Frank Beyer

Posted on May 14, 2018

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Mr Nice

Around eight months after switching from bikes to electric Kivurz trikes things finally settled down. The new, wider wheels made the Kivurz more stable and so nobody was in danger of rolling one. Ross, the postie who’d stolen the wheel bolts was long gone. Post had told police about the theft and damage to property, but the cops said Ross had skipped overseas and there was nothing they could do. At least that’s the story I got third or fourth hand.

The other issue had been staffing. We didn’t have enough people to deliver the mail, especially if anyone dared to be sick. If you were feeling crook you needed to call the depot first thing, then Mavis would ask about your symptoms and her diagnosis would be, you are still breathing, get your arse in here! This shortage meant that we were doing a lot of extra work. It wasn’t much fun coming back to the depot with and empty machine, only to have to reload it. I know, I know, we got paid for it.

Didn’t people need jobs? Didn’t the Post Office advertise for staff? They sure did. Applications were handled by the recruitment office conveniently located in Dannevirke. Recruitment Officer Anna would ring potential candidates and ask them exactly ninety-nine questions. The calls were recorded so Anna merely needed to put a recording through some software, which used an algorithm to decide which answers were appropriate. If the candidate got seventy-seven acceptable answers out of the ninety-nine they were then asked to do a drugs test. Once it was established they weren’t a pothead, Mavis called them to set up a face to face. In the interview she’d ask them if they were reliable and willing to work six days a week. She also gave them a sorting test to see if they’d be quick enough – but she went easy on them, because it would be bloody ages until Anna sent her another candidate. If all went well on the initial meet with Mavis, the newly minted postie would be trained up. They no longer flew people to Wellington to get inducted by Norm, that had been a waste of money.

New posties were trained how to drive a Kivurz, which only took a day. Then they’d spend a week with an old hand helping to sort and to deliver their runs. Unfortunately this meant somebody else would need to cover said old hand’s work. During this week, or after when they got to deliver on their lonesome, there were a lot of quitters. Some didn’t like the rain or found the six day week ruined family life. Others were too slow to finish before three and so couldn’t pick up their kids from school as they had planned. The younger ones tended to fight with Mavis too much. Lucky ones left because they got another job. I only remember one fella quitting because he felt like a dickhead in the yellow and red uniform. There’d been threats from the People and Culture department to rebrand us in an orange and green uniform. Needless to say this possibility petrified Mavis.

Clearly recruiting was quite a process. It wasn’t as if somebody could drop into the depot, say they wanted to be a postie, and the next day you gave them a bike and bag of letters and told them, away you go mate, good luck.

After a bad patch with a lot of dropouts, Mavis found some newbies who were sticking it out. We were all relieved to go back to our standard workload…finally delivering mail without too many distractions. However, there was no rest from the demands of the system. With things running smoothly, the time had come for our runs to be remeasured. The measuring team were coming to town, led by Norm. He wasn’t a trainer anymore, but no worries, he’d been appointed nationwide Manager of Measuring. His team turned out to consist of only one sidekick, a guy who we quickly dubbed Mr Nice.

Mavis, gave us the lowdown on what was going to happen with the measurers.

They don’t need to measure all the postie runs again, just a few so they can update the system to take account of how long delivery takes with the Kivurz machines. There is some stuff that you can do on them you couldn’t on the bikes and vice-versa. After the system is updated, you’ll go back to being paid by volume rather than by the hour. Good news…the better performers here will have the chance to earn more. So you go about your work…the measurer will follow behind and time you. They are pretty thorough and know what they are doing. Do I have any volunteers…come on it’s always the same people who put their hands up and I’m BLOODY sick of it.

Mavis’s guilt trip worked on me for once – not that I wanted to please her – but she was right, usually the same characters had to do these annoying administrative things. These old saps were Jane and Joyce, two ladies in their fifties, who always behaved and never complained. That’s not to say they were quiet, they could talk the tattoos off a bogan – but God knows what they actually said. Anyway, I volunteered to be followed.

I liked the guy, but I didn’t want it to be Norm following me. To get an accurate and fair measurement, you should go at normal speed, so your measurer wasn’t meant to push you. Norm with his army background wouldn’t have been able to help giving the old hurry up. So, I felt lucky when Mr Nice was assigned to me, not that he didn’t come without annoyances. He was drainpipe skinny, with the protruding calves of a guy who’d been a bike postie for decades. An embarrassed smile permanently rested on his colourless face, topped by uniform grey hair. ‘Yea, nah pretty good’, was his favourite phrase. He liked to talk about surfing, something I knew nothing about. I could tell he thought I was weird. Mr Nice wasn’t weird, but he was too bloody nice!

