Category Archives: Life in America

The Lost Ghost Ships of the Apollo Program

Apollo 11 on pad
Apollo 11 awaits launch. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Readers of my blog know that most of my posts are about ghost folklore of the American South. But since July 21st marks the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing in 1969, I decided to tell a different ghost story, one that will bring to light an often forgotten aspect of mankind’s journey to the Moon. It’s time to tell the story of the lost ghost ships of the Apollo Moon Program.

Where are they now?

Let’s start with the most interesting ghost ship of them all – the ascent stage of the Lunar Module for Apollo 10, nicknamed “Snoopy” by the astronauts that flew it very close to the surface of the Moon. Launched on May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the historic Apollo 11 mission and did everything Apollo 11 did with the exception of actually landing on the surface of the Moon.

To test the capabilities of the Lunar Module, astronauts piloted Snoopy towards the surface of the moon. They then jettisoned the lower half of the craft, known as the “descent stage”, before returning to the orbiting Command Module in upper portion, or “ascent stage”, of Snoopy. And just in case you’re wondering, the Command Module was nicknamed – you guessed it – Charlie Brown. The Apollo astronauts not only had guts, they also apparently had a sense of humor.

A lunar module ascent stage flying in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Shortly after separation, the descent stage of Snoopy crashed into the surface of the Moon. But NASA had a different fate planned for Snoopy’s ascent stage.

Once the astronauts docked with the Command Module for their return to Earth, the ascent stage of Snoopy was jettisoned into space into what is known as a “heliocentric orbit”, which means it was sent into orbit around the Sun. And there it remains to this day, an empty ghost ship floating aimlessly through the cold environs of space. Unlike all of the other Lunar Modules flown in space during the Apollo program, Snoopy remains the lone survivor.

The next most interesting ghost ship of the Apollo Moon Program is an asteroid named J002E3. Except it’s no ordinary asteroid. Discovered in 2002, it was first thought to be an asteroid until the reflected light from it was analyzed with a spectrometer by an amateur astronomer. The results showed wavelengths consistent with light reflected from black and white paint. There are no known natural asteroids sporting paint jobs of any color, but there was lots of black and white paint used on the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts into space.

Booster
A Saturn V booster stage identical to the one used in Apollo 12. Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was later concluded that asteroid J002E3 was not a natural asteroid at all, but rather the booster stage from Apollo 12. NASA routinely crashed the booster stages from the other Apollo missions into the Moon to study the seismic readings on instruments left on the surface by the astronauts. But the Apollo 12 booster was not crashed into the Moon. Instead, it left the vicinity of the Earth in 1971 and returned in 2003 only to leave again. Best estimates show it making another pass at the Earth sometime around 2040.

A lonely Lunar Module descent stage on the Moon. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The rest of the ghost ships from the Apollo program are on the surface of the Moon. All six descent stages remain on the surface and have been photographed by a satellite orbiting the Moon known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

And last but not least are the Moonbuggies of the last three Apollo missions. They currently sit riderless on the surface of the moon frozen in time just as the astronauts left them in the early 1970’s.

The Lunar Rover from Apollo 17. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Perhaps if NASA ever figures out how to get back to the Moon, something that as of right now is sadly beyond its capabilities, they will include a set of jumper cables in the gear of the astronauts so they can take the Moonbuggies for another ride.

Happy Father’s Day

America is currently facing many challenges. The economy, joblessness, war, terrorism, the list goes on and on. If you’re watching the news and paying attention, you know all about it. But there is another crisis facing America that doesn’t get much attention. That crisis is the decline of the American Father.

According to a recent post on The Art of Manliness, over 50% of Millennials are raising their children in single-mother homes. Fifty years ago less than 10% of children were raised in single-mother homes. Somewhere along the way, fathers were voted out of office as the head of the family. For many of them, it was of their own doing.

It’s plain to see what the absence of fathers is doing to our society. Again, watch the news and you can see it first-hand. And it’s not just fathers but men in general. Manliness seems to be on the decline in America. Nowadays you’re much more likely to find a man that owns a set of golf clubs than you are to find one that owns a set of tools. And not only is manliness in short supply, but gentlemanly behavior is as well.

