An Open Letter to the Post Office

Dear Post Office,

I mail a lot of things. I mail copies of Gigantic Sequins out personally to our subscriber base, contributors, and the other editors around the country. I mail packages to friends. I mail my bills in sometimes instead of paying electronically. I am getting married in June, and I have been sending things through the mail and will be sending more things through the mail regarding my impending marriage.

I wait in long post office lines joyously. That is not an understatement. I happily wait, always prepared with a book or music or something to occupy my time while I wait. When I worked at Strand Books, one of my favorite errands that my managers would send me on was to wait in line for them at the post office. Sometimes, I don't wait joyously. Sometimes, I am annoyed like everyone else in line, but usually this is because I am already annoyed that day, not because of you, post office.

I love getting mail. I do a recurring blogpost called "Exciting Things in the Mail" on this very blog. I love sending mail. I love stamps. I used to collect stamps.  I buy extra forever stamps when they put out something interesting like 20th century poets or Miles Davis/Edith Piaf stamps. I buy old stamps that haven't been postmarked so that I can put 5 different stamps on one envelope to add up to the 46 cents it now costs to mail a regular envelope. I have 2 cent and 3 cent and 15 cent stamps. The only person that I think loves mail more than me is Darla Jackson.  Maybe also Joey Kickstand. If nothing else, I probably spend more money sending mail than they do. I spent over $200, nearly $300 at the post office in the past two weeks. Seriously.

20th Century Poet Stamps!

And I know my stuff. I know how to get my packages where I need them to go for the least amount of money. I know the rules for media mail, the rules for the difference between a large envelope and a package, the rules for shipping overseas. I fill out my customs forms before I even get in line. I'm not bragging, I am just proving to you that I am trying not to waste your time. I know my stuff, and I am willing to learn when you tell me, "well, actually this can't be send through as a large envelope, despite it fitting through, because it lacks flexibility." Okay, you win. Media it is.

But I digress. I recently moved. I have moved many times. My first favorite post office was the big stone building near Central Square in Cambridge, Mass. It was the first (and only) post office I'd ever known with an AFTER HOURS automated mailing machine. I loved that thing. It almost did it all. This was before I filled out my customs forms in advance. This was before I knew what media mail was. This was over five years ago.

When I moved to New York, I didn't use the Bed Stuy post office often. It felt impersonal, the post office workers behind that thick glass, the difficulty I had bending my packages through the tiny slot. One clerk there was once particularly nice, asking me about what I was mailing, requesting next time I come to mail out copies of Gigantic Sequins, I bring one unwrapped. She was interested in an oddly sized independently run literary arts journal. Mostly, though, I mailed things from the Cooper Union  post office, near Union Square, one of the oldest post offices in the States. Its curved building has beautiful architecture and high ceilings. I liked this post office, with its "business-hours" automated mailer, so much that I looked up facts about it. Or maybe someone told me how it had been around so long that horses used to come inside of it to pick up mail. Maybe they had a plaque. Some of the clerks were cheerful, some were not. The line was always long.

The beautiful Cooper Union post office

I used the Castle Station post office when I first moved to Philly. They did not have an automated mailer. They also have some cheerful and some not cheerful clerks. The clerks, if nothing else, were at least always helpful, asking me questions, teaching me more about what I was mailing and the best way to mail it and when to buy stamps because stamps were going to go up and those forever stamps never go up except when you buy them after stamp prices have already gone up. I have entered a phase in my life where I am polite and cheerful and talkative with people whom I am doing business with. Did I mention also that I mail a lot of things?

I recently moved. Moving means getting a new local post office. Getting a new local post office means having to start all over again, learning which clerks are cheerful and which are not and learning when it's best to bring 30+ stuffed large envelopes of Gigantic Sequins 4.1 into your new local post office, and when that's not a good idea. The first time I went to my new post office, it was not a good idea. They have no automated mailer. The line wasn't long when I got there, but I wound up having to wait through the change of the shift. This meant over ten minutes of standing in line while no one was being helped, the line growing behind me. I was still cheerful. I was excited to send the latest issue out into the world. But soon I learned that wasn't going to happen. When it was my turn, the second clerk that was helping someone else told me that I was only allowed to mail 10 things at once.

