September, Handling the Mail…: I don’t remember the interview or anything else about actually getting the job except that I think I started work at the new Post Office at 401 Franklin in downtown Houston sometime in August. It may have been as late as the Tuesday after Labor Day, but the position of Mail Handler paid $3.85 an hour and I didn’t have to wear a stupid uniform, shave or cut my hair. It had the distinct advantage that I was assigned to the swing shift, 2:30pm to 11:00pm, so I didn’t have to drag my ass out of bed before dawn or fight rush hour freeway traffic to get to and from work. This also gave me the option of going to the University of Houston during the day while working at night, so if I wanted to go back to college and get a degree, I could do that with no great effort.
Mail Handlers are literally the grunts who wrestle and sort canvas bags of mail, mostly parcels, which weigh up to 80 pounds (although some weigh much more) out of the trailers of eighteen wheelers parked at the docks of a Central Post Office. Our bags zoomed away on three foot wide conveyor belts that carried mail to various sorting and processing centers in that giant warehouse in downtown Houston.
After we emptied the trailers, we deployed to whatever node we were assigned. The mechanics and logistics of the process were set up so that any one letter or parcel might travel a mile or more inside the building before it landed in the mail truck that the carrier drove up to your mailbox. Mail Handlers leap frog along and around those conveyors to make sure that grandma’s homemade cookies get to the kiddos. Because I was the lowest of the low on the seniority totem pole, I worked from Wednesday through Sunday with Mondays and Tuesdays off and every weekday I woke up in the morning and drove my brother Rick to Sam Rayburn High School.
…Picking up Brother Rick from Rayburn…: On my first Monday off I drove over to pick him up around 3:30pm and saw Annika Ljung, who’d first arrived at Rayburn during the mid term of my senior year. As Rick hopped into the passenger seat I asked him, “Isn’t she that Swedish transfer student who showed up last year?”
“Oh yeah,” he replied, “That’s Annika. She lives just up the street on Dabney.”
“Well ask her if she wants a ride,” I said, which set in motion a sequence of events that would lead to yet another broken heart.
…and Annika Ljung: Although I’d experienced an intermittent dry spell since my return to Pasadena from Austin, I really wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. To tell the truth I’d never recovered from the emotional wounds from my break up with Sandy Lee during June of 1967. I’d grown comfortable with the relatively open and casual sex I’d experienced in San Francisco and Austin; so even though Annika Ljund was an exotic Scandinavian princess who looked like she stepped from the pages of a fairytale, she was still a sixteen year old high school virgin and I’d had my fill of wrestling with the conflicted emotional dance steps of high school virgins. When I drove Rick to and from school, he rode shotgun and Annika and one of her girlfriends sat in the back seat and that’s pretty much all there was to it until Roger Grey asked me to do him a favor.
Roger was dating Lily Chang and having problems with her family who didn’t care for the idea of their brilliant daughter spending time with a goofy white guy from Texas. Roger and Lily used the old ploy of the double date to allay their suspicions and so they usually went out with Steve Jarrad and whatever girl he was going with at the time. One Friday night Roger and Lily had plans to go see a movie… I think it may have been The Lion in Winter, but Jarrad got into a fight with his girlfriend and Roger asked me if I could find a date. So it was on a Friday morning that I asked Annika Ljund if she wanted to go to the movies and called in sick. I just thought I was helping Roger and Lily out with her folks, but things were about to get remarkably strange… much more to come.
The starlet Sue Lyon who Stanley Kubrick cast to portray Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was contemporary to the era and her features were similar to Annika’s. I found this video which streams her images along with Sunshine Superman to telegraph how we came together:
Next up on JMac1949 - Memories, 1968 – Working at the Post Office, Dropping Boxes of Drugs…
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