A child benefits greatly from having a father in his or her life. A young girl with a good father is given an example of how good a man can be, and will often set about trying to marry a man that has the qualities of her father. A young boy with a good father is given the template for the kind of man he should strive to become. It’s a win-win situation. Young boys with good fathers often become good fathers themselves.

So to all you fathers out there who have chosen not to run off and abandon your children, take pride in the fact that you are a member of a select group of men in America, one that is dwindling by the day. If you have a son, pick up a wrench and teach him how to fix things so that he will never have to pay another man to do something that he should know how to do himself.

If you have a daughter, then treat her mother with love and respect so that she will see firsthand how a good husband should act. Trust me, she’s watching and will remember what she sees when she grows up and it comes time for her to pick her own husband. My wife had an excellent father and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see the results of the influence he had on her growing up.

America doesn’t need more golfers, CEOs, entrepreneurs or politicians. It has plenty of them already. What America needs are better fathers. So to the dads out there that have chosen not to run off, here’s to you. Happy Father’s Day.

Where would America be without you?

Live Long and Prosper

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Leonard Nimoy yesterday. Forever to be known as Mr. Spock, he was one of my biggest childhood heroes.

I didn’t start watching Star Trek until the mid-seventies, but that didn’t matter. Once I saw the first episode I was hooked for life. I’ve been a Trekkie ever since. Despite loving all of the characters in the show, my favorite character by far was Mr. Spock. As a wide-eyed twelve year old sitting in front of the TV, I had never seen anyone like him.

One of the best things about Star Trek was the interaction between Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy. McCoy loved to spar with Spock and try to rile him into showing his human side, but it was the “bromance” between Kirk and Spock that took center stage in the show.

My best friend and I were consumed by Star Trek and had a bromance of our own that mirrored Kirk and Spock’s. We greeted each other every day with Spock’s trademark split finger salute while deadpanning “live long and prosper”. Then we would rehash the previous night’s episode, discussing at length whether or not the Klingons would win the next battle and take over the universe, or if the Enterprise would make the mistake of crossing into the Romulan neutral zone never to be seen again.

I was a model builder back in those days and I built every single plastic Star Trek model available. Hanging from the ceiling in my room were models of the Enterprise, a Klingon battle cruiser, the shuttlecraft and a Romulan Bird of Prey. I even built models of Spock’s Phaser, Tricorder and Communicator. I carried the Communicator to school with me and on more than one occasion tried to raise the Enterprise on a hailing frequency from the boy’s room at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school in Daytona Beach. I never could get the Enterprise to answer and I always attributed this to the fact that the Romulans had to be jamming all the frequencies.

Courtesy of CBS

The best way to live long and prosper is to find out what you are good at, and then find out what you enjoy doing. If you’re blessed they will be the same thing. Leonard Nimoy was blessed in this way. He brought a character to life that has endured for generations, one whose face is instantly recognizable whether it be on Earth or Rigel VII. He gave young boys like my myself someone to look up to in an era where we were very short on heroes. He gave the smart kids a reason to be proud because as Mr. Spock he made being intelligent look very cool.

Mr. Spock was a hero to my generation. He was the ultimate bad-ass scientist. May his memory live long and prosper.

Tower Chicks

In a previous post I talked about America’s infatuation with cell phones. We have  become a nation of yappers and thumbers, and it’s time we pay tribute to the people that make it all possible for us to communicate with each other.

Just as most people nowadays have no idea what goes on under the hood of their car, they also have no idea how their cell phone works, or that there is a small, specialized group of people out there that risk their lives every day so that Americans can have cell service.

They are known as the Tower Chicks.

Got balls?

Even though they’re women, Tower Chicks have more balls than most latte-sipping, Prius-driving American men who ride down the Interstate every day thumbing their BFFs while steering their car with their knee. These men, as well as all cell phone users, have no idea that Tower Chicks are risking their lives every single day to make all that thumbing and yapping possible.

