Just a man in search of his mail - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Just a man in search of his mail

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Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Email him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 10:56 am | Updated: 10:11 pm, Tue Aug 2, 2011.

A man reaches a point in his life when he realizes what he really wants. All I really want is my mail.

I opened a post office box a few years ago. I have all my business correspondence sent there.

Last September, I moved temporarily to Washington, D.C., to work on a six-month project. I returned to the Pittsburgh area every six weeks and retrieved my mail from the P.O. box.

Last spring, I knew the six-month bill would be coming due soon, so I went to the post office to pay it in advance.

“You can’t pay until the bill is due,” said the woman at the counter.

“But I will be gone for six weeks and wish to pay it now.”

“Our systems don’t allow you to pay in advance.”

I drove back to Washington and worked hard for six weeks. I returned one evening, eager to retrieve a half-dozen checks waiting for me in my P.O. box.

It was locked.

Annoyed, I returned the next day to pay the box bill and retrieve my mail.

“We sent your mail back to sender,” said the woman at the counter.

“Why?”

“Because you didn’t pay your bill.”

I explained that I had tried to pay in advance — that I was working out of town on a project.

“You’re supposed to fill out a form to let us know you will be out of town,” she said.

She took pity on me, though. After I paid the bill — I was charged a late fee because that is how the postal system works — she gave me the name of a fellow at the main processing center. He helped me track down some of my mail, including some checks. I always look forward to depositing checks.

I figured all was well. It wasn’t.

For the next several weeks, clients phoned me to tell me that checks they’d sent to me were being returned. The little yellow return slips on the returned mail said my P.O. box was canceled.

I called the post office and talked with a supervisor.

“It shouldn’t be doing that,” she assured me.

“I agree,” I said. “How do we stop it?”

She told me to bring in one of the little yellow return slips. I had one of my clients scan one and email it to me. I brought my computer to the post office and showed the woman at the counter what the little yellow slip looked like.

“Yep, it is being blocked at the main office,” she said. “It shouldn’t do that.”

“I agree,” I said. “How do we stop it?”

“It should stop anytime,” she assured me.

But it didn’t. A few weeks later, I phoned again and got another supervisor. This fellow, thankfully, was extremely professional, knowledgeable and apologetic.

He told me the problem was in the computer system and he would fix it. I could hear him typing as I waited. He promised it would take one day to register, then all would be well.

I was delighted that the problem finally was resolved.

I hold nothing against the people who work for the post office. Most are crushed under the weight of outmoded business processes and bureaucratic inanities. Most lack the organizational support to service customers as well as they would like.

Which raises an obvious question:

In an era in which consumers can make convenient transactions over the Internet, shouldn’t we move away from the old bureaucratic government model rather than closer to it, as we have been doing the past two years?

But then, what do I know? I’m just a man in search of his mail.

• Tom Purcell is a freelance writer and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at Purcell@caglecartoons.com

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