Dear, Dear Post Office:
My earliest memories of you are not of letters sent by Uncles and Aunts, but of pen pals from far, far away. I would race home from school, shout, “Daddy. Did I get any mail?” and then listen for my father’s adorably predictable response. “Yes,” he always said. “You got a letter from Hong Kong.”
Sometimes there really was a letter. Usually not. Part of the fun was in the way he pronounced Hong Kong, as if the syllables were gloomy gongs struck off a giant bell. The rest of the fun was in the childish inky handwriting on the front of the occasional envelope, the exotic stamps, and messages exchanged between my pen pal and me, detailing events in our truly tediously lives.
And you, Dear Post Office … you made it possible.
There were also thrillingly addressed letters sent to friends at summer camp:
Miss. Diana Amberson
Wilderness Iroquois Indian Camp, Danson, Illinois, United States of America
Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe
Before we mailed them, we would kiss the envelopes with lipstick-smeared lips, and in big clumsy letters write SWAK (Sealed With A Kiss). And you delivered them, Dear Post Office, proving not only that you were competent, but that you had a sense of humor as well.
My great passion for you, though, did not begin until I moved to the City to become a writer. I lived in a six-flight walkup without a telephone, a television, or even a typewriter. But I did have big dreams, and I had a family in Illinois who loved me. Because of you, we kept in touch.
I will never forget with what gratitude I received letters from Mom and Dad. I would dash downstairs and feel my heart thump if I saw a thick envelope crammed into my narrow mailbox in the lobby. I’d devour the pages on my way back upstairs, and become so engrossed that I would continue past the sixth floor, and not stop until I walked smack dab into the door to the roof.
I remember how wonderful it was to anticipate … to wait … to receive. And I remember the delicious joy of not having instant gratification.
Mostly though, Dear Post Office. I remember how easy it all was.
I could pack a carton with birthday presents, books, records or clothes and stuff it into the big blue mailbox on my corner. To send a letter, all I had to do was address an envelope and lick a stamp. And calculating postage was as easy as opening a drawer. I’d just multiply the number of ounces by the price per ounce, and slap on a few stamps. First Class went by train or boat. Airmail cost a little more. And Book Rate was so cheap, rejection letters from publishers were almost easy to bear.
Back then, Dear Post Office, you were wonderful. You were open weekdays from 8 to 5, and on Saturdays until 1 p.m. You lived in town, you were sensible, and you talked in a language that everyone could understand.
Then you ruined everything. And thanks to your ridiculous changes, I can now no longer:
Find a post office.
Figure out when it is open.
Figure out how many stamps to put on a letter.
Use a mailbox.
Mail a package.
Whose brilliant idea was it, Dear Post Office, to move to the ass end of nowhere so that, in order to find you, we must drive blocks, miles, and universes away from the center of town?
Whose brilliant idea was it to close your counters in the middle of the day, so that working people can’t buy stamps, get passports, or mail packages during their breaks for lunch?
Whose brilliant idea was it to make calculating postage so complicated that my friend, who has two PhDs., can’t figure out how much money to put on an envelope? Note this brief excerpt from your Official Website for mailing a first class envelope (the actual instructions on go for pages and pages and pages):
Minimum: 5 inches long, 3-1/2 inches high, and 0.007 inch thick.
Maximum for First-Class Mail card prices: 6 inches long, 4-1/4 inches high, and 0.016 inch thick.
Maximum for letters and other cards: 11-1/2 inches long, 6-1/8 inches high, and 1/4 inch thick.
Rectangular, with four square corners and parallel opposite sides. Letter-size, card-type mailpieces made of cardstock may have finished corners that do not exceed a radius of 1/8 inch.
And then there’s that thirteen-ounce rule. I realize that after September 11, a very bad person mailed anthrax-infected letters, and two postal employees died. But almost 4,000 people not employed by the post office were also killed by terrorists, and since then, the tally has increased to include members of the military, children going to movies, kids in colleges, citizens attending political rallies, and Aunt Millicent and Uncle Ralph just walking down the street.
Life is dangerous. Anyone… anywhere … can be subjected to unpredictable and murderous attacks. And they have been.
But the military still defends our country. The airlines still fly people all over the world. Students still go to schools. And families still go to movies.
Only you, Dear Post Office, are still cowering in fear. Only you are a service that refuses to serve.
It is time to stop whining and let us get back to work.
Don’t make us stand in line for hours just to mail a dumb box.
Let us put stamps on cartons, and cartons into the big blue mailboxes on street corners, the way that we had always done.
Stop closing post offices in towns and building them in shopping malls halfway to the moon.
Simplify postage. Instead of .45 cents for the first ounce and .20 cents for each additional ounce, unless the package is bigger than 0.016 inches thick, in which case it then becomes .90 for the first ounce (are you people serious?), just charge us .45 cents an ounce, and be done with it.
It is not the Internet that is killing you, Dear Post Office. It is you who are killing yourself. Get your act together, undo the damage that you have done, and we will fall back in love with you.
One: Be accessible.
Two: Be easy.
Three: Be open.
We will forgive you. I promise.
And then we will come back.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben