Here’s your mail. Where’s your…

When female letter carriers have an ‘urgent situation,’ they’re forced to knock on the door

Knock, knock. Who’s there? If it’s a female letter carrier, she probably wants to use your toilet. No kidding. For women who deliver mail, needing a washroom en route is “a huge problem,” “a critical issue,” and “the hardest obstacle,” they say. “I’ve literally been on the verge of peeing my pants to the point where I thought it would be impossible to do this job,” says Theresa (some names have been changed), a Brantford, Ont., Canada Post employee.

“We talk about it all the time at work,” says Richmond, B.C.’s Denise Kowalski. “When you’re out there and all of a sudden you have to go, you can’t hold yourself. You ask a customer. That’s what everybody does. Most customers are nice and they’ll let you use their washroom. I always try to move around so I don’t have to bother the same customer.” Kowalski insists that “of course management knows! Their policy is to try to make sure you go before you start your route. But you can’t control that!”

Kowalski’s route encompasses the million-dollar homes in the University Endowment Lands near Point Grey in Vancouver. “The driveways are very long,” she notes. “It’s happened to me where the customer was in a lousy mood and said, ‘Oh, the nearest washroom is McDonald’s,’ which is three blocks away. By the time you get three blocks, you’d be peeing yourself as you well know.”

Catherine, a 35-year letter-carrying veteran, wonders why no one warned her about the washroom problem when she started the job. “The first time it happened to me, I got this little old lady and she’d just signed a registered letter. I walked two houses down. It was the middle of winter and I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it.’ So I went back and I knocked on her door. I said, ‘I understand if you say no but I gotta ask. Can you let me in? I’ve got to pee.’ ”

“Men are luckier, aren’t they?” muses Kowalski. “They can go anywhere.” But then she decides guys have their problems too. “I’ve been told by some of the male carriers that they’ve been caught and called in. The customer has phoned in and complained about them peeing in the bushes.”

Theresa from Brantford recalls a recent conversation with a fellow postie: “This morning Claire came up to me and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but on my way home yesterday I saw Gord standing by his Canada Post van in full uniform peeing at the side of the road as though it were the most natural thing in the world!’ ”

Irene Massey, 87, is the record-holding oldest woman letter carrier in the U.S. Massey retired at 83 and remembers the working conditions when the post office first started to hire women. “When we were inside sorting the mail, you had to ask a man permission to go, and then a man waited outside the restroom and counted the minutes. Outside, you took your chances finding a restaurant or a customer you knew.”

Catherine believes it’s because mail delivery was originally a man’s job that women don’t speak up. “They never thought about designing anything for women because a man can go behind a tree and we don’t stand up and say, ‘Where can I go?’ because men are going to say, ‘See, they can’t do the job.’ ”

Asked if he’s aware employees pee in bushes and ask to use customer’s toilets, John Caines, Canada Post’s manager for national media relations, said, “Never. You’re asking me if I’ve ever heard of it? No, I haven’t.” According to Caines, postal workers “get five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon for ‘wash-up’ time. Throughout the route, they get time for personal rest and delay, which could include going to the washroom, and where they go is up to them.”

Meanwhile, in Boston this summer, MIT grad Matt Kaminski debuted a new board game called “The Letter Carrier Game.” Players role the dice and move toward delivery spots, encountering numerous setbacks along the way. “Must go to bathroom!” is one of the obstacles in the chance-card deck. “It’s only four words,” says Kaminski. “Must go to bathroom exclamation point. There’s no question about what needs to be done.” Players return to the station. In real life, Kaminski acknowledges it’s not always that simple. His father delivered mail and shared many stories. “I think finding a secure, safe, clean, comfortable restroom is really hard. My father tells how patrons have allowed him to knock on the door and say, ‘I have an urgent situation.’ ” When his father worked a rural route, he told his son, “God help you if someone sees you going.”

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