Schutze

Neither Snow Nor Rain nor ... Oh, Screw It. The Post Office is a Dead Letter

This is a very Harry Potter-like story, and, even though as a writer I shouldn't telegraph my punches, I'll go ahead and tell you that it has a happy ending. In fact, I'm so happy about it I'll go ahead and tell you what the ending is.

I obtained a package that was sent to me via the U.S. Postal Service. By "obtained," I mean I got that sucker. It's mine. The package is in the house!

Of course, it wasn't easy, and that is what our story is about today. Oh, there were adventures and mysteries and a really scary part too.

I have a true reverence for the post office. When I was a lad growing up in a little stone cottage deep in the darkest forests of Michigan, the arrival of the postman every day but Sunday was a reminder that, even though we lived in Michigan, we were connected to the civilized world.

In fact, we were even linked to a place called Washington, our mighty national capital, a place of grandeur and power galore. Back then, strange as it may sound today, we had respect for our national government. It built our highways, kept our planes from colliding and caught and punished the bad men who sold watered-down polio vaccine. What was not to like?

So it was with heavy heart a couple years ago that I made up my mind never again to check the "USPS" box when choosing a delivery method for something I ordered online. It was an emotional and psychological defeat.

But you know why I did it, right? When you check "UPS" or "Fedex," you get a package on your porch. When you check USPS, you get some kind of legal notice telling you ... something. It's unclear what. But you're not getting a damn package.

I even went to a lot of trouble to see if it was the fault of the shippers. I emailed them and asked them if they were telling the postal service not to give me my packages. Maybe they were telling them to make me sign or something. But, no. That seemed to have nothing to do with it.

There was always a place for me to sign on the notice. I always did sign and then left the notice where the postman could find it. The notices disappeared — picked up I assumed by someone from the federal government. Then I got nothing. Ever.

So sadly and with regret, I stopped checking USPS as my preferred method of shipping and delivery. But some people ship USPS anyway.

I don't know how closely you've been following what's going on in Washington with the Postal Service. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said last week the Postal Service, which lost $3.3 billion last quarter, is looking at shuttering thousands of post offices and nearly half its mail processing centers nationwide.

This comes on the heels of a steep erosion in services and personnel in recent decades. In the last 20 years, the national corps of urban letter carriers has dropped 19 percent. Between 2010 and 2011, the most recent years for which I was able to get data for Texas, the total USPS workforce in Texas decreased by more than 15 percent.

The USPS, which has a top management cadre dominated by people who have worked their way up from letter carrier, has signed contract agreements with its unions that bar layoffs except where positions have been eliminated because of facility closings. So in the face of a tsunami of red ink, facility closings are the agency's only real way to stay afloat. This is all against a backdrop of privatization and high-tech success for European postal services.

I'm not quite sure how to describe what seems to be going on in our own neighborhood. We have a rotating crew of delivery persons, all with their own unique delivery styles. We have one woman who stands right out in the middle of the street with her mailbag for the longest, looking up and down and all around with a wide-eyed expression like she was just dumped out of a flying saucer.

There's Mr. Zig-Zag, who does a house on one side, crosses the street to the other side, crosses back, all the way down the block in a kind of zipper pattern. He's very OCD-seeming.

One day recently I saw Mr. Zig-Zag coming, and I rushed out to ask him if he could help me find a missing package. In an otherworldly sounding dialect with head down he muttered, "Checkata pozetoffitz, checkata pozetoffitz."

So a day or so later I did go to my neighborhood post office where I have mailed stuff and bought stamps for years, and I waited in line. Got to the head of the line. They told me they were not my neighborhood post office. Wrong ZIP code. My bad.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze