When I was twenty-seven years old, I applied to be a City Carrier for the United States Postal Service, ZIP 94027. My parents disapproved. They felt I was throwing away my God given talents, the years of law school that I’d already completed, the tuition they’d already paid. They said that they would support me—at least in spirit— no matter what I did, as long as it made me happy. I told them that being happy sounded great, but I mostly wanted to be useful. My mother squeezed my hand and my father patted me on the shoulder. Okay, they said. Okay.

Adam Silva. The first package I ever delivered was a pair of boxing gloves. Adam’s house was the first on my route: 515 Junipero Serra Parkway, Atherton, California. He was the only place on the block with a flagpole. High above hung the American flag, and below that the California flag, and below that a banner that read: Oakland Raiders 1984 Super Bowl Champions. Three pickups were parked out front. I almost clipped one of them with my own truck. I was still getting used to the right- hand steering wheel and the boxy aluminum frame.

A stone lion guarded Adam’s doorway. I rang the doorbell. He came out wearing a shirt that said TAPOUT. He was big and muscular, with a goatee that looked like it could cut you. I handed him the package. He examined it.

“Only 9 pounds,” Adam said, tearing open the cardboard and putting on the boxing gloves he had ordered online.

“Sorry?” I said.

“Only 9 pounds of pressure to break someone’s nose.” He banged the gloves together and grinned at the dull thuds.

“Is that true?” I asked.

“You bet your ass. Ever see Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch on YouTube?” “No sir,” I said.

“Bruce Lee could break your nose with a one-inch punch. One inch. Hell, my baby nephew has a pecker bigger than one inch. That’s power.”

I nodded and turned to leave.

“Hey, wait a second—where you going?”

“I’ve got more deliveries, sir,” I said.

“Never turn your back to a cat,” Adam said. “That’s how a cat knows you’re prey. When you turn and run.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

He sprinted towards me with a raised glove, like he was going to strike. I flinched and fell down.

“Gotcha, bitch,” he said. “Now get up.”

“I don’t want to play,” I said.

He took off the gloves and handed them to me.

“Put these on,” he said.

“But they’re yours, sir,” I said.

He grabbed my hands and forced them into the gloves.

“Now hit me,” he said.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said.

“Just hit me in the stomach. I can take it. Hit me right here.”

I tapped him with a small punch.

“What brand of tampon do you use? Jesus. Hit me.”

I hit him a bit harder.

“No, no, you fucking idiot. Like this.” Adam started hitting himself in the stomach.

“Okay, okay,” I said.

He was punching himself hard. I was worried. “Please stop,” I said.

Then he started hitting himself in the face. He gave himself a bloody nose. He kept punching until the backs of his hands were red. I went to my truck to get him something to stop the bleeding, but when I came back he was out cold on the walkway. He had knocked himself out.

A few months later I felt confident enough to ring Adam’s doorbell instead of dropping the packages and dashing. This time, I delivered him some painting supplies. The package leaked an iridescent sludge. When Adam opened the door he was wearing glasses. He had grown his hair out and shaved his goatee. The TAPOUT shirt was replaced with a paint-splattered apron. Someone had painted the stone lion’s face a baby blue.

“Sorry about earlier,” Adam said. “When I yelled at you to hit me.”

“No problem,” I said. “You OK?”

“Broke my nose,” Adam said, pointing at his face.

“Huh,” I said. “You can’t even tell.”

Adam wanted to get burritos. I drove my tiny Long Life vehicle on the highway to Adam’s favorite taqueria. This wasn’t smart. The car was as old as I was. I couldn’t clock 65 miles per hour. It shuddered like it wanted to give up, but I mushed it onwards.

I liked thinking of my truck as a loyal, aging sled dog named Bruce, and of myself as a daring, mustached fur trapper named Oswaldo. After a long day of hauling otter pelts to godforsaken swathes of Alaska, I imagined Bruce and I cuddling for warmth in an ice-hovel while our fish stew brewed. We had a special bond. But all good things must come to an end. Bruce the dog would clip a snow-covered aspen, fall into a fjord and drown. I would be heartbroken, would not eat my fish stew for weeks, would not deliver my otter pelts.

