Thursday, October 30, 2008

Support Your Local Post Office

And now a word about the federal government:

My Alna P.O. is teeny, with less floor space in the lobby than my horse’s stall. Mike’s Walpole P.O. is about the same size. Granted, I rarely mail anything anymore and may have an OCD issue with opening mail—I don’t, if I can possibly avoid it. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the personal and tactile experience of receiving and sending cards and letters. Eli’s boxes of goodies from his Florida grandfather create a excitement like little else around here. [n.b.--the image is Alna's Meeting House. About four Alna Post Offices would fit inside it. Incidentally, I am recently of the opinion that Alna was named for a Norwegian town on the outskirts of Oslo.]

Mike has more to say about the USPS.

The handwritten scrawl of a person you know, love, or perhaps despise lies before you, like an uninvited guest or a birthday present. Your name on the oblong square of an envelope, you rip open the glued flap, stopping on your way to glance at W. E. B. DuBois, Ida Tarbell, Superman or other icon of civilized life framed neatly in the world of a stamp. Inside, in uneven curls and crosses, words flow across the page you are about to unfold. With the ongoing surge in electronic communication, the United States Postal Service could become a relic sooner than we think.

This week the Washington Post reported that the USPS could be in its death throes.

The warning comes from William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, addressed to Postmaster General John Potter. Given a projected 9 billion drop in pieces of mail delivered in fiscal year 2008, Burrus said unless something dramatic happens, the postal service faces its “demise” on Potter’s watch.

Among the factors accounting for the drop in traffic – ten times the 902 million drop in pieces of mail handled during the previous fiscal year – are a surge in the use of email replacing letters, and a drop in real estate and financial market advertising.

Handwritten words, like body language, communicate something about the sender. I remember the hastily penciled letters a friend showed me, written by his father from behind French hedgerows in World War Two. I see also in mind’s eye my grandmother’s shaky handwritten notes before she was diagnosed with dementia, the drunken loops of a father reporting golf statistics on the occasion of having golfed more than 188 times during the year, and the all seeing eyes and smiley faces my mother sometimes draws at the bottom of her letters, usually before some personal hurricane rips across the landscape of her life.

Instant messages, on the other hand, sentences marshaled in straight lines, text charged with cyber slang, lack the tangibles of a handwritten letter. And by it, something familiar slips out of this world.

According to Wikipedia, the USPS is the third largest employer after the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart. While cruise missiles and cheap Chinese shirts might serve a purpose, however dubious, I submit that handwritten letters would better guarantee the peace and the economy.

Founded in 1775 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia following the Second Continental Congress, the post office has been a staple of American life, as empowered by Article One of the Constitution. These days, with unwarranted wiretaps, unlawful searches and seizures and the establishment of a private militia on American soil (Blackwater), the constitution appears to be no guarantee.

Take a few minutes to set pen to paper this week. For 42 cents a handwritten letter would not only to encourage a friend, it might also preserve a venerable institution.


Alna Dem said...

Last I checked, there was a post office on tiny Isle of Springs in the Sheepscot River, west of Boothbay. Everyone pitched in to keep it open, including summer residents who bought all their Christmas stamps from Isle of Springs, by mail.

Me, I'm still mad at the Alna P.O. for making us open our own boxes. Donna the ex-postmistress used to hand our mail over the counter, having figured out who was coming by the sound of our engines. Also, she stored Mike's cigarettes under the counter and doled out one per day. And she had a special box reserved for ladies and gents who were conducting affairs by mail and didn't want to use their regular boxes.

But I grudgingly admit that even the modernized one is worth supporting.

Alna Dem said...

Addendum: Of course Donna was cranky as hell, so there is that tradeoff.

Andrea said...

Oh no! I order things from Etsy and just so I get something in the mail and feel loved.