the true stories
Alas, there came a day at the Post Office when the lunchroom of the letter-carrier was moved back to the great outdoors from whence it came over the long road of collective bargaining. Hard won had been the right to wash ones paws and and warm up some proper victuals from ones own kitchen. It was back to sandwiches again a la first grade.
We were given a choice, nay, a provision for awaiting a “buddy” to pick us up on the route and deliver the two of us to a nearby negotiated place of refuge in which to eat. There was a nebulous array of rec centers, rinks, odd cafes and mall spaces to choose from. In fact they were designated to each route. I'm still waiting to meet the first man or woman who used one.
This predicament necessitated the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. I decided to embrace the change. (After swearing in seven languages for seven months) I procured a sturdy, compact, washable container and a small green mesh bag with a drawstring. The bag with the container could just accommodate two pieces of fruit and a large sandwich. Now it was time to scout.
I found refuge immediately at a large Catholic Church property. The giant front entrance had decorative river rock gardens with flowering trees on either side. The first thing I noticed was that when people came out of a Mass, they were focused on the street and traffic out front in anticipation of the drive home. Oddly, they never looked right or left into the rock havens.
The trees were big and had clean shiny leaves which afforded protection from the rain, sun and wind. The traffic on the street was unable to see through the foliage. The ground was one smooth oval rocks like you find on a big sand-bar on a big river. Even in a wind-driven rain storm, it was snug and dry. If any person coming out of the main chapel had looked to either side when exiting the doors, they would have had a clear unobstructed view as the trees were planted five feet away from the building.
The roof was swept down to within two feet of the earth in an elaborate gull-wing style. This provided extra cover from the side streets and kept the space absolutely dry. Thus I had a choice of two such spaces: one lying North and one lying South which two choices would serve me in different seasons of the year. In the exact centre of this consecrated space of some 120 square feet and high above it was a massive Crucifix wrought in a Spanish style.
I soon cooled my initial anger at having to eat outside after many years of having had my wife's good pancit at a proper table with clean hands. It was as delightful a spot as I have ever dined in on any of three continents. The feeling of silently munching on a Hungarian Salami sandwich with Swedish senaps on rye bread, regarding a crispy Gala apple lying alongside a steel thermos of coffee propped on a clean rock as the people filed out of the big doors, contemplating the good words and oblivious to my presence; was ineffable.
Handy to my right arm from where I was hunkered down against the foundation was a great black ashtray filled with clean white sand. A church that acknowledges that many people use tobacco is in a realistic sense more apt to remain viable. In time I got to recognize the same people coming out. There was a caretaker and he spent about three months trying to find me.
I never moved from my spot but he could smell the slightest trace of Landjaeger and also my after lunch smoke. I knew I would have to do something soon. He was zeroing in. I decided to speak to the boss. I knocked on the office door and the secretary to whom I always handed the mail let me in to see the Priest.
He was an affable Dutchman although very gray and of much personal gravity. I told him that we posties no longer had our lunch-taking in our office and that I had noticed a park bench on the side of the chapel under cover of the roof. I asked if it would be acceptable to him if I used such bench for my half-hour lunch. He replied, “By all means. What in the hell is wrong with your union?” I shrugged and thanked him profusely.
My new authorized spot had also a big ashtray and was near the doors that the choristers used. They were young pretty Korean housewives and always laughed, joked and smiled. On the second day of using the bench, the caretaker approached as I was making a quarter pound of Gypsy Salami disappear.”So, it vas you? I kin-not find-it out vair you ver hi-dink. So, now I find. Do you vant a beer my friend?”
I told him no thanks that I was a coffee drinker and we learned each others stories over the ensuing five years. He became so enamored of my hat, that I had to secure another one and remove the logo and all traces corporate. I then came in the prearranged unlocked side door after the Korean ladies had left. Up a short flight of stairs was my friend's office of sorts. He insisted in giving a token fee for the new piece of haberdashery.
He proudly wore that hat on the blustery days while trimming trees and pruning things. During the most snowy winter he came out with a camera one morning to snap a picture. The next day he gave me a nice copy. He said he vanted to show them in old country how Canadian mailman "vair short in vinter." When the second or third summer came, I sought to change camp for the warm period.
