Going Postal

October 26, 2020

With all the gnashing of teeth over the failures of the U.S. Postal System, I frantically walked outside to make sure our neighborhood mailbox was still at its proper place on the corner. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the blue box was still standing, a reassuring beacon in a collapsing world.

The growing politicization of the mail prompted me to dig up a couple of upbeat tidbits about this (mostly) revered institution. Both were revitalizing and renewing, a testament to the unshakeable human spirit.

In the children’s book, The Great San Francisco Earthquake, of 1906, I learned the post office was only one of a handful of buildings in the center of the city by the bay that hadn’t been pulverized in the temblor and fire. “The brave post office workers fought off the fires day and night,” the author writes. Miraculously, only two days later, they were sending out mail again.

There’s more: In the thick of the smoke and rubble, residents had the presence of mind to scribble messages on their collars and cuffs of their shirts and blouses. They penciled information using bits of wood, crumpled newspapers, books, and wrapping paper. If you were able to look beyond the shock and the tears and jot down the right address, the post office – yep, the spawn of Satan, anti-Christ, socialist entity ripe for privatization – made certain it got to where you wanted it to go. Forget the stamp.

It gets better. The post office even dispatched wagons to every refugee camp in town to pick up mail. When shell-shocked residents spotted the sign on the wagon that read U.S. Mail, they literally jumped up and down for joy. “It meant that at least one thing in the city was working,” the author concludes.

There’s a hamlet near me that sports a time-honored policy that predates the great earthquake. Garrett Park, Md., population 1,000, lies only half an hour from the headquarters of the USPS in Washington. The way mail is circulated in this refreshing village, laid out like an English village, belies the monstrous portrait Trump has painted of the quasi-governmental body. Never in its history have the town hired letter carriers. The culture in place is a pure and simple. Each of the 500 families must physically show up at the post office to fetch their mail. Renting a box runs $63 every six months. Not only does this system promote good health, judging from the dozens of locals who travel there on foot and on bikes, it makes the air that much cleaner. And it is a reliable balm for the soul, for the immune system, as friends and neighbors daily gather at the English village-style town square, letters, coffee, and gossip at the ready.

“It’s like a family,” swooned one postal clerk who sees this uplifting, retro slice of Americana from behind the counter. “Everybody sees each other every day.”

But that’s the human side of the USPS. Ironically, there’s no `joy’ in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. The dude would flunk the exam required to become a letter carrier. When grilled, the guy knew it cost 55 cents to send a first-class letter. But he melted down from then on. I am sure this fat-cat CPA pillows his head at night counting sheep disguised as accelerated depreciation. The only thing he’s brilliant at carrying is Trump’s benevolent dictator’s message on the way we must vote.

DeJoy would be better suited as Trump’s timekeeper overseeing TikTok. Like the shivering masses in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, he can count down the seconds his boss man has left before being unceremoniously booted out of public housing.


My fellow TNH colleague Theodore Kalmoukos often uses the word “tragicomedy” to describe phenomena that are pitiful and laughable all at once.

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