I really did call my truck Bruce. Occasionally I imagined Bruce the truck’s death, much like the dog’s: Bruce would clip a Chevy driven by a father coming back from his son’s baseball tournament, flip over and crunch like a soda can.

We made it off of highway 280 without dying. Adam wanted to try driving a right-handed steering wheel. I let him take my truck around a block a few times. He was not good. I told him that all postmen struggle on their first time, but that he showed promise.

“The old me would have socked you in the teeth for saying that,” he said, “but this is a new Adam.”

I parked in front of the burrito place and turned on my blinkers so it looked like I was out delivering. Inside, we talked about painting. He said painting helped him work through his issues, and it could help me work through a lot of mine, too. He said he felt I had many issues. Namely that I was afraid.


Margaret O’Malley. Margaret received mostly letters, though once her niece ordered her a juicer which I helped install. I liked delivering mail to Margaret because it made me feel useful. I imagined that there were important messages inside each envelope, that her friend Rose McHarry was really the director of the CIA and Maybell Thorner was really an Iranian Ayatollah. She liked getting her mail hand-delivered to her. She said the mailbox was too far away.

The doorbell summoned her from the breakfast table and commenced her long, creeping shuffle. The inevitability of the walk was something like death.

“I thought it was you!” she said, opening the creaky door.

“I thought it was you, too,” I said back, like always. We shared a chuckle.

Somehow Margaret got it into her head that I was passionate about the sport of baseball. Specifically the Texas Rangers. I didn’t watch sports.

“The Rangers are winning,” she croaked, smiling at the joy of transferring good news.

“Well how about that? Quite the season we’re having.”

“They ’re second in the AL West now, aren’t they?”

I pretended to think. “That’s right,” I said.

“That one negro can really hit the ball, can’t he?”

A little retrograde, that Margaret. I never said anything about it. I was worried any confrontation would break her. She was a frail woman who lived alone. Never married. I wondered if she’d ever been kissed. I felt for her.

Her house was a sad affair. It was not just dirty, it looked as though it had once been clean. Now it was folding in on itself, like it desired to return to the ground.

Margaret herself had a wooden complexion, a wooden face, wooden mannerisms. She came across as an animate floorboard.

The actual floorboards were splintered and stained. A family of rats had taken up residence in her Volvo’s engine. The walkway became so overgrown it was difficult to get to her door. I offered to prune it back, but she said she preferred it that way.

“It makes me feel safe,” she said. “Though I’m fortunate. Not all us little old ladies have burly men like you to protect us.”

Sometimes she felt my pectorals and insisted that I should have played baseball. I would have been a shortstop. She felt it in her old woman bones.

One day I clamored through the brush and rang the doorbell. No one came to the door. I waited, but I did not hear her long, creeping shuffle.

“This is it,” I thought to myself, “she’s dead.”

I went in to check on her. I wondered if her body had stained the sheets yet, whether or not she had defecated upon death, how I’d explain my relationship to her on the phone with the paramedics. I was her friend, or I was her postman?

I had to break a window to get inside. All the doors were locked except for the back door, which led only to a windowless room that contained hundreds of wooden ducks wearing different hand-made outfits. One was smoking a cigar in a blazer.

I found her in her room, listening to a baseball game on a handheld radio. She yelped when she saw me, but then took off her headset and smiled.

“I thought it was you!” she said.


Gareth Schwartz. Gareth was 11-years-old, homeschooled, and the star of a children’s show. He ordered himself a new gadget every week.

To enter the Schwartz property I had to be buzzed through the first gate and then buzzed through the second. Before I made it through both Gareth would spot me on his family’s security cameras and sprint down his spiraled staircase, shrieking all the way. I’d meet him on the front lawn, which was a graveyard for fallen toys: broken Nerf guns, rusted RC cars, deflated NBA-certified basketballs.

The way Gareth ran at me sometimes made me feel like a father coming home from a long day’s work, his little boy eager to see him, hug him, ask him about his day. But Gareth would just grab the package. He was not very interested in me.

“How are ya, Gareth?”


“What are you doing today?”

“Chilling,” Gareth said.

“Chilling is fun.”

“What’s your name again?” he asked me.

“I’m Dave.”

“What do you do Dave?”

“I’m a postman. I deliver mail.”

“You’re boring.”

“That’s not very nice, Gareth.”

