust ass around that hundred or so miles at insane speeds.

I’d ridden with two of the part-time carriers during training already, and they drove like Pentecostalists to a whorehouse.

One of them tried to kill me taking a corner on unpaved road during a summer rainstorm doing about sixty. When we left the road the car hit a stump in the right of way, and the giant ’71 Electra started to roll midair. The prospect of impending decapitation encouraged me to force myself into the footwell of the passenger side, where I’d been throwing mail while Fireball drove. The Buick landed right side up, but the guy training me busted his lip, bloodily, on the steering wheel. He may have loosened a couple of teeth.
The sheaves of letter mail in the back seat and trunk were in complete disarray, and both tires that made contact with the stump were landfill. Ripped practically out of the gullet of the wheels. While I put the only spare on, he would have to walk up to the next house, about a mile up the road, to call the post office and plead for assistance. This usually resulted in a sullen “Go fuck yourself” from whoever happened to pick up the phone.
It was check day, and I had hardly gotten the last lug on the spare when carloads of elderly and poor started showing up to demand I rifle through the sequenced mail (the wreck had unsequenced it slightly. It was a jumble of duns, Wal-mart flyers, the local paper {“The Oxford Ledger”, a sort of support group for people suffering from ideopathic morbid ineducability}, mounds of packages full of injection molded plastic shite from Fingerhut and other glib uses of forest resources that future generations will be obliged to spend millions excavating from woodlots across the whole motherfucking blasted shell of a failed country) and hand them their checks. We were forbidden by management to do this, unless they got an irate caller, and then we were ordered to give that caller his/her check at any point on the route they chose.

Management of our local post office had been handed to a pair of blue-jowelled semiliterates who, even working together, couldn’t muster enough spine to interrupt the arc of a gobbet of phlegm. They spent much of their days at the station trying to ingratiate themselves with some of the less unambiguously masculine female clerks, and sulking off to their windowless offices after the inevitable rebuff to dream up another idiotic excuse for a morning meeting.
“Hmmm. Lessee. We’ll discuss ways to protect the shop from terrorism. Or we’ll have a canned food drive. Or I’ll just lock myself in here and see if I can get this whole stapler up my ass.”
Coburt and Stevens, or as I liked to call them, Berk and Coberk, often worked together, especially when it appeared a “job” might require more than one oversized dinoflagellate. Coburt’s face was indelibly rutted and stretched by blow after blow of excruciating personal failures, and it was maddeningly obvious he’d already been inured to the standard catalog of insults in English.
When, if ever, we got back to the station, the two of them would be there to give us a lecture about safety, followed by a lecture about the importance of returning to the station promptly, followed by the Lord’s Prayer delivered solemnly in the language of bees.*

After I learned to get around the route mechanically and mindlessly, I found I had accumulated a few minutes each day to dawdle. At this point, when I noticed a weather balloon materializing out of a low cloud, I’d pull over and run after it. It’s surprising how difficult they can be to locate, especially if they plunge into a pine thicket, or a strong wind shreds them in the canopy of a hardwood grove.

The whole time I worked for the USPS I only recovered one, and it had lost its radiosonde, maybe hundreds of miles away.

*Our hrrrrm. Whorrm urr im hmmmm.
Hrmmm be thymm hmmm.
Thy Kmmm kmmm. Thy hrrmm hrmmm……

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