In a male-dominated field, these women climb cell phone towers every day to repair or replace the equipment located at the top of the towers. They climb towers everywhere in America, from the deserts of New Mexico to the frozen wastelands of Wisconsin, to the flatlands around Miami to the gloomy mountains of Seattle.

In the cities and out in the countryside, these women spend their days climbing sometimes as high as four hundred feet in the air with tools hanging from their work belts. They live in motels, eat gas station food, and then climb to their “office” at the top of a tower to begin their workday.

Note the bird’s nest in the background

Cell tower climbing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. It is not for the fainthearted, or for anyone, man or woman, who suffers from a lack of guts. These courageous climbers perform an essential task in our society and sometimes get hurt, or fall to their deaths while doing it.

So the next time you’re sitting in your pod at work surfing the Internet on your cell phone, or driving down the highway trying to check the stats on the game, think about the Tower Chicks that climb the towers to make it possible for you to have that privilege.

And when you drive past that 400 foot cell tower with the lights blinking on the top, tip your hat and toast your pumpkin latte’ to the Tower Chicks, and their male counterparts, that climb the towers all over America.

The world would be silent without them.

Rockin’ The Hilfiger

Paradise…

When I was a young I lived two blocks from the ocean in the heart of Daytona Beach, Florida. It was as close to paradise as a young boy could get without a girl being involved. But even though I spent my youth surfing, skateboarding and manning the jib sail of my neighbor’s 16 foot Hobie catamaran, none of it was enough to save me from the fate that awaited me when my wife and I took our teenage son to the mall to buy him some clothes for his upcoming senior year of high school.

It was on that day that I found out I was rockin’ the Hilfiger.

Anyone who has teenage children knows what a traumatic experience it is for them to be seen in public with their parents. We are just so uncool that it ruins their image to be seen with us. What they fail to realize is that we weren’t always so uncool.

So there I was standing in a clothing store at the mall, a surfing-themed clothing store if you can believe that, when a young salesperson walked up and spoke to me. His tone was one of unbridled amazement.

“Dude… I see you’re rockin’ the Hilfiger!” he said as he stared at my shirt, his eyes full of wonder.

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

“You’re rockin’ the Hilfiger,” he repeated. Then he reached up and touched the sleeve of my shirt like he thought it was made out of some sort of magic cloth.

“Nice shirt,” he said. “But we don’t sell anything like that in here. Can I help you with something else? Maybe something more stylish, like Neff or DC?” I could tell he was trying his best not to laugh.

“Neff? DC?” I said. “What?”

The kid just smiled and shook his head. In his eyes he knew I wasn’t nearly cool enough to understand his language, or to wear Neff or DC clothing. And like most kids his age, he was convinced that his generation had invented the surfing and skateboarding lifestyle. He had no idea that I am member of the Stacy Peralta generation, or that surfing legends Gerry Lopez and Tom Curren were my heroes when I was growing up in Daytona Beach. Well, them and Luke Skywalker but that’s another story.

So I decided to have a little fun and give the kid a run for his money.

Sex wax“No thanks on the Neff and DC,” I said. “But I’ll take a cake of coconut Sex Wax. And I could use another pair of Quicks and a new leash. I broke my last one riding the outside during a huge swell at Ponce.”

The kid looked at me dumbfounded. “What?”

“Sex Wax. I’m sure you guys sell it. I mean, I see surfboards hanging on the walls. Don’t tell me you don’t sell Sex Wax.”

“Sex what?” was all he could manage.

“Wax,” I said.

“Um, I don’t think we sell that,” said the poor kid. Then he turned and walked away, outwitted by a middle-aged father of two wearing a Hilfiger shirt.

There is only one thing better in the world… Photo by Stan Shebs

Even though I grew up at the beach and surfed almost every day of my life during my teenage years, had a year-round tan and a subscription to Surfer magazine, none of it was enough to save me from the passage of time.

I have long since hung up my Rip Curl wetsuits, sold my Logan Earth Ski skateboard and my Gordon and Smith thruster. And I haven’t sailed a reach on a catamaran in thirty five years.

