My mailman is grumpy. He’s the grumpiest thing ever. I have no idea what bug crawled up his butt, but it has set up residence there and makes Mr. Mailman the grumpiest mailman I’ve ever encountered. I say hi to Grumpy Mailman, he looks at me like he wants to hit me. Maybe he does. He is a mailman after all, and mail carriers are notoriously grumpy, what with shooting up post offices and all that. It’s people like him who gave us the expression, Going postal.
He seems to have a particular problem with my mailbox. It is a new style mailbox. I got it to replace the old style one I had previously. You know, the kind that is a piece of metal bent over into a half circle, flat on the bottom, with a door that has a little handle, and a red flag. My mailman had well, issues, with my mailbox. He could not seem to close the door. I am not sure exactly why, but more often than not, I would go to check my mail and there it would be, door hanging open, mail available for anyone to look at. It was near the street and under a tree. I live in Oregon. It is wet in Oregon. So having my mailbox open under a tree in Oregon meant that even when it stopped raining, the tree continued to drip steadily into my mailbox. And anyone who is paying even slight attention knows that identity thieves love stealing mail.
I wrote a nice note. Dear Mail Person, I wrote. Would you please be sure to close the door of my mailbox? Otherwise my mail gets all wet. Thank you. That’s polite, isn’t it? I called the carrier a “person” and not a “man” (I wasn’t sure of the gender at this point). I said please. I said thank you. What more could one want?
Something else apparently because Grumpy Mail Person did not stop leaving the door open. He also kept leaving the flag up, even after taking the mail. I’d wait and wait for the mail to arrive, assuming it hadn’t because the flag was up. Then I would realize the door was open so there was no way the carrier had not been there. My mail would be inside, damp.
So I decided to go and get another mailbox. I bought a locking mailbox. It is black and kind of historic-looking to match my bungalow. It has a bronze top that makes it look like it’s old. There is a slot that is about 2 inches by 14 inches. I tested the slot to see if it was big enough for magazines and whatnot to slip through. Easy! I was so excited about my new mailbox. I installed it and waited for the mail to come.
It did. It was mangled and torn and the lid to the mailbox was left wide open.
Consternated, I examined the mail in an effort to determine what had gone wrong. It appeared the mailman had folded all the large mail in half. This created quite a large wad of mail, not easily inserted into the slot. This made little sense. Why fold it? I laid it out as originally designed and it inserted right through the slot in the mailbox. No problem. And why had he not closed the lid? Hmmmmm…
Over the next several weeks, my mail was destroyed more frequently than not. Because of the mailbox shape, when the lid was open, it filled with water. This left the mail in a drenched sopping mess. Then one day I received a certificate from the bar association for some pro bono work I had done. Clearly printed in large letters across the envelope were the words DO NOT FOLD. It was folded in half, the crease permanently embedded in the gold-embossed letters of the certificate.
Consternated, I called my mom. My mom is a rural postal carrier. She has worked for the post office for over twenty years. I told her about my mail troubles. She said that if mail did not fit then they were to fold it.
“But it fits!” I told her. “In fact it fits BETTER if it’s not folded in half!”
“Well then you need to call your postmaster,” she told me. “Your postmaster needs to know what is going on because that isn’t called for.”
Have you ever tried to call the local postmaster at a local post office? Have you? Try it. Go to your phone book and look up your post office. Right. See that? See that 1-800 number listed for EVERY SINGLE post office in your area? Do you know what that means? It means that you don’t get a local post office when you call. It means you get the central 1-800 number. It means you get to listen to post office advertising about how great it is to send packages via the US Postal Service. It means you get to listen to some really fantastic music while you wait for a human. I finally connected with the human. She took my story. She gave me some identification number. She told me my local post office would call me back real soon. She apologized for the trouble. Hey, I just want my mail flat and dry. Is that too much to ask?
A couple of days later, the local post master called. He was grumpy. I began to get an inkling that grumpiness and this post office went hand in hand. First he spent about 20 minutes trying to convince me that my mailbox was not post office approved. It was. It had said so right on the box. He asked where I got it. I told him. He said that place sometimes sold not approved mailboxes. I told him that this one was approved. He then said that older mailboxes that had been in stores a while ago and were approved then weren’t always approved now. I told him I had just purchased it the month before. He told me it still didn’t sound like it was right. Finally I asked him if he had spoken to my postal carrier and determined the box was not post office approved. He told me he had not. Then I asked him to hold on a sec. I used my mobile phone and called my mom and asked her. She had seen my new mailbox. She said it was post office approved. I got back on with the postmaster and told him that my mom was a carrier and that she had seen it and that it was approved. He finally let that go. Then he informed me that the carriers were required to fold mail in half.
“That’s crazy,” I told him, “Especially when the mail says right on it ‘DO NOT FOLD.'”
“Well that’s what I tell them,” he informed me. “It’s our policy.”
