Decline of the West: Postal Edition

I have reached the age at which I am expected to think, as Jarrell once said, that “everything was better then.” But I don’t.

I like my iPad and iPod. I don‘t want to go back to black and white TV, though black and white movies were often unbeatable. But I have no enthusiasm for Putin’s ambition to bring back the Cold War nor that of Ted Cruz to resurrect McCarthyism.

I like email, but I also like a fat envelope as long as it doesn’t contain a fat bill or a pile of advertising. I don’t think the postal service should go away, but I do think it should work as advertised — complete with rain, snow and gloom of night.

And it almost always does. I send something across the country and it gets there. I order something, as I recently did my great great grandfather’s marriage certificate from Wales, and pretty soon it clanks trough my mail slot. Magic.

Until lately. Several weeks ago, mixed in with my mail was a letter intended for a house two doors down. It happens. So, I strolled over to deliver it. A few days after that, another misdirected letter appeared for a house a few doors in the other direction. This time I got peevish. I’m not getting paid to complete the postman’s appointed rounds for him.

In between these two cases, mail for me got delivered to somebody down a side street. Luckily the neighbors brought it over and confided this wasn’t the first time for them either. I recalled an adage from an early Bond book: “Once is circumstance. Twice is happenstance. The third time is enemy action.”

I started asking around and learned the feeling was widespread that something was not quite right about the performance of the current letter carrier. The next instance didn’t so much increase my ire as pose a moral dilemma. The post brought me a $10 gift certificate for a favorite restaurant. But wait, there was a second copy of the same freebie. This one was addressed to someone unknown to me who lives twelve blocks away.

I certainly wasn’t about to drive across town, but I didn’t feel quite right about pocketing the $10 windfall either. On the bright side, if the postman persisted in this behavior, I might be able to count on receiving a stream of packages, checks, and gifts intended for others. Maybe I could hold them hostage for ransom. No. I would probably have to do the right thing and return the misdirected mail to the postman with the suggestion that he start reading the names and addresses for which they were intended. It might help him in his work.

My annoyance had already come to a slow, rolling boil, but yesterday’s delivery put me over the top. I came home and parked the car. Since it was garbage day, I retrieved the empty bin from the curb and rolled it down the drive to where it lives. Strolling back up the drive along a low wall that leads to the walk that leads to the front door, I noticed a pile of paper atop the wall. I assumed someone in the family had left it there, possibly distracted by unloading groceries.

But no. It was the day’s mail. Not in my mailbox. Not on the front porch. Not on the front walk like a newspaper, but tossed on top of a wall. It did occur to me that the spot where the mail had come to roost was along the shortest route between the neighbor to my right and the neighbor to my left (If you don’t count the annoying detour required to put the mail in my actual mailbox).

Perhaps this was the new delivery method. Walk briskly between houses and drop the mail at the midway point in each yard you come to. This, as I find myself saying more frequently lately, is a new low. If someone plans to cover The Marvelettes’ “Please, Mr. Postman,” they’ll have to change the lyrics: “C’mon deliver the letter where it’s addressed. Please do it better.”

My wife had to visit the post office today so is lodging a complaint, but I hold out little hope for improvement. I do await with intense interest discovering where I will next find my mail. In a bird’s next up the tree in my front yard? Under a rock in the garden? In the garbage can? A lot of it is junk mail, after all. Maybe he is just eliminating the middleman — the recipient.

Or perhaps mail delivery has now become a kind of daily scavenger hunt. Letter, letter, who’s got the letter? Call me an old fogey, but I liked it better when the mail came to the mail box. Reliably. Oh Brave New world that has such mailmen in it.

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