Katarina, like most of my friends here in Italy, is unemployed. She was employed – personal assistant to a famous actress in Rome – but that actress be crazy and Katarina, who has a master’s in Linguistics, wasn’t about to be scrubbing no toilet bowls. But there’s a crisis on right now; vice-tight here in Italy, where the employment problem was bad enough to begin with. She’s hardcore looking for work – first, was looking for translating gigs or university jobs but now for almost anything – but apart from a few interviews and flirtatious company heads, nothing has come up.
So Katarina’s gone back on unemployment; waiting for that magical check from the government. And it would be great if she could get it, too… except for the mail. Because the mail doesn’t come.
Three months, she tells us. Three months and not even a letter or a bill. Mailbox empty, as though she’s never lived there. Yes, she lives high up on a mountaintop. Yes, this is Italy – where nothing happens as it’s supposed to. But three months without even a junk flier? How will she pay the bills if she doesn’t get her unemployment check – or how will she pay her bills at all if even they don’t arrive?
Do you even see the postino? asks Flora.
Once, says Katarina. I saw her once, months ago. I look out my window all day, every day, seeing if I can catch her – so I can show her my face and say Look! I live here! Where’s my cursed mail? But I don’t see her. I don’t know what else to do.
So Katarina waits. I’m waiting, too – the birthday package my parents sent me from the States is weeks late. Each day, my mother asks: Did you get the package yet?
But what the cauliflower! We sent it weeks ago!
Why haven’t you gotten it yet? Are you opening your mail box properly?
You grew up in Italy, right?
Then you know why I haven’t gotten it yet.
But I hoped they would have gotten better about this kind of thing by now.
Months ago, I sent Diego and Joy a joint birthday package of my own. Danish soccer shorts for him and a bottle of Fico d’Amalfi body lotion for her. A locally-produced boar sausage thrown in just for giggles. Because Diego likes his sausage.
To the impiegata behind the desk: I can send this sausage through customs, right?
I don’t know, she said.
You don’t know?
What do you mean you don’t know?
I don’t know. But try it and see.
I tried it. Weeks later, Diego’s message on my Facebook wall:
Sistah – the shorts you sent me are awesome! But the sausage didn’t make it. Looks like some A-hole at Customs is enjoying my sausage for Christmas this year. And I got fined $20 so… thanks.
I see the postino myself sometimes. Rolls up on his fancy bike with its fancy neon messenger sacks. Apart from my birthday package, I’m waiting for things, too – rejections or acceptances from literary magazines; confirmations from Trinity about graduation; reissued debit cards; letters from home.
Anything for me? I ask the postino.
Here, he says, and hands me a junk flier for Orizzonte; supermart extraordinaire. The advantages of living in town. I’d have rather gotten a taco.
And, one day, after months of radio silence, Katarina finally gets some mail. In the mail is her unemployment check. She’s giddy until she realizes that the check is spent already, repaying the debts she’s accumulated while waiting for the darn check to arrive in the first place.
So much for that, she says. Until the next check.
And I’m looking over at her envelope from the government – thinking about the big check inside. Wondering how I can get on this gravy train myself. I’m an Italian citizen. They don’t have to know that I get paid each month in U.S. dollars. Because everyone knows that Socialism makes you a lazy thieving bastard. The proof is in the pudding.