Strange Visitor From A Reptilian Planet

We had an overnight visitor last week, a fairly large desert tortoise.

This came about when the household's female members (Hilde, Kay, Tabbi and Holly) went off to a friend's place for the evening.

When they came back out to go home, this guy had wedged himself in the space between a tire tread and the carport.

Their friend recognized him as coming from the crack house several houses down the street, the crack house where the residents had been raided and arrested recently, and were still in jail awaiting trial. A neighbor kid had taken the tortoise in, but the tortoise kept escaping from the kid's back yard.

So it was decided the tortoise needed a better home. Not us; between Mim and the cats, ours isn't the best choice for a tortoise. (Also, they're a protected species, and this guy was probably being kept without a permit by the people in the crack house.) But we could shelter it for the night in the backyard's sunken garden (a filled-in swimming pool), which has a low fence to keep the dog out, until we could find an appropriate rescue organization to take it in.

Come morning, I went out to take a better look at the tortoise.

Y'know what? Tortoises are cool. Crack House Charlie (my nickname for the tortoise) ambled back and forth across the garden, checking out the new territory. I fed him some of the cauliflower trimmings we'd set out for him; he seemed to like being hand-fed.

A tortoise is a very calming thing to have around; they're a walking embodiment of "phlegmatic". They have the face of a wise old Zen master.

How could you possibly not love a face like that?

Kay went online Sunday morning and eventually contacted the Phoenix Herpetological Society; one of their members who had a permit to foster desert tortoises came over in the afternoon to pick Crack House Charlie up.

It turned out Crack House Charlie was actually Crack House Charlotte. My plans for a new career as a tortoise sexer after retirement now lay in ruins.

Tales From Kafka Station

At a recent station meeting (a weekly meeting where management gathers employees and reads them the latest talking points), the talking point for the week was: In the wake of the latest postage increase, and the changes in how they're calculated, a lot of letters and parcels are being sent out short-postaged. And we carriers are supposed to catch these letters and packages, and recover the postage.

Some smartass carrier points out that: 1) We don't have postage scales in our trucks. 2) None of the carriers have yet been given any guides, handouts, or training on the new postage rates, four months after they've gone into effect. 3) In fact, the carriers were never even told a new postage increase was in the pipeline, and the smartass carrier had actually first heard of it from one of his customers who'd read of it in the newspaper. And 4) smartass carrier points out that it wouldn't really have taken rocket science to send out informational postcards to customers listing the basic new rates, with phone numbers and websites to contact for further information. And, hey, informing carriers about the new rates in advance might have been a good idea, too.

"*harumph, harumph*" management replies. "We gave the clerks an entire week of training on the new rates."

"Are you saying that it takes an entire week of instruction to understand the new postage rates," smartass carrier responds. "but that members of the public, and carriers, are supposed to understand and use them with no training at all?"

Management ends meeting.

I should really stop speaking up at those meetings.

- - - - -

About a week later, Friday morning, I get called into the supervisor's office. I ask if I need to have a union steward in the meeting with me, and I'm told "Yes."

This means that management is unhappy with me for some reason.

So the union steward, Jim, and I go in to the supervisor's office. And the reason management is unhappy with me is...


...the previous day, Thursday, my SDO (Scheduled Day Off)...

...I had spent the entire morning in a four-hour medical test.

Let me say that again:

Management was unhappy with me because, on my day off, I had scheduled a medical exam.

Why did this make management unhappy?

Because, under the union contract, when employees are required to work on their SDOs, the Postal Service in turn is required to give them a full eight-hour day.

Wednesday afternoon, about 2:00, Supervisor #1 had called my cell phone while I was in the middle of delivering my route and informed me that I had to work the next day. I advised her of the medical test I had scheduled for the next morning. She told me to report to work after the test. I informed her the test wouldn't be completed until, at the earliest, noon. She told me to come in to work anyway.

I didn't see how this plan was going to work out, since even if I managed to get to the station by noon, the mandatory eight-hour requirement meant I would work until at least 8:30 that night (eight hours work, plus a half-hour lunch break) and the building and the gates are locked up at seven PM.