Sometimes he had friends with him. They all wore the same outfit, the same neon athletic shoes. They often had snot dripping from their noses. The frequency with which they all had snot dripping from their noses was astounding, actually.

Then Gareth’s mother would come out and chat. She was nice enough. She intrigued me because she never let me get a good look at her breasts, even though we both knew she had fantastic breasts. She spoke to me with an intonation that indicated she knew her son was a nightmare, but what can you do, most youngsters are at this age, and it’s a phase, that’s what the lady at Stanford hospital told me when I called, that it’s a phase. That whole thing. She made an effort to remember my name but couldn’t conceal her pride when she remembered it correctly.

One day I delivered Gareth some human-sized inflatable bowling pins and she came out wearing a beekeeping suit.

“I’m really impressed with your work ethic, Dave,” she said through her veil.

“Not a problem,” I said.

“You really go the extra mile,” she said, “hand-delivering to Gareth like that.”

I only saluted her like she was an army general. “To protect and serve,” I joked.

She chuckled out of pity.

“So my husband Neil is looking for a new secretary for his law firm—would you be interested? The pay would be an upgrade, and I’m sure you’re sick of all this by now.” She turned, pointed to the lawn’s detritus and rolled her eyes. I grabbed the card.

“Thank you, Mrs. Schwartz. I’ll think about it.”

“Just email Neil. Neil’s great about checking his email.”

I tipped a fake cap. “Yes ma’am,” I said. I’d never said “ma’am” before in my life.

After I was out of view of the cameras I tore up the card and threw it into a neighbor’s trash bin. I liked being a postman. I had a uniform. I had Bruce. Secretary at a law firm would give my parents something to believe in.

“Secretary is not that far from paralegal, Davey,” my dad would say. “When I started, I was in the mail room. Can you believe that? The mail room. Now I’m partner. Quickest to ever do it, too.”

“Nice,” I’d say back.

“Also, hey, Davey—next time you drop out of school how about you tell me so I don’t like look like a blubbering idiot in front of the dean?”


And if I was a secretary, strangers would call me every day. Some John Deere executive named Mr. Such and Such would get upset that I couldn’t schedule a meeting with Mr. Schwartz until Friday. And then I’d never hear from Mr. Such and Such again. It’d be different if he called me everyday.

My route is nineteen blocks and I know almost every person on it. They ask me how I’m doing. Some of them listen for an answer.

On one of my off days I decided to run some errands. I passed by an electronics store and saw Gareth’s ginger hair and upturned nose. He was an actor for Disney Channel. I watched for a while. He was excellent. He was on a cooking show with another young star. Her pie was great, and his was overcooked, cartoonishly blackened. Gareth presented his pie to the judges. They tried to hold back their disapproval.

“It’s really well done!” a woman said through clenched teeth. “Really, really well done…”

The screen changed to a commercial. I told myself that next time I saw Gareth I’d tell him good job, dude. I saw you and you were great. I wondered what he’d say back.


Glenn Calderone. Glenn told me I was the only one allowed to deliver mail to his house, that I should tell USPS to go fuck themselves with a bleeding horse cock if they ever brought a different guy. I liked Glenn because he tipped me. It wasn’t much, and it was almost never in US dollars, but it was a nice gesture.

His place wasn’t so much a house as a fortress. Everything was boarded up. He covered his fence in aluminum to fortify it from NASA’s radar waves. A pit trap obscured by loose grass lurked beneath his front lawn. If you fell into it, a wooden stake would turn you into a popsicle. This was to prevent a land attack.

On my orientation day, USPS made it clear that entering a resident’s home was forbidden. A woman with a face like a guppy made us sign a hundred-page document that said we wouldn’t hang out with anyone. I broke this rule with Glenn every time I delivered to him. It helped that I was efficient when delivering mail to those I didn’t like. It allowed me to take my time with those I did.

When I got to him, Glenn would peep through the front door’s eyehole and ask the secret question.

“There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?”

“A eukaryote in the mitotic phase.”

“Access granted,” Glenn would say.

Glenn had an odd double consciousness about his schizophrenia. He’d explain to me that NASA knew that he knew he was a robot, that they were trying to find him and kill him for his Thermocore to power their spaceships. But then he’d offer me a beer and apologize for being so crazy.