The passage of time is a funny thing. Nothing stays the same. Wise adults know this. What the poor kid in the clothing store didn’t realize is that one day he will probably be standing in a mall with his son shopping for clothes. And he might even be wearing a Hilfiger shirt while he’s doing it.

And I can only hope that when that time comes he realizes there are worse things in life.

The Electric Hog

The streets of America are about to become a lot quieter. Harley Davidson has announced that they will soon bring an electric motorcycle to the market.

An electric Hog? Say it ain’t so.

Nice bike, but still… Photo by Harley Davidson

If you had any doubts that America is losing its Dick and Balls then this should clear it up for you. One of the most recognizable symbols of the American road is the Harley Davidson motorcycle. The sound of a Harley says one thing – American Dick and Balls. None of the other bikes on the road even come close to it. To replace that classic, throaty sound with the wheezing, high-pitched whine of an electric motor seems almost criminal.

And to make matters worse, Harley has announced that the electric Hog will only have a range of about 100 miles per charge. Who wants to ride to Sturgis or Daytona stopping every 100 miles for a charge?

The first thing I noticed when I saw a photo of the electric Hog was that it has a seat built for only one person. This makes perfect sense. No self-respecting woman would be caught riding on the back of an electric motorcycle. And besides, carrying the ole’ lady on the back would probably drop the range to 50 miles per charge. You can’t even leave town on mileage that low. Might as well just take the Prius.

Harley says they’re after the younger male and female riders who might be open to the idea of an electric motorcycle. Good luck to them. These poor kids are already riding around in battery cars so selling them an electric scoot to park next to their Prius might not be such a hard thing to do. Just make sure it has an Ipod jack.

And I hope Harley remembers to put a cup holder on the electric Hog. Gotta have something to hold that raspberry caramel latte.

American Zombieland

In the popular TV series The Walking Dead they call the zombies “Walkers”. You can apply the same term to most of the cell phones users in today’s America. There is little difference between the zombies from the TV series who shuffle about aimlessly and the millions of Americans that shuffle, stand, and drive about aimlessly while thumbing their cell phones. Welcome to the American Zombieland.

Zombieland…

This past Friday while driving home from work I had to stop for road construction. The flagman was standing on the edge of the road holding a pole with a stop sign on the top of it. He was holding the pole with one hand while thumbing his cell phone with the other. After a few minutes he rotated the sign to say “slow” and then immediately returned to his text conversation with his BFF.

The other day at work I walked into the restroom and saw a guy standing at the urinal. He was holding his crank in one hand and his cell phone in the other. He was actually taking a piss and texting at the same time. I can just imagine the message – “Taking a piss now. LOL!”

Last weekend my wife and I went out to our favorite pizza joint for dinner. We live in a college town and this particular restaurant is frequented by college students. As I sat there with my wife I glanced over at a young guy and girl sitting at a table behind us. Both of them were sitting there eating pizza and pecking on their cell phones. I don’t think they said three words to each other during their entire meal. If they had sex later that night I’m sure they sent texts to all their friends. “We’re doing it doggy style! OMG!”

I commute about 80 miles roundtrip on the Interstate to get to work each day. I drive a pickup truck and I can see down into all the cars as they go by. You’d be surprised at how many people pass me going 75 mph while texting on their cell phones, drifting from one side of the road to the other completely oblivious to their surroundings. But to be fair, in my years on the Interstate I’ve also seen people doing other strange things while driving. I once saw a young girl playing a small battery-powered drum kit that was zip-tied to her steering wheel. She was steering with her knees while playing the little drum kit with two drumsticks. I’m not lying. I actually saw this once on I-95. I’ve seen women applying makeup, guys shaving with electric razors, and other guys jacking off as they drive down the highway so I guess adding cell phones to the mix isn’t that big of a deal.

I’ve lost count of how many times a teenage girl has walked right into my grocery cart at the Walmart because she was so engaged in a text conversation that she wasn’t watching where she was going. I’ve seen teenage boys texting while skateboarding and even saw a neighbor of mine texting while mowing his lawn.

