“In the modern world of visual arts, there can be no more harmonious marriage than that of visibility and commerce– and these two qualities have reached their apotheosis in the airmail stamp. What other artworks have been so widely disseminated and generated so much revenue from such a wide range of wage classes?” These were the words of my dear Grandmammy, who in her youth had toiled day in and day out, steadily painting stamp after stamp, as one of the many indentured stamp-making servants of the Postmaster General. Of course, Grandmammy never saw a wooden nickle of the money she earned for the post office, but after seven years she was given a cow, a straw hat and her freedom. This is why, when I decided to take the art world by storm, I knew exactly where to focus my energies and considerable talents. I applied to the USPS to avenge my beloved Grandmammy.
My first few months were bliss. Hunched over a drafting table, inking away at 1″x1″ squares or downright expansive 1″x2″ rectangles, making brushstrokes between heartbeats so that my hand should never falter… I had never been so in tune with the movements of my muscles and the inner workings of my body. Sure, I could have worked on a larger scale and sent out the finished work to be scaled down as so many of my fellow stamp artistes did. But I was no shirker. I was there for authenticity such as my predecessors had experienced. I wanted to preserve a noble tradition with a troubled past, and someday… just maybe… pass it along to a new generation the way Grandmammy did to me. I ate nothing but cabbage hash during my time at the post office in homage to her.
Ahh, the designs I dreamt up! Cupcakes at the waterpark with badgers! The inimitable Barbara Streisand engaged in lively debate with the Crypt Keeper! Sonic the Hedgehog executing a Sonic Spin Attack on a hamburger! Josef Stalin holding a baby! And these all in just my first week. My creative juices were seeping out all over. I was also wearing an adult diaper, since I could not manage to tear myself away from the work at hand, which might have accounted for some of that seepage. A small matter.
I soon realized that the joke was on me. Though I drew my paycheck regularly, it was much smaller than I expected. I told myself, “Don’t you worry your perfectly coiffed head, Cyrus. They’re just waiting to give you your due when quarterly bonuses roll around.” Nevermind that I couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone when I asked about the quarterly bonuses– just raucous laughter. What can I say? I was young; I was green. I didn’t yet know the ways of the postal service. But when Christmas rolled around and I received neither pineapple-glazed ham nor multi-million dollar bonus, I knew the jig was up. They’d duped me. I stormed the postmaster’s office, demanding my due. For my bravery, for demanding what was mine, I was promptly tossed rump-first into a dirty snowbank. Meanwhile, my stamps remained in circulation. It was a travesty.
I hear the post office is better these days. But on principle, I still privately contract out any mail I need delivered. I’ve found recovering narcotics addicts to be the most reliable couriers, followed by children, with recent college graduates at the very bottom of the list.