Study Tips from Charles Bukowski

Sorting the Mail

It was 12 hours a night, plus supervisors, plus clerks, plus the fact that you could hardly breathe in that pack of flesh, plus stale baked food in the “non-profit” cafeteria.

Plus the CP1. City Primary 1. That station scheme was nothing compared to the City Primary 1. Which contained about 1/3 of the streets in the city and how they were broken up into zone numbers. I lived in one of the largest cities in the U.S.That was a lot of streets. After that there was CP2. And CP3. You had to pass each test in 90 days, 3 shots at it, 95 percent or better, 100 cards in a glass cage, 8 minutes, fail and they let you try for President of General Motors, as the man said. For those who got through, the schemes would get a little easier, the 2nd or 3rd time around. But with the 12 hour night and canceled days off, it was too much for most. Already, out of our original group of 150 to 200, there were only 17 or 18 of us left.

“How can I work 12 hours a night, sleep, eat, bathe, travel back and forth, get the laundry and the gas, the rent, change tires, do all the little things that have to be done and still study the scheme?” I asked one of the instructors in the scheme room.

“Do without sleep,” he told me.

I looked at him. He wasn’t playing Dixie on the harmonica. The damn fool was serious.

I found that the only time to study was before sleeping. I was always too tired to make and eat breakfast, so I would go out and buy a tall 6 pack, put it on the chair beside the bed, rip open a can, take a good pull and then open the scheme sheet. About the time I got to the 3rd can of beer I had to drop the sheet. You could only inject so much. Then I’d drink the rest of the beer, sitting up in bed, staring at the walls. With the last can I’d be asleep. And when I awakened, there was just time to toilet, bathe, eat, and drive back on in.

And you didn’t adjust, you simply got more and more tired.

While working Dorsey station I heard some of the old timers needling Big Daddy Greystone about how he’d had to buy a tape recorder in order to learn his schemes. Big Daddy had read the scheme sheet breaks onto the tape and listened to it as it played back. True or not, I decided to try the tape recorder. My worries were over. I could leave it on while I was sleeping. I had read somewhere that you could learn with your subconscious while sleeping. That seemed the easiest way out. I bought a machine and some tape.

I read the scheme sheet onto the tape, got into bed with my beer and listened:


It didn’t work. My voice put me to sleep. I couldn’t get past the 3rd beer.

After a while I didn’t play the recorder or study the scheme sheet. I just drank my 6 tall cans of beer and went to sleep. I couldn’t understand it. I even thought about going to see a psychiatrist. I envisioned the thing in my mind:

“Yes, my boy?”

“Well, it’s like this.”

“Go ahead. You need the couch?”

“No, thanks. I’d fall asleep.”

“Go ahead, please.”

“Well, I need my job.”

“That’s rational.”

“But I have to study and pass 3 more schemes in order to keep it.”

“Schemes? What are these ‘schemes’?”

“That’s when people don’t put down zone numbers. Somebody has to stick that letter. So we have to study these scheme sheets after working 12 hours a night.”


“I can’t pick the sheet up. If I do it falls from my hand.”

“You can’t study these schemes?”

“No. And I have to throw 100 cards in a glass cage in 8 minutes to at least an accuracy of 95 percent or I’m out. And I need the job.”

“Why can’t you study these schemes?”

“That’s why I’m here. To ask you. I must be crazy. But there are all these streets and they all break in different ways. Here look.”

And I would hand him the 6 page scheme, stapled together at the top, small print on both sides.

He would flip through the pages.

“And you are supposed to memorize all this?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Well, my boy,” handing the sheets back, “you’re not crazy for not wanting to study this. I’d be more apt to say that you were crazy if you wanted to study this. That’ll be $25.”

So I analyzed myself and kept the money.

Well, I took the scheme sheet and I related everything to sex and age. This guy lived in this house with 3 women. He belt-whipped one (her name was the name of the street and her age the break number); he ate another (ditto), and he simply screwed the third one old-fashioned (ditto). There were all these fags and one of them (his name was Manfred Avenue) was 33 years old…etc., etc., etc.

I’m sure they wouldn’t have let me into that glass cage if they had known what I was thinking as I looked at all those cards. They all looked like old friends to me.

Still, I got some of my orgies crossed. I threw a 94 the first time.

Ten days later, when I came back, I knew who was doing what to whom.

I threw 100 percent in 5 minutes.

And got a form letter of congratulations from the City Postmaster.

 Charles Bukowski
Post Office (1971)

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