Earlier this afternoon I was sitting at my local Ford dealership getting my oil changed. On my left sat two elderly gentlemen, both wearing ball caps. They had to be in their 70’s. They sat there for over an hour having a good, old-fashioned conversation about topics that ranged from fishing to the national news. On my right sat a young couple, a guy and a girl, probably in their 20’s. Each had a cell phone and for the entire hour they sat there staring into their palms like zombies never saying more than a few words to each other. Now I ask you, who do you think came away from that hour feeling better? My money is on the two old guys.

I’d like to say that the texting problem is confined to our young people but it isn’t. Maybe the two elderly men at the Ford dealership were just anomalies. A few days ago I was driving along behind another pickup truck when the truck slowly drifted over into the grass along the side of the road. The driver corrected, only to drift back into the grass a few seconds later. At the next stoplight I saw that he was not a teenager, but rather a middle-aged man with a bib hat, full beard and yes, an Iphone. At the stoplight he was holding the Iphone while resting his hands on his beer gut, texting at a rate that would have made any junior high tween blush with envy.

The last time I took my wife to see a movie, I counted over a dozen people thumbing on their cell phones. Is the latest Facebook post that important? What in the hell is everyone talking about? Who knew that the only thing Americans really wanted was a way to stay in constant contact with each other? How did we survive before the invention of cell phones? How did we ever make it through the day when we weren’t able to share with our friends every pointless thought that crossed our minds?

Years ago I had a neighbor that was vehemently anti-gun. He refused to own a firearm to protect himself or his family. But he carried a cell phone with him everywhere he went because the thought of missing an important phone call terrified him. But the thought of a burglar coming into his house at night didn’t.

Facebook is now mentioned in over half of the divorce cases filed in America. Does anyone really need to be told that finding that old high school flame on Facebook might not be such a good idea? Sometimes the people in our past are best left in the past where they belong.

Cell phones are destroying our society and turning us all into Walkers. Cell phones and the Internet are eating away our relationships with the people that are important in our lives, replacing them with a virtual world that is rarely centered in reality. They are destroying our ability to disconnect from the outside world and enjoy quiet, private time with the ones we love.

Using our cell phones, we are slowly turning our country in the American Zombieland.

 

 

The Decline of Dick and Balls in America

Yesterday I was sitting at a stoplight in my truck when I was presented with a stark example of what is wrong with American culture today. What I saw reminded me once again why collectively as a nation we are entering our twilight years.

Sitting next to me at the stoplight was a dude on a Harley. He was your typical old-school Harley rider – craggy looks, mutton chops, an open-faced helmet that didn’t cover his ears, tattoos, and more than a few scars on his arms probably earned from years of bar fights. Sitting on the back of his Harley was an attractive woman wearing cutoff shorts and a tank top. The guy was a perfect example of old school American Dick and Balls. And his reward for it was sitting on the back of his Harley.

Behind the Harley rider was a guy in a battery car. He was riding alone. I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew why.

Dick and Balls is on the decline in America. Turn on the TV if you want proof. There you’ll be treated to an endless parade of “tough” NFL players crying like babies at their retirement ceremonies, or some poor square-jawed Handsome Dan with tears running down his face because he just got sent home by the Bachelorette.

Expand the example of the Harley rider and the Prius driver to our nation and you’ll have a better understanding of why America is slowly descending into chaos. The reason is simple – we live in a country where Dick and Balls is on the decline. We have become a listless, weak society led by listless and weak politicians, some of whom cry when they get in front of a camera.

Anyone who knows anything about human nature knows that weakness invites violence. Our society is just one natural disaster away from total lawlessness. Anyone who doesn’t believe this didn’t watch the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Even some of the police were looting the stores in New Orleans. Imagine being a woman in a situation like that with no one to protect you.

I once read a review about the movie The 300 that said the majority of the viewers of that movie were women, and that many of them returned to see the movie more than once. The women interviewed for the article said that it wasn’t because the Spartan warriors were ripped and well-muscled, but rather because of the theme of the movie – strong men defending their nation and their women. A man that thinks a woman wants anything else is just fooling himself, and probably sleeping alone while doing it.

