Zen Mailbox Wars

Zen Mailbox Wars and the Commander


Christopher Fountain


            Friday night’s teenage party down the street was typical enough: exploding cherry bombs, ear-shredding rap music, and the merry tinkling of beer bottles shattering on the pavement where, the next morning, I’d be walking Casey the Wonderdog, our aging and shoeless Labrador. Just after midnight a group of future investment bankers piled into Mom’s Mercedes and screeched down our lane for a little impromptu mailbox smashing—they destroyed all five and then disappeared into the night, job done.

            Saturday I dragged a pressure-treated four by four from under the deck and began its conversion into a replacement post. On the warmest day yet of this intemperate winter the sun baked my skin, the breeze whispered across my back and I decided to forgot the morons in their ninety-thousand dollar car and to reflect instead on my father, dead these past fifteen years, and his brilliant response to bored teens armed with baseball bats.  My father, and our next door neighbor, “Joe R.”, took opposite tacks to a solution.  Each got to his own destination, but my father arrived with no fuss, sweat or bother.

            Joe and my family lived opposite each other on Gilliam Lane, in Riverside.  That quiet little street attracted vandals like a dead fish draws hornets, and mailbox bashing was a vexing constant for every resident. Joe’s box was hit as often as ours, and Joe determined to defy these succeeding generations of mentally challenged youth. He purchased a stainless steel box, bolted it onto a four by four and buried the post in concrete. It took awhile—the noise woke us up across the street—but the kids got it down. Joe bought a heavier mailbox, and secured it to a larger post.  He lost again.

            As the years went by, Joe’s anti-vandal campaign grew more sophisticated. He embedded sacrificial posts to guard the main target (this after some teens gunned their motor and drove their car over and through one of Joe’s creations), he carted boulders from his back yard and dumped them around the sacred site, and finally, he built a protective concrete grotto (with reinforcing bar!) in which to nestle his heavy gauge steel plated receptacle. Presented with such a challenge, the kids responded, successfully, every time, even returning over several weeks to get the job done right.

            My father had a more elegant solution. He, too, bought a post—as I recall, it was a six by six, much sturdier than neighbor Joe’s puny first attempt—and had one of us boys bury its end very close to the center of the earth. He nailed a plywood platform to the top of the post and then took our mailbox and rested it on the plywood, and went about his business. Over the years, the kids would careen onto Gilliam Lane, hop out of their cars, and attack. They’d topple our mailbox off its platform and onto the ground and, satisfied, turn their attention to Joe’s latest creation across the street. In the morning, my father would stroll down the driveway, lift our box back to its perch and wish a cheerful good morning to Joe, already busy at his own repair, struggling with wheelbarrow and cement mixer, preparing the next bomb—proof version of his quest.

            So, was Joe a fool, a mere spitter in the wind? Not if his true goal was to war with children. But after thirty years of military service, my father had tired of battles, I think, and chose an approach that produced no “victories”, but kept his life free from disruption by vandals, and that provided its own satisfaction. 

            My father died in 1988, after old age and blindness robbed him of his serenity and eroded his will to struggle against anything, even life. I still miss him, every day. The kids in that Mercedes didn’t intend to, but they gave me a gift wrapped inside their malicious little act; a gift of a sunny, warm morning outside, and the chance to reflect on just one of the lessons I learned from “the Commander”. My own mail box is now set lightly on its post, ready to be toppled over and brought easily back to life.