Well then you need another policy because my mail is getting ruined and it fits just fine without being folded in half. Incidentally, I asked my mom after this conversation if she was supposed to fold all mail in half and her postmaster is just the opposite. They aren’t allowed to fold anything unless it absolutely will not go in any other way. However, I was not privy to this information at the time of this phone call. And I was getting frustrated.
“You know,” I told the postmaster, “I’m getting really frustrated here. My mail is getting ruined. I had to buy a new mailbox because my carrier kept leaving the other one open and I was worried about mail theft, not to mention the fact that my mail was sopping wet 90 percent of the time. Now you just spent ten minutes trying to convince me my mailbox is the problem, and now you’re telling me all my mail has to be folded in half when it makes no sense to do so. Do you have a boss I can talk to because I seem to be getting no where with you.” The postmaster’s tone changed after that. He said he would talk to the carrier and make sure my mailbox was closed and my mail not ruined. I thanked him and hung up.
Over the weeks, not much changed except my mailbox was closed more often than not. It was still left open sometimes, but not as much as it had been. Then the weather improved and I didn’t notice when it was open because the mail did not get all wet. I kept trying to be friendly to my carrier when I saw him even though he frowned at me when I said hello. I gave him a Christmas gift three years in a row. I figured he needed some happiness with that grumpy postmaster of his. The two of them were like two peas in a pod. I would occasionally ask my mother about it, but she kept going on and on about how different city carriers were from rural carriers and how the post office was getting to be such an unpleasant place to work and on and on. I finally quit bringing it up because I didn’t want to hear about it anymore.
This fall, it started getting bad again. In an effort to avoid a call to the postmaster or the 1-800 number, I wrote out a nice note on an index card, put it in a ziplock bag, and taped it to the top of my mailbox. It said: Please do not fold my mail. Also please close the mailbox lid because leaving it open makes my mail wet. This seemed to work. The mail fit perfectly, it was dry, everything was wonderful.
Then about a week before Christmas, I went out to discover the mailbox lid wide open. Now, I don’t know if you are aware, but this has been one of the wettest years I can remember in Oregon and this day had been one of those rainy days where the drops are a half an inch across and soak everything. In the mailbox, my two bills and two Christmas cards were so wet, the letters on the cards were unreadable. I took them in the house. They dripped, literally dripped on the rugs! One of the cards held photos. They were destroyed.
That did it. I was mad. I had maintained some semblance of cool for years while my grumpy mailman went about his shitty day ruining my mail and acting like I was the asshole for bringing it up. I went online and found the US Postal Service website. It had a place for comments. It did not have a place for complaints. I went to the place for comments. I said in the subject, I do not have a comment, I have a complaint. I described what had happened to my mail. I told them that the lid on the mailbox worked perfectly, that it wasn’t rusty, that it closed easily. I then stated I had spoken to the local postmaster before and he had not been very helpful and so I was writing this message to whoever got the comments from the website.
Three weeks later I received an email response. It informed me that my message had been forwarded to the local office and I would be receiving a call within 24 hours. A week later, I had not received a call. I replied to the email. I told them I had received no call in 24 or 48 or even 72 hours, that it had been a week and that I had gotten no call.
The next day I was not home but my brother was here. He said the post office called and would talk to the carrier about my complaint. Good. I was glad. I had not had to speak to grumpy postmaster, but someone had the message.
Two days later, my mailbox was wide open. The mail inside was a sopping ball of paper. Literally, a ball. I removed the mass and held it, dumbfounded. I decided I would drive it to the post office and show the postmaster. And that is what I did. I went to the post office. I waited in the very long line. I approached the counter person (who was VERY nice by the way. All the counter people were. Maybe grumpy postmaster doesn’t affect them very much.) and showed them my mail lump.
“This is how my mail was in my box,” I said. “I have called before, but it doesn’t seem to help. So I thought maybe the person in charge could SEE what I am talking about.”
The counter person looked appalled. “This is how the mail was in your mailbox?” he asked incredulously? “Yes. Exactly. I took it out and brought it in just as it was in the mailbox.”
He went into the back. He was gone several minutes. When he returned, he was carrying a camera. “Can I take this and photograph it?” Of course. So he did. He told me he would show the postmaster. He took down my name and address. I left.
It has been about a month since I did that. My mail has been flat. My mailbox has been closed. My brother went out one day to try and retrieve his mail directly from the mailman because he was here and could do so. My brother said the mailman snarled at him and would not give him the mail. So Derek came in and got the key and got the mail. Seems none of this has made the mailman any less grumpy.
Just now, before I wrote this, I was sitting here working on my book. I saw the mailman out my window. He was walking along carrying the mail. He had a grumpy look on his face. He does not seem very happy. I don’t think he likes his job. I don’t believe he left my mailbox open out of spite, I just don’t think he pays attention. For whatever reason he is caught up in his own grumpiness and pain. It’s too bad. Today is actually sort of pretty. The sun wants to come out, though the clouds are winning. He’s wasting every minute he goes grumbling around. I hope he finds what will make him happy, whether it’s becoming something other than a carrier or learning to enjoy what he does. In any case, I just want him to close my mailbox.