His house was spotless. Not a single thing was misaligned. Glenn himself was in unbelievable shape. He told me it was from smoothies. Baby kale, a banana, and some protein powder.

From the pictures hung throughout the house, I learned he had a daughter.

“That’s Lindsay,” he said.

“She looks just like you,” I said.

“You can say that again.”

“I like the shirt you’re wearing, too. Very 80s.”

Glenn chuckled. “I don’t think I could pull that off nowadays.”

“Not a chance,” I said.

I moved on to the next frame, which contained a crayon drawing done by Lindsay. A frog with rakes for arms and legs was being eaten by a spider with massive teeth. In the far corner, she had scribbled: “The Circle of Life.”

“Really makes you think,” I said.

“She died in a motorcycle accident. Lindsay. She died in a motorcycle accident.”

“I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

“You never expect it to happen to you until BANG,” he yelled. I flinched. “Until it does. They just fuck you like that. They just open you up and fuck you.”

We spent most of our time in his safe house, which was really just a basement with a complicated lock on the door. Inside, we played pool, smoked cigars, drank beer. I had to drive back to the post office so I never had more than a few.

After a while he’d get this look in his eyes and I knew it was time to leave. I always left without saying a word. I think that was why he invited me back.

I worried about him when I didn’t see him for a while, which was often. He rarely had mail. When he did it was mostly textbooks, or manuals for obscure machines.

One day I maneuvered through his obstacle course with a manual for a Cuisinart toaster. I preempted his question.

“A eukaryote in the mitotic phase,” I said. “The mother-effing mitotic phase.”

Lindsay opened the door.

“Oh, I thought you were someone else,” I said.

“Is that Dave?” Glenn yelled from inside. It sounded like he was tied down to something. “Dave, help! Dave! They’ve found me! They’ve turned my own blood against me.”

“What do you want?” she asked.

She was acne-scarred with a broad face and thick butt-chin. She looked as though she was a competitive shot putter. Puberty had not been kind to her. The circle of life, I thought. I wanted to see the photo of her and Glenn again to see if it was really her.

“I’ve got a book here for Glenn. Can I go see him?” I tried to walk inside but she stopped me.

Glenn cried out again. “Dave! Don’t believe anything she says. You can save me!

Dave, you have the potential to save me! To save the world! Dave! Save me!”

“He’s very sick,” Lindsay said. “You know that. The doctor said no one can see him until he gets better. It’ll just feed that old world.”

“Will you call me when he gets better then?” I handed her the package and wrote down my number on one of its cardboard panels.

“Yes,” she said.

“I’ll see you soon, buddy. Hang in there,” I yelled into the house.

She gave me the stink eye and shut the door. I never saw Glenn again.


Iris Garbona. Iris was taking an online class in psychiatry. She often ran out to the mailbox and asked me about my feelings.

“Do you feel as though you’re living in your father’s shadow, Dave?”

She managed to ask some pretty heavy-hitters.

“Are you anhedonic, Dave?”

“What’s anhedonic?”

“Look it up, Dave.”

Iris only ever ordered snow globes. Each box had FRAGILE printed all over its panels. I never broke one. Not once. I saved every single one.


Jack McLayten. When people learned that I delivered packages in Atherton, CA, they usually asked if I ever delivered a package to Jack McLayten, the rock singer.

“You know Jack McLayten lives in Atherton, right?”

“No,” I said.

I lied to their pinched faces. Turns out I knew Jack pretty well. He was often the first person I delivered to every day. I didn’t care for his music.

“He toured with Guns & Roses? Lynyrd Skynyrd? You should listen to Beach Canoe right now. Right this second. It’s his best album.”

I have listened to Beach Canoe. It was a pile of dogshit.

Jack was a sufferer. Most of his boxes rattled, which as a postman you knew meant pills. When you’re that famous you don’t need a doctor, you can get prescription pills through the mail.

Jack was more eager to chat with me than any other resident. He got upset when I said I was busy. Inside, he had the most updated everything. His living room was a SkyMall. He controlled it all from a single remote. I’d walk in and he’d dim the lights, fire up the indoor Jacuzzi, play music—never his own songs, never his own genre—in one click of a button, but then cringe because he felt he was showboating. Occasionally he offered me stuff he no longer wanted, like an indoor babbling brook or glow in the dark toilet cover. My apartment was too small for most of it, so I usually declined.

