The Post Office: A Strange and Terrible Saga

As some of you may know, I recently began my first full load of graduate courses. As a student of literature, I am required to purchase a lot of books for these courses. The Hunter College bookstore was out of most of these books (that’s for a separate rant), but luckily good old Amazon was there to fill in the gaps. Once I had ordered all of my required texts, I kept an eye on the tracking info, as some of them would come in one large shipment, and a few others would trickle in after. The large shipment was supposed to arrive on Monday.

For a bit of context: I live on a block of Bed-Stuy that has several postal “kiosks” posted on the street. These contain mailboxes for multiple buildings, as well as parcel lockers on the bottom. If a carrier delivers a package and nobody is home, if the parcel is small enough, he/she can leave the package in the parcel locker, lock it, and then leave the key in the corresponding mailbox (the parcel locker is designed to lock the key in place once the locker is opened, so only the carrier can remove it after the resident has collected their package).

So, Monday night, I come back from class, and check the mail. No key for the parcel locker. Hmm. I log on to Amazon, and sure enough, the large shipment is showing that it was delivered. It even has a note that reads “delivered to parcel locker”. This is when the fun and guessing games began. Did the mail carrier leave the package in the locker and forget to leave the key, or did they just throw the packages into the street? Given that a package my brother ordered several weeks ago went missing, I’d say it’s 50/50.

I call Amazon customer support and they grasp the situation immediately. They advise me to contact USPS the next morning, and assure me that if I cannot recover my items that they will replace them free of charge. The next day, I call USPS first thing in the morning (the 1-800 customer service number). I’m pleasantly surprised to find the rep very helpful. She creates a complaint and gives me the case number, but then lets me know that the post office has 48-72 hours to respond to the complaint, and that I might want to call. I thank her, hang up, find the # for my local office, and dial.

It’s busy. A United States Post Office is busy on a Tuesday during working business hours. I call back again and again, still busy. One time I get through, and listen to the phone ring for about 30 seconds before it somehow, seamlessly turns into a busy signal.

I didn’t know you could do that.

Anyway, eventually I say fuck it, admit to myself that this is going to take up my entire day (and just this day if I’m lucky), and head on down to the post office, which is luckily only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Another stroke of luck: there is no line when I get there! I’m summoned to a window, begin explaining what happened, and get about three words out of my mouth before I’m interrupted and told to go to a different window. There is nobody at the different window. I stand there for 5 minutes before some guy standing behind the glass notices I’m there and asks if he can help me. I explain the situation, and give him my address and the case number that USPS gave me. He disappears into “the back” for about 5 minutes, then returns and says that the carrier has already hit my apartment on his route, and he can’t get him on the phone. He takes my # and says that he will run out there in one hour to unlock the parcel box for me. I thank him and head home to eat lunch.

An hour goes by with no call. I figure that he hit a sudden spot of business, and wait. Another 45 minutes go by with no call. I begin to worry. Finally, almost two hours later, I get a call. It’s the guy from the post office. He apologizes and says he got caught with some busywork. I say I understand. He asks if I am still there, and I say I can wait for him. He says he will be by in 10 minutes.

Another two hours goes by. No sign of anybody. I call back the number he called me from, assuming it was his cell phone (as I already mentioned, the listed number for the post office was just a busy signal). After a few rings a very loud and rude woman demands to know what I want in a snappy tone. I begin to explain to her what happened, and say that somebody said they were coming out to open up my parcel locker. “I DUNNO WHO DAT IS!” the voice on the other end screams at me. I describe the man I spoke to, and I’m gruffly told to hang on, and then put on hold for fifteen minutes. At this point it’s edging close to closing time, and I know this game. I hang up and call back, and get the same woman, and repeat my description of what happened. She puts me on hold again. This time she comes back after 2 minutes and tells me she hasn’t forgotten about me. Five more minutes go by. I hear a suspicious man’s voice come on the line, demanding to know who I am. I say my name and ask who he is.

“John, I went out there, there’s no box there,” he says, with all the false empathy and confidence of a serial killer.

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “There are 4 boxes on that block alone. Plus I never saw you come out here and I was sitting by the window the whole time.”

“I came by! There’s no box, I looked for it.”

At this point I am staring at the box from my 2nd story apartment window. These things are so big that you can see them from a block away. “When did you come here?” I ask.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he says.

“Do you want me to take a picture of these boxes and bring it in and show you, to prove that there are mailboxes here? You’re a supervisor at the post office, how do you make this mistake.”

“It’s too late now, we’re getting ready to close, we’ll have to handle this tomorrow.”

At this point, I explode. I tell him it’s absolutely ridiculous that this is going to drag into another day when I’ve already wasted one full day trying to correct their screw-up. I ask him why the key to the parcel locker was not left in my mailbox in the first place.

“I don’t know,” he says huffily.