A very attractive woman once said to me, “the last thing a woman wants is another pussy. We’ve already got one of those.” That just about sums it all up.

The young women of today’s America have a hard road ahead of them as they try to find a decent man in a sea of metrosexual males that cry on demand, refuse to own firearms, and ride around in battery cars sipping pumpkin lattes from Starbucks.

If you’re one of those guys, ask yourself this – is it really worth taking a punch on your man card just to save a few bucks on gas?

The Rising Cost of College Tuition and the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks

With the economy the way it is I know everyone is looking for a bargain. I’m no different so when the latest college brochure came in the mail I just had to open it before I gave it to my son. After all, everyone knows what bargain college tuition is nowadays and I was certain the brochure would reflect this.

Fat chance.

The brochure, from a private liberal arts college in the little town of Jerkwater, USA, confirmed to me that of all the things that can be found on a college campus nowadays, a bargain is not one of them.

Let’s start with the cost. For the bargain price of $160,000 dollars, which includes room and board, a student can attend this college for four years where he or she will get to experience, according to the brochure, a “transformative” core curriculum during their first year.

Transformative? I’ll bet it is. The brochure contains a list of the classes in this so-called “transformative” core curriculum for incoming freshmen. Actually, the brochure doesn’t use the word “freshmen”. I think that word is now politically incorrect on most college campuses. But I digress.

So let’s go down the list of “transformative” classes contained in the brochure.

The first core curriculum class is entitled Ghosts, Psychics, and Astrology: The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks. I wish I could venture a guess at what sort nonsense is covered in a college class with “rubber ducks” in the title, but I’m reasonably sure that whatever it is it is not going to help a graduate get a job. At $160,000 for four years, that’s $20,000 a semester. That means that the rubber duck class will set a student, or their beleaguered parents, back about $5000. What a bargain!

Rubber ducks
Photo by gaetanlee via Wikimedia Commons

Another class on the list is called Myth. Yep, Myth. So a budding young adult, fresh off the launch pad of high school, will have the honor of taking a class called Myth if he or she chooses this college. Perhaps the class explores the myth that a degree containing a class called Myth is worth $160,000 and twenty years of student loan payments.

I have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and I work in the field of nuclear power. Just the other day we had a myth problem at work. It sure would have been nice to have a sharp college graduate educated in myths to help us out. Sadly, all we had to rely on was our knowledge of the science of welding, which, by the way is not covered in the transformative core curriculum of this college.

Welding it together

But hold on, the list gets better.

The next class on the list is called “Food and Place”. Maybe they teach the kids where the cafeteria is and where they can find a place to sit, hence “food” and “place”. If I know college students, a better name for this class would be “Food and Drink” with an emphasis on Drink.

Another class listed in the brochure is,

Controversy and the Theater

Controversy and the Theater? I pity the graduate that goes out in today’s dog eat dog economy without a firm knowledge of the controversy that exists in the modern theater.

There is also a class on the list called Self-Motivated Learning. I would imagine it involves being motivated to learn. Years ago a neighbor of mine solved the motivation problem when his daughter went off to college. He told her that if she earned a C or below in a class then she would have to reimburse him the cost of that class once she graduated and got a job. As a result, she was very self-motivated and did her best to earn A’s and B’s. Perhaps my neighbor should teach the class on self-motivated learning.

And last but not least on the core curriculum list is,

Motown: Music and Meaning

Now to be honest, I love the old Motown music. But I wonder if the professor will tell the kids in this class that Motown, as Detroit was often called, is now an bankrupt urban wasteland full of unemployed people, abandoned houses and feral dogs. Motown was once a hotbed of good music and car manufacturing. Now it is a sad testament to the politics of greed and corruption.

There was a time in this country when just about any college degree would allow you to get your foot in the door at a good company where you could build a future for yourself. Those days are gone. Nowadays about the only thing $160,000 college degree full of classes about Rubber Ducks and Motown will earn you is a ticket right back to the bedroom you slept in while in high school.

