At my house we have an uneasy truce with the postal service. They’ve learned to “rubber band” the mail to my doorknob and merely hope for the best. I have the nicest postal carriers in the world, but Winnie hates them. Winnie has this irrational dislike for mailmen (and mail women). They don’t even have to be working on my block—she goes ballistic just at the sight of them pushing their carts. But Winnie is only one small beleaguering challenge facing the folks who are deterred by “neither rain nor snow nor dark of night…”
There is a city block’s worth of customer service windows at the 8th and Market Street Post Office nearest to my house. For Philadelphians, I’m talking about the very cool-looking minimalist Art Deco building with the tinted silver leaf ceiling and the stunning stone bas-reliefs of the American struggle of industry. Lovely building really, with over forty service windows of which only two are ever open. There are generally eighty or more glazed-eyed people waiting in line, and one of the windows is providing split services for passports in addition to weighing packages and letters while selling stamps. And this is taking place during the height of tax season when some people choose not to file electronically and want proof of delivery. Some poor souls waiting in line only want to purchase stamps, but the government in its infinite lack of reason has removed all the self-service machines that sold stamps, and locked-down all but the most inconvenient entrances. I stood in line for over an hour to mail off copies of my book to purchasers—and later that afternoon received orders for more, only to repeat the process.
An experience in person at any United States Post Office is akin to watching that dreadful art film from the 1960s titled Last Summer in Marienbad, where people walk aimlessly down endless hallways to nowhere with expressions of existentialism frozen on their faces, only to discover the hallway leads to an eternity of nothingness. The movie is thirteen hours long or at least it seems to be—hours you will never get back. Welcome to the US Postal Service, but don’t blame it on the postal workers or the agency itself. Blame it on the United States Congress who fleeces and shakes down the agency on an annual basis because it’s one of the few governmental agencies that actually turns a profit. Congress just doesn’t allow any of that profit to go back into improving the agency, compensating the workers or updating any of the systems or programs.
Enter the Republican Party who called Obama’s bluff and allowed the meat ax known as “The Sequester” to take effect—and now agencies like the post office who already suffer from Congressional constipation now enjoy a full scale intestinal blockage. Congress wants to cut funds to the Postal Service and furlough employees as a window dressing measure to make the gullible voter think they’re getting something done concerning wasteful spending cuts. The Postal Service makes a profit even under the absurd conditions forced down their throats by Congress. So let’s look again at Congress’ solution: Cut services further, make the service less convenient, drop Saturday delivery—in short, destroy the agency so it can be taken over by private industry who can charge unregulated fees to an already financially beleaguered public. Brilliant. Who elected these people…?
I’ve wasted too many hours standing in lines trying to accomplish what should be a five-minute task. Finally the other day I asked one of the women working at a postal window if I could merely put the proper amount of postage on the packages myself and drop them off at a mailbox. She said of course I could do that. She weighed a standard package containing one of my books and told me the necessary amount of postage to get my book mailed anywhere in the Continental United States. Armed with this information and a large purchase of stamps, the next time I had small or single orders come through, I was confident that all I needed to do was slap the required amount of postage on the package and drop it off in a mailbox while dog walking—blissfully thinking I could then go about the remaining business of my day. Not so fast… none of those packages ever arrived—until yesterday when they were all returned to me, each marked as a “suspicious package” with a “no fly” sticker placed prominently on top. All the packages had been opened, clumsily resealed and returned to me by Homeland Security. Now doesn’t that just make you feel a world safer? It’s a freakin’ paperback book. Granted it’s a bit racy in places, but it’s hardly explosive and it doesn’t contain anything that threatens national security.
I took the packages back to the post office standing in line for another wasteful forty five minutes or so. I learned that I had actually OVERPAID to send these fool packages, but the post office wasn’t about to reimburse me for the $5 per book I’d spent to mail packages that never made it to their paid destination. Even the government worker behind the counter thought that was wrong and unfair, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. In spite of having paid full postage plus, my book is a fraction of a fraction too heavy to be dropped off in a mailbox, so all were flagged as a threat to freedom and returned to sender. Apparently I have to “tell” a postal clerk in person that the package that obviously contains a book, indeed contains a book. I was advised in the future to grow my beard waiting in line like all the other South Philly matrons waiting to purchase stamps.
The United States Postal System is one of America’s biggest employers, adding economic prosperity in each and every community in America. Note: Employed people buy things which keeps businesses viable so everyone can gleefully pay taxes. As the blithering idiots in Congress cut the Postal System to the quick, they’re in the process of hurling more people into the throes of unemployment, further burdening the social safety net programs they also intend to gut, and destroying the bottom line for local businesses. If given their way, Congress will turn an otherwise profitable agency to complete ruin—which I’m beginning to think is the plan. This is austerity GOP style. It failed in Europe, so why not give it a try here in America? It’s like deciding to lose weight by sitting on a deli slicer and shaving off extra inches until one bleeds to death. Brilliant. Perhaps members of Congress should be required to take an IQ test before being handed the reigns of power. I’m sure most of them aren’t qualified to work the counter at the post office, nor are any of them nearly as pleasant. And while I’m at it, those overworked, understaffed postal workers have never been anything but polite and cheerful toward me; perhaps because, for the moment, they still have jobs.
– Dissociated Press, 4/14/2013
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My first book, An Early Work Late in Life is finally in print. Books are on sale at the Memorial Art Gallery’s Museum Store for $29.95 in conjunction with a special exhibit (more details below). Note: Books that are not purchased onsite at the museum shop require $5 postage and handling bringing your total to $34.95.
It Came from the Vault: Rarely Seen Works from MAG’s Collection.
March 17th through June 9th, 2013 500 University Avenue · Rochester, NY 14607-1484 585.276.8900 · 585.473.6266 · http://mag.rochester.edu/