We had a formula, Jack and I. He would ask me about myself, I would answer, and then he would briefly connect my answer to something in his past.

“How’s your brother liking college?” Jack asked.

“I think he’s doing well. Freshman year is tough. Joined the crew team, which is nice. He’ll do well. He’s lanky, but strong.”

“That community is something he’ll cherish for the rest of his life. Never had anything like that when I was performing alone for all those years. No steady band. A different drummer each show. Sad, when you think about it.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And how are your parents?”

“Dad’s still working at Kirkland & Ellis, Mom’s keeping herself busy. Gardening, and tennis. I think she volunteers somewhere.”

“It’s great that they have something to do. You know? I should garden. Feel what it’s like to bring life into the world. I’m 54-years-old. Never married. Think about that, Dave. Don’t make the mistake I made. You’re young. Look at yourself. Here, look at yourself. I’ve got a mirror right there. Look. You’re so young. You have your whole life ahead of you. All of it. You can be anything. You want to pick up the guitar? Let’s do it. Right fuckin’ now. I’ll teach you. I can help you record your first album, free of charge. Want to be the first person to climb Everest without an oxygen tank? Easy. Become an Olympic gold medalist? You can do it, Dave. You can be anything. That’s such a gift at your age. And you don’t even know it. So much changes so fast. I’m old, now. God. I’m old.”

Then Jack winced because he hated talking about himself.

His house was massive, but we usually stayed in the entryway, the smallest room, before I lied that I had to return to my route as it was a busy one today, what with the rain and all. Jack was embarrassed by the size of his house. It was obvious.

Every so often paparazzi loomed outside his yard like vultures. I never said anything to them, until they asked me if I was Jack’s gay lover disguised as a postman, if the single “Tender Nights” was really about me.

“No,” I said, “I’m his postman.”

The woman next door had a subscription to People magazine, and Jack would often be in it. Jack was dating a woman more famous than him, but she was never around. He told me once that he never Googled himself or bought these magazines, but he always asked me if he was in People today. No matter what I said, he winced.

“Let me show you something,” Jack said to me one wet afternoon.

He brought me downstairs. The descent took minutes. He opened the door to a recording studio as big as a basketball court. On one wall were rows of brilliant, gleaming guitars. They looked like fruit. I wanted to grab one and bite into it.

“This guitar,” he said, “was Jimi Hendrix’s.”

“Wow,” I said.

“This one was Jimmy Page’s.”


“James Taylor’s over here. Janis Joplin’s acoustic, back there. A lot of ‘em are signed.”

“Incredible,” I said.

That was very unlike Jack. Usually he exaggerated his humility.

“I recorded all of Beach Canoe right here,” he whispered, as though it was a prophecy. He opened his arms and looked at the studio’s foam-covered ceiling like Abraham speaking to God: “Right. Here.” He looked at me. Was I impressed? I didn’t know what to say.

“I think Beach Canoe is your magnum opus,” I mumbled, just to say something. He ignored me.

Jack pulled out a mattress from a secret compartment, pulled out a mega-pack of condoms from a different secret compartment.

“I’ve fucked hundreds of women in this studio,” he said.

“Holy,” I said.

“Don’t believe me?”

“I believe you,” I said.

He started to snap his fingers and bob his head: “Two in a day, three in a day, four in a day, boom, boom, boom, like a fucking conveyor belt.” He was yelling. “Fuck, Dave. Five in a day even. In and out in and out in and out like a McDonald’s drive-thru,” he screamed. “And what do I have to show for it?”

I shrugged, gestured at the guitars, the studio, the house.

Nothing,” he said. “I have nothing.”

“Make a record about that?” I said.

“None of this means anything.”

He opened the glass case that contained his Grammys and started throwing them on the ground. The golden gramophones didn’t break. This angered him. He grabbed one of the twinkling guitars. It took him a few heaves to truly break the thing. He kneeled among the scraps of the shattered turquoise body and began to cry.

“I want to be ordinary,” he said. “Like you. I just want to be ordinary like you.” Spit dripped from his mouth, mucus from his nose. He looked so small hunched down like that.