Not to mention twenty years of student loan payments.

The Road to Hell is Lined with Mailboxes

Back in the late 1980’s I spent one long, hellish year as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. It was during that year that I learned the hard way that the road to Hell is lined with mailboxes.

I wasn’t the only carrier that hated my job. Sometimes a fellow carrier would call me on Sunday night and tell me that they were considering robbing a convenience store just so they could get thrown in jail. Anything was better than carrying the mail so I understood this logic. We were all kindred spirits and tortured souls.

Mailbox
Don’t let the flowers fool you. There’s a devil inside…

Monday was the worst day for us because it had the heaviest mail volume of the week. We hated Mondays, but to be honest, we pretty much hated every other day of the week as well.

Yes, carrying the mail was a horrible job but there was one thing about it that made it interesting – I knew everything about the peeps out on my route. And I do mean everything. The FBI and the NSA might be spying on us, but they don’t know half of what your mail carrier knows.

When you carry someone’s mail you learn everything about them, like for instance what kind of marital problems they are having. I always knew who on my route was getting divorced. The first tip-off was the forward order for the husband. His mail would stop coming and then after a few weeks a new guy’s mail would start to show up. Yep, poor old Joe moved out and Raul moved in. And I knew Raul was doing more than just taking care of the lawn.

The squabbles between the married couples were always the most entertaining and also, sadly, the most viscous. One poor guy flagged me down while standing at the end of his driveway one afternoon because he wanted to explain why he had padlocked the door of his mailbox, and to also tell me why he had cut a slit in the door with a pair of tin snips. When I asked him why, he said that his soon to be ex-wife was coming by in the afternoons and stealing his mail before he got home from work. He cautioned me to be careful sticking the mail through the slit because he had purposely cut the edges jagged to deter anyone from sticking their fingers into the slot. He said this with a devious grin on his face.

And I also knew which husbands weren’t taking care of business. I knew this because I would deliver long, slender packages about the size of a flashlight to their house. Those packages didn’t contain flashlights, and they weren’t nearly as discreet as the wives thought they were. I knew what was in them.

I knew where the alcoholics lived, I knew when the DMV revoked someone’s driver’s license, and I knew who bought sexy lingerie for their wives because I would deliver their Victoria’s Secret credit card bill. I knew whose kids got into college and which ones had to move back home to the basement after they graduated.

I knew where the golfers, woodworkers, guitar players, fishermen and hot-rod car aficionados lived. You can tell everything about someone by the magazines they subscribe to.

I also knew where the porn addicts lived, and what kind of porn they liked. Most guys went for Playboy, because, you know, the articles are good. But some went for Penthouse, and occasionally I would deliver a Swank, Hustler or maybe even a High Society. In those days porn magazines came in brown wrappers which enabled me to sneak a peek before I put the magazine into the mailbox. This was one of the few perks that came with the job of carrying the mail. Come to think of it, it was the only perk.

I delivered red and green holiday greeting cards until I started to hate Christmas. Santa Claus had nothing on me when it came to delivering packages. Then after Christmas it was time to start with the Easter cards and the IRS tax forms. If there is one person that hates April 15th more than any other American, it’s a mail carrier.

I delivered Social Security checks until I started to loathe old people. Back then most of those checks weren’t direct deposited and they had to be delivered. And we had to make sure we didn’t put the check in the mailbox before the date showing through the little window of the envelope. To do so was a surefire way to bring on an ass chewing by the postmaster at the station.

I delivered so many certified letters from lawyers that I started to hate lawyers. You’d be surprised how many people are being sued every day.

I delivered registered mail and Express mail that I could not let out of my sight until it was delivered and signed for. That meant I had to take it with me if I went to the bathroom.