"What about the rest of them? Do I have to come back another day?"

"You'll have to go to the end of the line."

"I've never heard that before."

Angrily, I counted out 10 large envelopes. I was very nice to the clerk. It wasn't her fault that this other clerk was a jerk or that her post office branch had weird rules. When she was finished, I stormed out. I didn't want to cause a scene, but I was getting off to a bad start with this new local post office. I didn't like that. And I still had 20+ packages to mail. So I called my new post office. If this was a local rule that they enforced, I wanted to know for sure so that I could find the next nearest branch, one without insane rules that made no sense. The woman on the other line said she had to check. She put me on hold.

I mean, let's pause here. Can you imagine going to a place of business and being told that you were only allowed to purchase ten things, and if you wanted to purchase any more you would have to wait in line all over again? Even when there was more than one clerk? Can you imagine being at Shop Rite with a cart full of food for you and your family, having them ring up a carton of eggs, three apples, two grapefruits, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of chips, and a can of frozen orange juice and then having the clerk say, "Sir/Miss, you are going to have to go to the end of the line to ring up this jar of jelly, gallon of milk, three cans of soup, bunch of kale, box of cookies..." etc.? Because that's not how businesses work. Last time I checked the news, the post office wasn't doing so well in the business department. And I, like others, have been attuned to this. To help "save the post office", I sent letters nearly every business day last February. I don't use FedEx or UPS. I smile at my mailman. I am sad that they are ending Saturday mail. And like I said above-- I don't waste my post office workers' time--I know my stuff.

So if this was a new local rule, I was just going to have to take my business elsewhere. Sometimes, I go to post offices in New Jersey. There is one in Magnolia, one in Deptford, and another in Runnemede I use to mail things when I am working over the bridge. I have never been given trouble mailing more than ten packages there. And there's always Castle Rock in my old hood.

The woman on the other line told me, once she took me off of hold, that there was no limit to how many packages could be mailed at once. She asked if I had any other questions. I did. I wanted to know why I was just told by a worked at this post office that I was currently on the phone with that I could only mail 10 things at once and then had to retreat to the back of the line. She didn't have any real answer, told me she was sorry a few times, told me she would "speak with" this clerk. I was temporary relieved, but I drove mad all the way to tutoring. There was no way I was going back into that post office that same day, and the excitement of sending issue 4.1 out into the world had turned into a brand new feeling: rage at the post office.

I mailed the rest of the packages out at those other NJ-based post offices I mentioned. I knew I was too angry to go back in there and possibly face this guy. I didn't want to be snarky with him, and I knew it was best for me to wait. But today, over a week later, I decided I was ready to face my fear. I took 16 (more than 10, on purpose) recently packaged orders to the post office. When I got there there was no line. And one clerk. Him. The one who had told my clerk that I could only mail 10 packages. A healthy level of fear and anxiety gathered. Would he remember me? Would he be nasty with me?

 I waited for almost 30 seconds before he called me up. I stacked my 16 packages on the counter. He took them around to his register.  I smiled and said hello, and I began to tell him how I wanted them mailed when he said, "You can only mail 10 of these at a time."

"No, I called and asked. They said I could mail more than 10."

"Who'd you talk to?"

I said the name of the woman I had spoken to and was glad I had written it down and then memorized it. He took the first package and began to ring it up. As he slowly (and good lord, do I mean slowly!) stickered each of my packages, a line formed behind me. He called into the other room about four packages deep to someone saying, "get in here, there's a line," leading me to believe that he wasn't supposed to be the only clerk there. The line got longer. The other clerk came out. It must have taken the clerk in front of me 15 minutes at least to ring me up. I have had post office workers ring up more than that plus international packages in less time. But I was vindicated. I wondered, though,  if he was going through them in such a slow fashion maliciously. Even if he was, though, I was cheerful. I was patient. I wasn't the one who had to deal with the un-cheerful, impatient people in the long line accumulating less than a half hour before the post office closed. He sold me postage for all 16 packages. When I left, I told him to have a nice day. I really meant it.

Kimberly Ann Southwick


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