A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A COURIER
As some of you know, I work during weekdays as a courier (delivery guy) in the
St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area. I work for a small company, using my own car.
Sometimes people ask me what a day in the life of a courier is like. Actually, that's
never happened, but it's a good lead-in for what follows. Here then, is:
A Courier's Journal: September 21, 1999
Playing my harmonica as I walk up the front steps, I amble into
Clayton Mercantile Bank, its plush walls lined with rather interesting,
expensive modern art. It's around 2 pm. I know well the path through this
corridor to the large, circular lobby. There, in the center, a receptionist sits at
a round mahogony switchboard console.
I've been here quite a few times. I always go to this receptionist to pick
up an outgoing envelope. Always, when I come into the round
lobby, I immediately spy the envelope laying somewhere
on the smooth wooden counter top of the console.
Today as I approach, there's a pretty blonde girl seated in the center
of the "command-post" console, talking on the phone. She's not the
woman who's usually there. Smile as I come in, I visually scan the counter.
There's one manilla envelope, over on the far side. I walk over toward it.
But as I get near, the girl, still on the phone, motions to me with
her hand. She points to a white box, a cube with sides a foot or so long,
sitting right on the console, directly in front of her. That's the delivery.
I've never picked up a box at this location. I hadn't been
looking for a box. And so, the effect of the girl's hand-flourish, pointing to
the box, is exactly as though she's creating it! Amazing how selective
attention and habit form so much of our perception of the whole world!
I walk out to my car, the rather heavy box cradled in my arms, feeling
like I've been to a Magic Show.
Province of the Muse
Earlier today, my mind was in a quiet, relaxed, do-nothing province, as I
picked up and dropped off my deliveries. Then, around ten AM, I had a stray,
troublesome thought, and crossed a border into a rather restless emotional territory.
For an hour or so, I couldn't feel my belly. It was like my eyes were
not seeing into things, but were separated from the environment by windows.
I couldn't really feel my feet touch the ground solidly when I walked. In fact my whole
body seemed to have been borrowed by someone.
I "worked with" this vacuum, this crater on the far side of the moon, in
which I'd landed. I've been in lots of these, and none of them has ever been permanent.
I always marvel at that! But they last longer than I like.
Gingerly I prayed, talked to BABA, wrote when I had a chance, and
listened to a very good Richard Bach book-on-tape entitled Running from Safety. All
these activities were efforts to get my mind and body back from limbo.
Andwho knows how? Finally, here I was again.
I had also started singing and playing my harmonica at one point. That's usually
a sign, if it's not forced, that things are percolating. Maybe I'm finally learning to
recognize different provinces of my mind as I cross their borders. Suddenly,
though, from limbo land, with some transition between, I found I'd entered a
I used to try to put in wordsimpossiblethe experience of entering
this Kingdom. It was, I would say, like going out in some woods, behind the
house, and walking until I came to a brick wall. The brick wall, there in the
deep woods, curved around and went on and on without a break. I could go no
farther. But, following the wall, something happened! I kever knew
what it was, but suddenly I'd be on the other side, where creative things
would start to occur.
That's what happened today! Perhaps I entered the Province of the Muse.
Suddenly, the pen is a minute recording instrument. The whole body,
too, has become a sensor. The heart/arm/pen/notebook arc is a steady flow, a
current fed by fountains of feeling.
In this state, eyes and ears don't just "see and hear things", they interpenetrate
and play with a colorful, unknown environment. The cave of the eyes: does
the whole world spill out of there? Can you catch it spilling out? Whimsical people
appear externally, even as whimsical ideas and playful feelings leap from within.
Ah! This is the state of true living! This time, I won't ever let it get away!
All day long, I deliver things and get people to sign this long, clipboarded
sheet of paper called a Manifest. Usually they are people who are asked
to sign things all day long, so their bosses know whom to give hell to, if
something goes wrong.
I only have a few stories about these signatures. Maybe that's because
I'm not so perceptive. People just scrawl their names. Once in a great while,
I find myself complimenting someone on the strength in his or her
There's an ongoing joke, that the Manifest asks people to print their
name next to their signature. If I can read the signature to punch into my
Mobile Dispatch Unit (a little e-mail-to-dispatch gadget we have that many
people are curious about seemingly would practically die to have one of), I
tell the person, "You don't need to print your name." The vast majority of
people do it anyway, usually saying, "I started, I may as well finish." People
don't like printing half their name.