And then came the most pleasant part of the job – the interactions with the customers. Yes, the sweet, polite customers that thought that carrying mail was just a cushy government job with great pay and benefits. All they saw was me glide by in my mail truck, stop at their box and deposit a handful of mail. I’m sure it looked easy to them. What they didn’t see were the other four hundred boxes that I had to stop at, along with another three hundred boxes at the two apartment complexes on my route. And they didn’t know that I had thousands of letters waiting to be sorted when I got back to the station.

These people figured that since my job was so easy that I surely wouldn’t mind doing extra things for them. After all, they were “paying my salary” as they often reminded me.

For example, sometimes they would tape a few coins to their outgoing envelope where the stamp was supposed to be and then leave it in their mailbox and expect me to replace the coins with a stamp. That’s still funny when I think about. I repaid these people by “accidentally” delivering their mortgage bill to their neighbor’s mailbox.

My favorite customers were the ones that would stand by their mailboxes and try to get me to hand their mail to them instead of placing it in their box. It was against postal regulations at the time to put the mail anywhere but in the mailbox. You should have seen how bad this pissed people off. They would call and complain to my supervisor who always took my side because she knew I was following regulations. I would repay these people by delivering their electric bill to a house three streets away from theirs.

Some people would try to be nice and leave me a piece of fruitcake in their mailbox wrapped in tin foil. This always happened around Christmas when, like I said before, I was already in a foul mood from delivering red and green envelopes. But the rum in the fruitcake did tend to take the edge off of carrying the mail.

I also loved the customers that used the flag on their mailbox as a way to signal whether or not the mail had been delivered. They would leave the flag up when they came out to get their mail knowing that I would put it down the next day when I arrived with that day’s mail. All they had to do was look out of their window and if the flag was still up they knew the mail had not been delivered. Once I caught on I stopped putting their flag down. You’d be surprised at how many of these people called my station to complain. I rewarded them by delivering their credit card statement to their neighbor’s mailbox.

By far the angriest people were the ones that left their trash cans in front of their mailbox, thus blocking my access. I was not required to get out of my vehicle and if I couldn’t reach a mailbox because it was blocked by trash cans, or a parked car, then per regulations I was allowed to just pass right on by and take that box’s mail back to the station. Man did this piss people off, especially if they saw me drive by without stopping. And you guessed it, they would call and complain and I would reward them by delivering their cable bill to a house with the same street number but in the neighborhood next to theirs.

Sometimes I was able to have a laugh or two while out on my route. It was the only way I could hold onto my sanity. I was a rural mail carrier so I didn’t get an official postal Jeep with a steering wheel on the right-hand side. As rural mail carriers we had to use our own vehicles and those vehicles had to have automatic transmissions. I would sit in the passenger’s seat with a lap full of mail and steer with my left arm while using my left leg to press the gas and the brake pedals. All rural carriers did this unless they bought their own surplus mail Jeep. Often I would sit at stoplights and watch how people reacted when they saw that the driver’s seat of my small pickup truck was empty. I didn’t have any signs on my truck that said U.S. Postal Service so they didn’t know I was delivering the mail. I’d sit there acting like I was having a conversation with a person sitting in the driver’s seat that only I could see. Then I’d tap the gas and move the truck forward a foot or two and continue on with my conversation with this imaginary person while waiting for the light to turn green. Sometimes I would point my finger at the invisible driver and then get animated like I was arguing with them. People in the cars around me would go bananas thinking that I was in a driverless truck having a conversation with a ghost. Then the light would turn green and I would drive off. The looks on their faces were priceless.

It took me about a year before I figured out that life was too short to spend it hating every single minute of every single day. That’s the life of a mail carrier. At least it was back in the 1980’s when the mail volume was very heavy and there was no such thing as email. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was when the porn magazines suddenly started coming in plastic envelopes. Gone were the brown paper wrappers, and with them the only perk that made carrying the mail even remotely tolerable.

Once I couldn’t get a free peek at the latest issue of Swank magazine, I knew it was time to turn in my notice and move on. On the day I quit, my supervisor congratulated me and told me she was happy that I was escaping while I still could. She said it was too late for her, but that she had never understood why a young guy like me wanted to carry the mail.

She knew, just as I did, that the road to Hell is lined with mailboxes.