Snail Mail Creeps Toward the Finish Line
Both political parties seem to favor job creation while discouraging government spending.
Caught in the middle is the U.S. Postal Service - a semi-independent federal agency that is supposed to break even, with each service supporting itself. The feds kick in almost $100 million annually to cover various free mailings and election ballots from citizens living overseas.
Well now, it seems, first-class mail service no longer supports itself, despite frequent rate increases. The reason is as plain as the fingers on your keyboard. So Saturday deliveries will be discontinued in August. I couldn't care less - nor could most folks, I'd venture. Who needs bills on Saturday? (I still prefer paper bills, although I pay them online.)
My lament is for the old-timey mailman. Ask not for whom the bells tolls - it tolls for him (and her).
Every person over a certain age can dig up a mailman story. Mine happened at age 11. We had just moved from a New York City apartment to a house on a hill in Asheville. Twice a day, the mailman trudged up that hill to deliver commercial stuff and letters. This mailman looked like Mr. Rogers and, like the kindly TV host, this was his "neighborhood."
That first summer proved very lonely for a displaced child - no siblings, few friends as yet. I didn't have much to do except sit on the porch and wait for Mr. Mailman to appear at the bottom of the hill.
He came up the steps with a smile and a wave, then made a big fuss looking through the letters and magazines for one addressed to me, especially in a child's handwriting, with a New York postmark.
On really hot days, I would bring him a glass of cold water. Then off he went. "See you this afternoon (or tomorrow)," he called back.
Sounds like a Little Golden Book story. Or, for parents nowadays, sounds like a red flag. Little girls, don't strike up friendships with mailmen.
The mailman remained a fixture on my landscape, the essence of dependability. People gave him a few dollars at Christmas, tucked into a "For Our Mailman" card.
I felt so sorry for the mailman the years I lived in Canada. He faced bitter cold, blowing snow, unshoveled steps. Often I asked him into the vestibule to warm up, maybe have a cup of something hot. He usually refused, saying that made it harder.
A few times he helped me, big with child, carry heavy bags of groceries inside. Surely this was against regulations. But he did it anyway.
When I moved back to Asheville in 2007, everything had changed except the mailman - another really nice guy who would greet me through the screen door as he deposited envelopes in my black metal mailbox. He even noticed when my leg was in a cast and asked what happened.
Then, one day, this attentive mail carrier saw my (very burly, scruffy) computer repair man in the living room. On a pretext, he asked me to come to the door.
"Is everything all right?" he whispered, concerned for my safety.
Had it not been, I'm sure the police would have arrived momentarily.
That was probably against regulations, too.
Once again, I'm in an apartment, with a central bank of mailboxes. But just from delivering packages, my mailman knows I like cats; he sees the pillow and feeding bowl outside. He likes them, too. I hope that doesn't breach any federal guideline.
Much crying in the beer has been done over the demise of paper, pen and stamp - postcard, love letter and thank-you note. Mail delivery will continue in an abbreviated form indefinitely, I assume. But will the men and women who deliver, on foot or on wheels, continue to link addressees to the outside world?
Will their customers be more than street numbers? Or will they go the way of telephone operators, bank tellers, toll-both ticket-takers, cashiers, phone receptionists and sweet, trustworthy Mr. Rogers?
The lonely little girl in me hopes not.
The cynical columnist I've become blushes at romanticizing a public servant. But I still get a rush when, among the health insurance come-ons, magazine offers, the red Netflix packet and bills I find an envelope addressed to me, placed in my mailbox by a human hand, Saturday or not.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com
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