One day I hadand this really happeneda person whose last name
was "Love" sign for something. Then, an hour or so later, a person whose
last name was "Money" signed. I didn't laminate my copy of the Manifest,
but it was kind of cool.
Meeting Characters from Long Ago
The two most interesting things, though, that have happened with
signatures in the two years I've been doing this, have had to do with
the character of the people. They were more than cute little coincidences.
They remind me of the difference my old literature teacher described
between "plot" and "story". Plot, he said, is "the king dies and then the
queen dies." Story is, "the king dies and then the queen dies of a broken
Sometimes I'll be looking down at the Manifest when the person signs,
and I'll scarcely notice the person. I did this on one of these two occasions.
It was late in the afternoon and I was trying to finish up and get home. I was
delivering some envelopes to a Merrill Lynch office high in a downtown
At first, though the elegant office was open, there didn't seem to be
anyone around. After a few minutes a fellow on his own way home came
walking out through the receptionist area. I asked him if he'd sign for the
envelope, and he said he would.
I saw only his thumb and fingers clutching the pen, and the pen
scrawling on my manifest, as I readied myself to instantaneously key in his
name and e-mail it to the dispatcher. The pen wrote in a totally illegible
scrawl. Then, though, the hand started to print, neatly, beside the signature
I looked up.
It was Jim Mudd! So this is what had happened to him!
Jim Mudd had lived somewhere in the neighborhood when we'd been kids.
I'd never known exactly where. He was a year older than me. He went to Catholic
schools, but during summers we would both hang out around at Flynn
Park, the big park and playground adjoining Flynn Park Elementary School,
where I was a student. University City ran a summer program we both attended.
Sometimes, though, on weekends or in late afternoon, we'd sit in a circle
around Jim and his friend, Shelley Sansbury, and listen to them hold forth about
about "older" things. I was extremely impressed, and always felt shy in the presence
of such worldly folk.
One day Jim's glance had lit on me as I sat in the circle, silently listening to
him and Shelley discourse.
"Your parents didn't fuck right," he said with a laugh. I had a vague sense that I
was being made fun of, though it was the first time I'd ever heard that word and I
didn't know what it meant. Silently, I tried to puzzle it out from the context while Jim
went on to another subject.
Another time Jim and Shelley were reporting to us about a "Jerry Lee Lewis concert"
they'd been to downtown. Rock n' roll had recently come on the scene. Everyone knew
Elvis by this time, but I'd never heard of Jerry Lee Lewis. Again I sat silently puzzling,
"Gee, Is Jerry Lewis singing rock 'n roll now, and using his middle name?" I didn't ask,
probably because I didn't want to be made fun of again..
After the summer of 6th grade I never saw Jim again. Now, forty years later in the
receptionist area at Merrill Lynch, I loudly exclaimed "I know you!" and proceeded to
tell him the things I remembered. When I did, he remembered me, too.
Jim and Shelley had been "bad boys" at Flynn Park. Somewhere in the intervening
yearswho knows what he'd had to go through first he'd taken himself in hand,
sobered up, and done whatever he'd had to, to wind up as a quiet, middle-aged man
working in the financial world.
He seemed like a nice fellow, humbled by life. I missed the flamboyant boy I'd
known, and it seemed like he did too, but I have the sense he's probably a better
person for all he's endured.
Then There Was Earl Steiner
The other significant signature was Earl Steiner. He signed on an elevator. He worked
for the company whose office I was enroute to, so that I never had to leave the elevator
to make my delivery.
I was focused on the Manifest to watch his scrawls, too, suddenly become a whole
past I'd had something to do with. I hadn't been close friends with Earl, but we'd gone
all the way through religious school, Hebrew School, and later, pubic high school, in
the same classes.
There had always been something about Earl that...well, you couldn't put
your finger on it. There was just something vaguely...different. Now, seeing him in his
well-tailored suit, 35 or so years later, I realized what it was. It was like his whole life,
as I'd known it, suddenly came into perfect focus.
When Earl had been little, he'd always seemed out of place, I realized, because he'd
always seemed like an adult in a child's body.
Now that he was an adult, he appeared completely comfortable with himself and his
surroundingsa perfect fit!
I imagined what it must have felt like for Earl to grow up."Ah. This is what it's
about!" he must've thought.
I'm happy for you, Earl.
Tomorrow is another day!