When I finished my route and got back to the station, Supervisor #1 had already gone home, leaving Supervisor #2 in charge. I told S-2 about the conversation with S-1; he agreed with me that there was no way for me to work an eight-hour day the next day, and instructed me to not come in.

Fine and dandy, except that now I had contradictory orders from two supervisors.

So, Thursday morning, I go in to the testing lab to have my test. After the first couple of blood draws, I call the station and speak to Supervisor #1 again. I tell her, again, that I won't be free until after noon (the test started about half an hour late), and probably couldn't get to the station to start work until about 1:00. This time she told me (slightly grumpily) not to report to work that day.

Fine by me. I use the rest of that day to get a few things done around the house, and to run a few errands.

Back to Friday, and the supervisor's office. (The meeting is with yet another supervisor, Supervisor #3.)

S-3 is the supervisor who tells me management is upset that I went to the doctor's on my day off. She also tells me that my telling S-1 about Thursday's test appointment on Wednesday afternoon wasn't enough advance notice for management to cope with.

So, apparently, telling them about prior commitments as soon as they tell me I have to come in on my SDO isn't soon enough.

(Actually, getting the call from S-1 in mid-afternoon was more notice than I frequently get. A lot of the times I've been told to come in for the next day's SDO, it's only after I get back from the street, and sometimes when I'm actually standing at the time clock to punch out and go home. So it's okay for them to tell employees at the last minute, but employees are supposed to tell them about prior commitments within some unstated "sufficient" time.)

But wait, there's more! S-3 goes on to tell me that since they wanted me to work on Thursday, my not coming in that morning was considered "an unscheduled absence", with a possibility of disciplinary action.

Excuse me? What part of "Scheduled Day Off" is being ignored here?

Apparently, I'm only supposed to go see my doctor on Sundays.

"Do you have anything to say in response?" S-3 asks.

By this point, I'm trying not to laugh out loud. This is crazy talk from crazy people. "Oh, no, no," I respond. "I can honestly say that at this point I am speechless."

(Well, I do say a bit more. Like that this whole conversation has been nonsensical, and that S-3 knows it's nonsense, and that her being willing to sit there and embarass herself by spouting the nonsense she's been told to spout makes her the real problem, not me. I also tell her it's her job to deal with it when employees aren't available to come to work, not mine. I also tell her that I'm not going to postpone or cancel my medical appointments to make her job easier.)

The union steward has been injecting his own comments throughout the meeting. (Jim is a New Yorker who transferred from the Bronx a few years ago, and brings a NYC attitude to his work for the union; this is good.)

Meeting over, I go back to work. Jim stays in the office, since another carrier, Mike, has been called into the office next because he had a medical appointment on his day off.

(Hmm, come to think of it, Mike is another smartass who tends to speak up at the weekly meetings. And so is Judy, who had her own meeting for the same reason a few weeks before. Is there a pattern here?)

Any sane, rational person with an ounce of intelligence would know that when an employee uses his day off to make mundane appointments, rather than taking work time off, the only thing management should say to that person is "Thank you."

So, what's really going on here?

Part of it may be that management here is specifically trying to intimidate employees who speak out at meetings.

But I think the major part of it may be that this is part of a tendency among Big Business (not just the Postal Service) that's been growing for years, to deliver -- subtly or blatantly -- a message to employees that "Your Life Belongs To US!"

Forced overtime. Cancelled days off. Restrictions on use of leave time. And all growing more and more frequent, more and more the "standard" model of a working environment, more and more what American workers expect to find in the workplace, more and more what's considered normal.

What I was told in that office was just a step away from actually being forbidden to see a doctor on my day off, because in the eyes of management, every day of an employee's life belongs to them.

That's not an employee/management situation.

The name for that is slavery.

(Sounding just a little disgruntled, am I? Not the first time. There have been at least a half-dozen occasions over the years when I've felt like walking away from the Postal Service, and it's only been the medical insurance that's kept me on the job.) (Well, that, and the fact that I really do enjoy serving the public. The job is fine, probably one of the best I could find for my temperment, but wow, management sure does suck.)