I found a grove of ten massive white oaks behind a hospital further down the route. It had lots of sun and also much shade. It was situated by a psychiatric ward of sorts and on certain days the noise coming from behind the walls was hard to take. There were woodpeckers, sap-suckers, robins, gulls, coopers-hawks, pigeons, gray squirrels, black squirrels, jays, red-winged blackbirds, skunks, coyotes and raccoons.
Cherokees have seven trees they love. Oaks are one of these and it was very powerful to set ones spine alongside an elder entity of such caliber. Especially when taking sustenance. There was a real pretty Cree woman who worked at the hospital. I got to know her husband because he used to wait to pick her up in his truck. He instinctively came straight to the trees to pass the time and we got to know each other.
His woman's coming was always announced by a dozen or so crows. She called them her black babies and she fed them peanuts after every one of her shifts. The birds flew as a formation before, around and behind her as she crossed the hundred yards to where we always sat. We had some nice chats on the warm days. Odin himself only had two crows, Hugen and Munen. Thought and Memory.
The husbandman was an interesting fellow. He'd had a best friend in California in the sixties when he'd been in his late teens. The friend had been drafted and was terrified and loathing his fate to such a degree that the Canadian traveled down to talk to him. There was only one remedy they figured.
The California man swapped all his ID papers with the other man and the Canadian went to boot camp in his staid. By the time I met this man, he had survived four tours of duty and had remained in possession of his sanity and of his humanity. He was one of the most gentle souls I have ever been around. He was a wary man though and could notice a squirrel acting out of character seventy-five yards away.
One week, his wife got a different job and I saw them no more. The crows were in a state trying to figure out where their lady went. I figured they could have easily followed the truck to her home but maybe had become accustomed to having her come to them at this location and hence had neglected to scout that out.
I felt sorry for the beggars and started throwing them bits of rye bread and salami in the winter. They took some time to come off their peanut addiction. I began to notice some things that had changed in the passage of years. Many years prior I could remember chucking an apple-core, for example, to a bird for a snack. The core would be already oxidized by the time I would throw it. A gull or crow would take it every time.
Usually a gull will swallow it whole where it would join the full length chicken bone already in his crop. A crow would crab-walk up to it sideways while watching you for any sign of treachery. At precisely the proper instant, he would grab it and fly up to a distance of thirty feet or so and begin to peck and tear at it. In the late summer and fall he would bury bits under leaves to munch on later on unlucky days. The black squirrels figured that out pretty quick.
This hadn't changed, however. What had changed was that the apple-cores no longer oxidized! I once hid one from the animals and checked it daily for weeks. It remained pure white and only became desiccated. Reader, that ain't natural. In the time I am writing of in this story, neither the crows nor the gulls would take certain apple leavings. They touch their tongues to them to test therm and reject immediately the ones that don't oxidize.
Using my own adaptive abilities I began to learn which fruit available to me was non-genetically altered. The GMO fruit had been on the market for a full ten years before it became common knowledge and was subsequently acknowledged by the Canadian Government. The way this came about was that during a debate in the British Parliament, a member in support of the bill to introduce the freak-food cited the example of the Canadian successful decade of consumption of the new food. The fact that the consumers were used as out of the loop Guinea pigs was moot. Crows won that round.
Not too long ago I was having my Lyonnaise, rye bread and coffee in a back alley and I threw a crust of rye to a crow. He had been watching me for some time and did not react when I proffered the food. I was halfway through a Franken-Bartlett when he swooped and took it. He went about twenty feet away and carefully laid it beside a shallow clear puddle on the asphalt.
Then he flew due West. He was gone about seven minutes or one smoke. When he reappeared he was toting a white plastic cup. He landed, rather gracefully considering his cargo and lit right in the middle of the puddle. Eye-balling me the entire time, he tipped the container over to draw in a drop or two of water. He inserted his obsidian beak and stirred the way an old man stirs his coffee when he's at a young woman's kitchen table.
This done, he tore a strip of bread and dipped it in the container, swirled it around like you might do to a french fry in a small paper cup of ketchup and swallowed heartily. He ate about five such bocadillos and never took his eyes off me. At the end he thoroughly washed his white besmeared beak with water and dried it on some nearby grass. He then flew away south-west. I walked over to the puddle to investigate. There in the puddle was a Roasted Garlic pizza dipping sauce container from a popular pizza house about ten blocks to the West of my location.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.