I waited for Mr Nice in the interchange, he was going to time me loading mail into my Kivurz. We’d had a bit of chat as I was sorting, so I already knew he was too nice, and that would frustrate me. What was the best strategy? I resolved to be nice back to him. How much energy was that going to take? Would he wear me down with his niceness? No! I was resolute.

Here he was then, holding a clipboard. I was all business…

OK I’m going to start loading up. Now looks like I won’t need the trailer today…not too many big parcels, reckon I can squeeze everything in the back of the Kivurz here.

Oh, that happen often?

No, hardly ever. I lied because I didn’t want him to report to HQ that we were sometimes below capacity, and that the expensive vehicles weren’t being used to full potential. It was a Tuesday, he should’ve understood that was the lightest day of the week, but you never know.

Ok now for the safety check…

So you do this every day?

Yes, indeed. I looked at the check sheet, blow me if I hadn’t checked off Monday’s boxes. I made a great show of testing the horn, the brakes, tyre pressure etc. Hopefully he didn’t notice that I checked off two days at once. While Mr Nice did the safety check on the spare Kivurz that he’d be using, I wolfed down a can of tuna. There was no point taking Mr Nice to the smoko room for a real break, considering the stilted conversation we would no doubt have had. On top of that Jane and Joyce were in there too. No, it was better to get out there and deliver. Mavis would’ve applauded such an attitude.

On my run, it was oppressive having Mr Nice behind me as I couldn’t let my mind drift. I felt imprisoned by his consciousness that was 100% on the job. He was noting down if the footpaths were too narrow for the Kivurz…where I had to dismount to reach a letterbox, how long driveways we went up were, how many letterboxes in a cluster outside some dingy flats…etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Despite all this mundane admin, there was opportunity for us to talk. Nice weather…a bit of a steep hill this…blind corner here. How was it measuring up in Auckland? Do you mind the travel? Eaten anywhere good in town so far? I couldn’t get beyond yea nah, pretty good, with any of this, so I asked if he’d been surfing since he arrived even though I didn’t want to.

Not yet, but if I have the time it’ll be pretty awesome.

How could I ambush an opinion or some kind of unexpected utterance out of him? This became of top importance to me. On that first day together I discovered he had a policy of never leaving mail alone. We could lock the trailer and the back of the Kivurz (which I never did), but he said even doing that was risky. He didn’t want mail disappearing on his watch. So when we took a break, he gave me some money and I went into the bakery to get the sandwiches for both of us while he sat outside on his Kivurz. Since he had a water bottle and was an obvious Spartan type, he didn’t want a drink. This gave me an idea…

On the second day I resolved to buy him a drink at the bakery –  being Mr Nice and always polite, he’d be compelled to drink it! I’d get that super sweet Sarsaparilla for both of us. Man, that stuff tasted like crap. I’d drink mine down and say it was awesome, but perhaps could be a bit sweeter. He couldn’t possibly respond to that without disagreeing?! As soon as I’d thought of this plan it seemed stupid and pointless, nothing else came to mind, but I didn’t go through with the idea. My second day with Mr Nice turned out like the first, boring and draining. That evening I felt dead tired and went to bed two hours earlier than normal.

Thursday Mr Nice followed postie Johnno, so I had time off from him. Johnno’s run was very hilly and so would give Nice some good variation for the data sample.

Blimey that guy is a pain! Johnno said to me in his Brummie accent Friday morning in the smoko room. Johnno and I were on the same page, we couldn’t wait to get rid of that measurer bastard. However, Mr Nice was happy with the results he was getting, and said he would continue to alternate between Johnno and me…hopefully getting some low and high volume days, some good and bad weather.

My third day with Mr Nice. I made a desperate move. No grand idea had come to me, but a little opportunity presented itself down Oak Grove – something to break up the rhythm of the day. There was a yappy little dog at number nine that had tried to bolt past me the previous time I opened the gate. Luckily, I now had a non-signature parcel for the place and so needed to go through the gate again to put it by the front door. Sure enough, I accidentally-on-purpose reacted slowly, and the runt of a dog shot past me out onto the street.