I could still hear his sobs as I climbed back up the stairs and left through the front door. They were amplified by the studio’s acoustics. If you listened carefully, they sounded musical.


Mr. & Mrs. Sunflower. The Sunflowers’ house lingered on the outskirts of my route, more Menlo Park than Atherton. The roof was done in the “Spanish Style,” which Mr. Sunflower liked, and the body was in brick, which Mrs. Sunflower liked. It was a nice hybrid. Two bedrooms, two baths, a slice of a backyard: it was much cozier than many of the mansions a few blocks away.

Mr. Sunflower was a hard-nosed, hard-working lawyer. He grew up in a big house nearby that his father couldn’t pay for. The financial insecurity stressed out his mother, Mr. Sunflower theorized, which led to her Diffuse Lewy Body Dementia. As a result, Mr. Sunflower vowed to never put himself or his family in the position his own father put him and his mother in. So he worked hard (though Mr. Sunflower preferred to be described as having a “chip on his shoulder”) and paid his way through law school. He moved back to California with Mrs. Sunflower to start a family. Mrs. Sunflower, a talented mathematician, gave up her job as an early computer-scientist to become a full-time homemaker. They had two boys and a collie named Baxter.

Mrs. Sunflower answered the door when Mr. Sunflower was at work.

“Davey,” she said, “how lovely to see you. Working hard?”

“You bet,” I said.

Mrs. Sunflower looked like she was incapable of inflicting pain. Her laugh wrinkles and short, frizzy hair embodied life. She loved talking about my work, and emitted oohs and aahs whenever I told her about the antics of some of my co-workers. She treated my anecdotes like serial dramas. I got the sense she really cared about me.

“Wait one sec,” she said. She came back with a Tupperware full of spaghetti and meatballs. “Your dad’s famous sauce. Just made it. They’re not leftovers. I promise. Still hot. See the steam?”

I thought Mrs. Sunflower ordered things just to see me. She ordered carrot seeds for two months in a row.

“How many rabbits do you own?” I joked.

She acted flustered. “They just keep sending me these damn things!” She paused. “How’s your apartment?”

I didn’t tell her that it was terrible, that bugs came out of the faucet, that the walls were so thin I could hear people eating their dinner.

“Good,” I said.

“You can always live here if you want.”

“I know,” I said.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Your father and I would love to have you. And I know Baxter misses you.”

“Where is that pup?” I asked.

“Being a menace somewhere. You know, I don’t think there’s ever been a Sunflower that was a postman. You do look quite handsome in that uniform. And are you cooking for yourself like I told you to? You can borrow one of my cookbooks, if you want.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’m getting along just fine.”

“We miss you,” she said.

“I miss you, too,” I said. “How’s tennis?”

She couldn’t answer because she was about to cry. She went back inside.

It was different when Mr. Sunflower opened the door. He looked like a dog brought back by its collar to the kitchen it ransacked: he had the droopy eyes and sad mouth of an animal confronted with a failure entirely its own doing. I got the sense that I was a reminder of his wrongdoings, that seeing me made him think of all the bags of chips he’d stolen, insults he’d delivered, outbursts he couldn’t quell. I got the sense that I was hurting him. When he answered the door, I felt like the father, opening the door to my kid who stumbled home drunk after breaking curfew.

“I’m sorry, Davey,” he said.

I tried to make things less sentimental, but that’s always where my dad wanted to go.

“What for? What could you possibly be sorry for?”

“I pushed you too hard. Just like in baseball, when you were a kid. I wanted you to love baseball and I made you hate it. Law was my dream, not yours. I should have let you just live your life. And now,” he raised his hands, “and now.”

“And now what?”

“This,” he said. It looked like he pointed to himself.

“I chose this for myself. I am living my life,” I said. I hoped that’s what he wanted to hear.

We stood in silence as he shook his head back and forth, fingering his earlobe, staring at the ground.

“I’m sorry, Davey,” he said.

“Dad,” I said. “We’ve been over this. You don’t have to be sorry for anything.”

His lip quivered. The quiver was worse than tears.

I embraced him. He was smaller than I remembered. I handed him the package, walked down the flowered walkway, and got back into my truck. I put the bag of spaghetti on the dash. It fogged the Ziploc. I thought about the deliveries I’d have to make tomorrow.