USPS, You’re Losing Me

USPSIn spite of everything, I’ve always been a defender of the United States Postal Service. When a conservative Congress forced them to sock away an inordinately large and unnecessary amount into their pension fund in an effort to drive them into insolvency, I was sympathetic. When they faced opposition in their money-saving proposal to end Saturday delivery, I was supportive. (I have no problem receiving Saturday’s stack of junk mail on Monday.) And when anti-union people rail about generous benefits accruing to postal workers, I remind them “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” the unofficial creed of the Constitution-mandated postal service.

And how has this loyalty been rewarded? Let me tell you.

My husband is fighting a serious illness, something we wrote about in last year’s Christmas letter, so he wanted this year’s letter to go out early to assure friends and relatives that he is not dead. We purchased the paper and envelopes in the summer and wrote the letter immediately after Thanksgiving. In the first week of December, I delivered 171 stamped letters to the post office (yes, it’s a large mailing list). The next day, a dozen or more were delivered to our own mailbox. I stormed down to the post office with the stack in hand, ready to do battle, but the clerk in the nicest possible way told me the mistake was mine: I never should have put my return address on the envelope’s back flap even though there was a specially designated area there for just that sort of thing. “I always tell people not to do that because it confuses the machine,” she said.

She added that I would not have to pay for the postage and then grabbed a marker and drew big black lines across the machine’s printing on the front and back of each envelope before tossing them into a box for re-delivery. I shuddered at the desecration inflicted on an envelope printed with doves of peace and told myself to live with it. The next day, one more letter came back to us. That one I made a new envelope for.

Having never been in the inner recesses of any post office, I have no idea of the procedures once the mail leaves my hands. Are there robots back there, feeding mail into machines? Are some of the workers visually impaired, a good thing for the post office to do just not in that particular job. And what about the delivery person, a nice friendly guy who is frequently replaced by strangers? Did nobody notice something odd about envelopes with stamps on one side and an address on the reverse? I tried to put it all out of my mind.

Until I began to wonder about the others. Were people receiving them or are stacks sitting in some postal facility in Tennessee? I have begun asking people if they’ve received the letter, something I’d rather not do as it puts them on the spot. Perhaps they looked at the envelope and thought, “Oh God, here’s that awful letter she always sends. I’ll read it after the holidays, if at all.” Our New York daughter said, “I don’t know. It could be here in this pile of mail I haven’t had time to look at.” Our Los Angeles daughter said, “No, we didn’t get it and I wondered why.”

So now I’ll spend the entire holiday season waiting for a giant stack of letters to come back to us, maybe in February. Thanks a lot, postal service.