The men behind the mailroom
By: Ava C. Green, Editor-in-Chief
Recently, I spent time with Don Sulkowski and George Ambrusko, who work at the Canisius Mailroom located in Science Hall. They were the subjects of a five-page, immersive profile I was writing for a class. I'd been fascinated by them, the chaos of the mailroom and their best friendship that I, in my freshman year, decided must exist between the two of them. They had no idea how interested I was in learning about them, not just the mailroom.
On my first day of observing George and Don, they insisted on showing me all around their office and the loading dock. They opened up the dock doors for me, talking me through what they do when delivery trucks back their beds in and start unloading. They failed to warn me, though, of the sound the doors would make as they opened: it started up from underneath our feet, shaking the massive hangar we stood in. The loading dock area is stuffed with packages that arrive for certain departments on campus. George explained that those departments didn’t need those packages yet, and that he and Don would eventually get a call from them when they needed their things delivered.
When they finally got the call, Don would come barreling into the mailroom from the back entrance — the one that takes you in from the loading dock — with a big, squeaky, cagey cart loaded with boxes. Both men were perfectly in sync when in delivery mode, something they’ve perfected while working side-by-side for three years. Without a word, Don would toss a set of keys to George who’d catch them as he zipped up his black fleece jacket and put a navy blue Adidas cap onto his head. Outside of Don and George’s surprise calls to action, they “go on rounds,” as they’d say, twice a day to bring mail and packages to different departments and offices around campus.
This process began with the ringing of an obnoxiously loud bell above George’s desk. The two men would immediately, in unison, whip their heads around. Squinting, they would try to make out the security camera footage screened on the small TV at the top right corner of the inside of the mailroom service window. The cameras pointed to the loading dock so the men could see what carriers were coming to which doors and when. Don would meet the deliverers at the dock and come back, carting in little cardboard mountains that George would have to sort through.
George would then file each delivery into a big computer. He pressed the keys one at a time to type in the first three letters of whichever part of their name was “more unique.” “For you,” he said, “we’ve got about a million ‘Greens’ saved on here, but there’s only two Avas on campus right now, so we type ‘A-V-A’.” He smiled as my name popped up on the screen.
Every person who has had a package delivered is saved on this computer, and when searched and selected, they receive an email that a package has arrived. Mail does not have the same alert system as the packages. Instead, Don would take each envelope and check that the mailbox number written on it corresponds with the person it’s addressed to, then put them in their respective boxes one by one. “Uh-oh! It’s from the sheriff's office”; “Looks like someone’s got some bills to pay!”, they’d quip, joking their way through the pile of envelopes.
Not many people get “real mail” anymore — George and Don say fewer and fewer letters are delivered every day. Still, he believed that doing this chore, albeit infrequently, has contributed to his quick recollection of a student’s name. “You see their name over and over on a mailing label or a letter, then eventually, there they are, face to name, right in front of you.” Before Canisius, George and Don were both working “blue-collar, odd jobs,'' as George put it. Both agreed, though, that the mailroom has been easily their most rewarding job purely for the connection, even if it’s sometimes one-sided.
It’s often a thankless job. During my time with them, Don and George, separately, on different occasions, referred to themselves as “just a delivery system” – not as a face or a name, like they saw the students. Sadly, this might be true. When asked, many students couldn’t recall their names, but they all had countless stories recalling “the mailroom guys” stopping at nothing to get them their deliveries. Looking back, I wish it didn’t take me so long to learn Don and George's names, faces and so much more I never wish to forget.