“Why don’t you know? You’re the delivery supervisor, aren’t you? Is that not your job, to manage employees? Who was working that shift? Why did they not follow the proper steps for package delivery? Are they being disciplined in any way? Why is this my problem?”

“I don’t know,” he repeats.

“This is utterly ridiculous. I’ve burned an entire day because you people can’t do your job, and then you can’t do the simple steps that would correct the very simple task that you messed up in the first place. And then you’re telling me that I don’t have a mailbox. This is ridiculous. I don’t even think you came out here at all.”

“Well, if you’re calling me a liar.”

“You’re either a liar or you’re incompetent, I’m not sure which one. Why don’t you tell me?”

Silence on the other end of the line. This part I can’t really remember that well, but he backtracked on his story a bit. He didn’t exactly admit that he hadn’t been out there but said something about that he didn’t get a chance to correct the problem.

“Well what have you been doing all day? Because you certainly haven’t been helping me.”

Another long pause, then “Hang on.”

Get put on hold again. 5 more minutes. At this point I just know I’m about to hear a recording click on telling me to call back during normal business hours. Lo and behold, he comes back, and in a voice dripping with venom, tells me that a truck will be by in 5 minutes. I tell him my address again, and he says fine, goodbye, in a tone that lets me know he is not listening to me at all.

I go outside and wait in the testicle-shrinking cold for 20 minutes, wondering if this guy actually did bother to send a truck or if this will be another lie added to the list I will be typing up in an email to USPS. Finally, a truck rounds the corner, and blows past me. Thinking he’s just going on, I swear (not so) quietly to myself. At that moment my landlady arrives (she lives below me), and asks if everything is OK. I begin “well, the post office–” and her face immediately falls into sympathy. She agrees they are the worst, and that they don’t care about being horrible at their jobs and that they would rather tell outright lies than actually fix the problems they created through their incompetence.

At this point the truck reappears and parks. A guy in a USPS uniform gets out. I ask if he’s here to open the parcel locker for 23 stuyvesant, and he says yes. He looks tired. I know that he’s not to blame. I apologize to him for making him come out after work. “Don’t matter to me, I just made a little overtime,” he says with as much good cheer as he can muster.

He pulls out a key ring and opens the large door of the box, so we can see inside all of the cubbyholes. He starts swearing, and moving stuff around, grumbling “what fuckin’ moron…” etc. He shakes his head at the piss-poor job that this carrier has done. He hands me my package, and then checks the other parcel locker, and hands me another package (this turns out to be the package Alex thought had been stolen weeks ago. It had been left in a locker that we don’t ever have access to, even with the key they sometimes deign to give us). I thank him profusely and go back upstairs. It’s 6pm.

The moral of the story is, I’m only using Amazon Locker from now on, and I can’t wait until the post office crumbles in on itself like the sinking swamp that it is.

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The Other

Recently, a rising talent in the world of documentary, Sean Dunne, posted his latest film on Vimeo. It’s called “Florida Man”, and is a collection of–forgive the cheekiness–Florida Men, talking at length about their views on life, love, country, politics, and the general condition of the living, breathing beast that is the Sunshine State.

I’m attracted to Dunne’s work because it is consumed by a fascination with “othered” subcultures in American society. Juggalos (American Juggalo), blue-collar drug addicts (Oxyana), and a less classifiable demographic (Florida Man). I wonder endlessly about people whose experience is completely divorced from mine, whose very core values and ideas of reality run counter to mine. I’d be lying if I said that this curiosity isn’t oftentimes infected with judgment and personal bias (I’m only human, after all), but that’s why artists like Dunne are useful. They allow us to look at something that to us seems strange, or even repellant, and then forces us to consider these people as individuals rather than an amorphous blob of humanity. The films (American Juggalo in particular) often lead to slightly malicious guffaws, yes, but the overwhelming feeling I get after viewing is connection and empathy.

I’ve long held the belief that this is the most noble purpose of art: to connect humans of disparate backgrounds and experiences through shared feelings. It’s also why I often feel reassured and content when consuming overwhelmingly sad art; the notion that someone else I have never met and probably never will meet can speak to me and tell me through their expressions that they have felt how I felt, that we, at one time or another, have all felt burdens, removed from each other by culture, geography, or politics though we might be. Great art, even when it is lonely, makes me feel like I am not alone.

Perhaps this is why I, like Dunne, am fascinated by The Other, and particularly, The Others that push my “negative” reaction buttons. There is an ignoble aspect to my obsession, yes. I’m as vulnerable to the cheap thrills of voyeurism as anyone else, and there’s probably some lizard-brain superiority reaction happening as well (“there but for the grace of God…”), but I’d like to think that my interest in strange, broken, or outcast people, is tied up in a curiosity about the world, and a desire to understand something, anything, about those that seem beyond comprehension.