Shit, didn’t see that coming, we better catch it…imagine if it gets run over…

Yea, nah, Mr Nice offered.

We chased it around on our Kivurz, but it was a fast little thing, resembling a long-legged rat. It ran into somebody’s front garden. We parked up and continued our pursuit on foot, through the front garden and down the gravel path at side of the house. At the back of the house there was a large expanse of uncut lawn. The little bastard flew across the grass and got through a gap in the back fence. Damn badly maintained place. I managed to rip my MC Hammer trousers scrambling over the fence. These pants had protective padding in them in case we fell off our Kivurz, but they were uncomfortable, heavy and useless. Head office hadn’t given the OK for us to wear shorts yet, they will still mulling over the paperwork. Mr Nice hadn’t been issued MC hammer pants, he was fine getting over the fence. We found ourselves in another back garden. No sign of the residents and the dog was nowhere to be seen either. This was a disaster, I decided to call Mavis and report a lost dog – we couldn’t spend all day trying to find it. I was going to get a bollocking, and this time it was due to my own stupidity. I slumped down on a rickety wooden chair…so did Mr Nice.

Then a miracle… Mr Nice broke the seal and made a joke.

Better call a bloody helicopter to search for that mutt.

I laughed long and loud. And before I’d finished cackling the dog appeared out of some bushes. Now we were sitting down rather than hooning after him on those machines, which made a high pitched noise dogs hate, he was less spooked and more cooperative. I managed to tempt him over with a gingernut biscuit. When I grabbed him by the collar he didn’t bite. What a result! I was happy.

Better news was to come. The next morning Norm got up in front of the group to give us an update. He was dressed in an immaculately ironed chequered shirt that hardly contained his broad shoulders, black slacks and very shiny shoes. Why he bothered looking so smart for us was beyond me, but what drew my eye was the take away flat white he was sipping on. I felt envy that’d he had time to slip out to a cafe. Loving being up in front of a captive audience, it took Norm twenty minutes to tell us that he and Mr Nice had all the data they needed and would be heading to the airport that evening.

Comforted by the knowledge there’d be no more measuring, Johnno and I could have a relaxing morning tea. In the smoko room Dawn showed us an article in the paper about drones being trialled to deliver mail in Singapore.

Still a long way off here in NZ those drones I reckon, said Johnno, instead of that their plan is to fire the lot of us and bring in immigrants to work under worse conditions. That’s what I foresee. They’ll want the workers out on Sundays delivering Amazon packages in no time – did you know that those poor yank ‘mailmen’ are already doing it.

Hang on, what kind of immigrants? Dawn asked, Poms like you?

No, Indians most likely. The good thing about that is that Tucker-truck lady won’t have much luck selling mouldy sandwiches to them. And she, unlike my Pom-self, doesn’t know how to cook curry – so her tucker truck will be put out of business by my curry truck haha.

Wow, Johnno was on fire! None of us had ever got to the bottom of it, but he hated the Tucker-truck lady.

Mr Nice gave us one more surprise. It didn’t happen until about a week after he left, The Tucker-truck lady came into the depot looking for him. It turned out he’d left an unpaid bill. She was a stern woman, who sold rather stale sandwiches, pies and fizzy drinks. Most of us were a bit afraid of her. I for one never let my tab get above ten dollars. Now she was demanding Mr Nice’s contact details from Mavis.

Sorry can’t disclose those to a member of the public, Mavis told her. It was then amusing to see them face off, both shaking their fists at each other. Mr Nice would be in the shit if he got sent back to do some more measuring, he’d run up a tab of $37.50. Wow, and he got a sandwich from the bakery every day I was with him. He ate a lot, not the Spartan I thought he was. Lucky they still used push bikes in other parts of the country – on a Kivurz everyday he’d soon get fat. When Johnno heard about the unpaid bill, he had this to say: You know what, he was OK that Mr Nice. Very polite, a bit reserved, but can you fault a fella for that.

OK I have to know, what have you got against the Tucker-truck lady? Dawn asked.

Johnno laughed, got up, chucked the remaining half of his copa tea into the sink and headed out to the interchange.

If you want to know I guess you need to follow him, I said.

Screw that, said Dawn, I haven’t finished my morning tea.

****

Frank Beyer is from Auckland, NZ and once was a postie. His stories have appeared in Fiction on the Web, Headland Journal, Flash Frontier, Drunk Monkeys and Brilliant Flash Fiction.

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