Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Going Postal

There are a lot of people who will tell you the United States postal system is obsolete. They argue that we don't need paper mail, that by the time these letters and bills and magazines reach your mailbox, the information is already out of date. We are people who want technology at our fingertips, immediate results, and instant information. Who has time to wait for the mail to arrive?

I used to be a fan (and one of the very few) of the U.S. Postal Service, but I am afraid they are doing their best--or maybe I should say worst--to change my mind about that. I still buy stationery, send cards, write real thank you notes. I have a couple of books of stamps I keep on hand, not to mention my collection of return labels I have lovingly accumulated (flowers, polka dots, Tiger paws, IPTAY--for the many moods of my mailings). I absolutely love getting mail, and most of the time, I cannot wait to make my daily trip to the mailbox to see what treasures might be inside.

We used to have a fantastic mailman. His name was Terry, and I would see him practically every day when I walked the dog. We talked about church, our weekend plans, our families; he taught my dog how to shake hands. I still send him and his wife, Gloria, a Christmas card every year. But a few years ago, Terry told me (tearfully) that the USPS was changing his route and he wouldn't be delivering mail in our neighborhood anymore. Our new mail carrier(s)--it never seems to be the same person two weeks in a row--now comes late in the afternoon, sometimes not until after dinner, when it really does seem like yesterday's news. Terry used to lovingly stack our mail in a neat, orderly pile, whereas now it looks like someone rared back and punted everything into the mailbox. It's hard to feel the love when I pry open the overstuffed box and find torn, tattered mail shoved in willy nilly.

And so my fondness for the postal service is starting to wane, with a particular snowflake leggings fiasco back in January acting as a catalyst. Since I did not receive a much wanted pair of snowflake print leggings for Christmas, I did what any rational woman would do and ordered them online as a gift to myself. My order confirmation assured me they would arrive in 5-7 business days. Imagine my disappointment when, three weeks later, they still had not been delivered. I contacted customer service and was told the order had been shipped two days after I placed it. And it was sent priority mail, no less (I shudder to think about the slow, painful death non-priority mail must die). The USPS website listed the status as "out for delivery." And it had been "out for delivery" for the full three weeks. I called, and was told the package was now available at our local post office for pick-up. I wasn't sure why they didn't just get delivered to my house, but for the sake of fashion, I will roll with the postal punches. I could barely sleep that night, knowing I was going to snag that package the very next day. Hold on, snowflake leggings--I'm coming for you!

I waited somewhat-less-than-patiently at our notoriously crowded post office, and when I finally reached the window, the postal worker took my license and disappeared for--and I am not exaggerating here--35 minutes while I checked my watch, shifted my weight from foot to foot, sighed deeply, and experienced chest pains. I couldn't leave, because my driver's license had been confiscated, so I was forced to wait while the gentleman next to me mailing several international packages to some far flung place like Zimbabwe struck up a conversation about cooking with the only other person working in the post office. I did not get my package, but I did overhear a recipe for some kind of exotic stew--vindaloo, perhaps? Now that is some undoubtedly tasty, useful information. After all that looking, Rashanda (real name) told me she had no idea where my package was, and in truth, didn't know where else to look. She took my phone number and promised to call when it was located--you believe that, right? I left irate and empty handed.

This prompted a volley of emails back and forth with the unfortunate boutique owner who finally accepted defeat and gave me a refund on my doomed purchase. I accepted the fact that I would never don a pair of snowflake print leggings. And then, in February, the bygone leggings arrived...along with an envelope from the postal service requesting 42 cents in additional postage. I gave it to them entirely in pennies, along with a note thanking them for their prompt delivery.

Last month, we got a notification that Clint had certified mail which required a signature. He signed the back of the card, beside the "X" that indicated "sign here and we will bring you your mail," and waited. A week later, nothing. Ten days later, we got another lovely fluorescent card notifying us of that the last delivery attempt had been made. According to the postal system, they had repeatedly attempted to obtain a signature but were unable. I guess that signed card we put in the mailbox on the form they gave us didn't count? Clint ventured out to the neighborhood post office again and, this time, actually got his letter. Good thing it wasn't urgent, since someone could have etched it on stone tablets in less time than it took for him to receive it.

You know the saying the third time's a charm? We shall see. I ordered makeup from a friend of mine. Yesterday, I put a check for her in my mailbox and told her to just drop the makeup off any time. I noticed last night that the check was gone, but the makeup wasn't there. Guess what? The mail carrier somehow mistook a box with just my name written on it--no postage--for outgoing mail. So now the post office must have my under makeup primer. Only I have called four times today and no one is answering the phone. How efficient! How convenient! I left a note in the mailbox explaining the situation, but I'm not holding out much hope. I'm trying not to worry too much, since the primer that is supposed to reduce the appearance of fine lines on my face is now MIA.

I heard Jerry Seinfeld on the Tonight Show a few weeks ago talking about the postal service. I laughed at him saying it's amazing that a business model built on pennies, licking stamps, and postal workers walking around in mock Scout uniforms covered in meaningless patches doesn't work. Only now, instead of laughing, I am starting to really understand the true meaning of going postal. I'm still holding out hope that my makeup may somehow find its way back to me, but in the meantime, if you need to send me anything, just say the word and I'll come get it in person. No matter where you live, it will still be faster than dealing with the mail.

And clearly, the mail situation has gotten out of control....

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