[with apologies to Eudora Welty, author of “Why I Live at the P.O.”]
To begin with, I consider myself a staunch supporter of the U.S. Constitution, including all of the various and sundry responsibilities and areas of purview that it ascribes as specifically governmental concerns.
To wit, “Article 1,Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power, empowers Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads… with the implied authority to carry, deliver, and regulate the mails of the United States as a whole.”
And so it was, armed with an earnest and wholesome belief in the authority and commitment of the United States Post Office to fulfill its Constitutional duty that I set off on my most recent misadventure.
As these things tend to do, another family milestone had crept up on me recently and I found myself in need of postal services. Our oldest daughter was to be graduated from high school, and the pertinent announcements, mailing lists, and open house invitations were arrayed before me on the dining room table.
Too late did I realize that in my zeal to complete this task, I had neglected to ensure that all necessary components would fit in the same size envelope. Thus, I had already purchased announcements, just printed photo open house invitations, and had no envelopes that would accommodate both. Cowed at the possibility of having to pay first class postage to mail all pieces separately,I turned to my trusty personal accountant and husband for counsel.
“Just take them to the post office and have them metered. Then you’ll be sure you don’t have to pay any more than you have to.”
With these syllables of wisdom resonating in my ears, I set forth with my bulging tote bags of mail and a gleam of hope in my eyes.
Patiently, I queued up in the Loves Park Post Office lobby. After a not unreasonable interval, I was summoned to the counter.
“How can I help you today?” asked the smiling postal clerk.
“Well, I have some mail I’d like to have metered, please.”
The friendly brow contracted slightly in mystification.
“Um, yes. Metered. You know, like how you run pieces of mail through a postage meter instead of sticking a stamp on each one? You meter mail for people…”, I trailed off.
“Oh, no we don’t do that,” with a brief head shake and slightly bemused look.
“Nope. I mean, yes, seriously, we don’t meter mail here.”
I glanced from Friendly Eyes to the adjacent clerk, Kenny.
Now, Kenny and I are old, if not formal, acquaintances. I’ve had a few skirmishes with Kenny over the years, but it’s always been civil, if not strictly logical.
For my edification, Kenny chimed in. “We don’t do meters here.”
“But, this is a post office, and I’m trying to mail my mail.”
“Oh, you can still do that here!” Thanks, Kenny.
Back to Friendly Eyes. “It’s just that we don’t meter mail HERE. If we metered mail here, the line would go all the way out the door and into the parking lot.” Hmmm, wouldn’t want to work you guys too hard…
Kenny chimed in again. “Nope, can’t do the meter here. But you could go somewhere else, like, say Adams Letter Service, they’d do it for ya.” Adams Letter Service is easily 25 to 30 minutes away, and gasoline in these parts is running $3.59/gallon on a good day.
“But then, they’d a likely tack on a service charge,” he added helpfully.
Friendly Eyes corroborated this by nodding. Nonplussed, I began my futile, and apparently fictional, protest that the Post Office was here to serve me.
“I’d say the quickest thing to do would be to get stamps for all of these,” Friendly Eyes concluded, slapping my invitations and announcements on the postal scale. “Yup, they each qualify as single-first class.”
“Hmm, let’s see, we have several forever stamps now…did you say this was for a party?”
Chiming Kenny added, “We have those Celebrate stamps. Would you like those, Miss? How many do you need?”
Um, about 90, I guess.
“Uh, don’t have that many…Kenny you got any of those stamps with the balloons?”
Quicker than you can shed a tear of frustration, Kenny slapped open his battered binder of current postage stamps and was retrieving “Celebrate” stamp sheets.
After reluctantly handing Friendly Eyes my credit card, I proceeded to take out small stacks of envelopes and, despite now lacking anything close to a celebratory attitude,affix stamps to each.
“Ma’am would you mind stepping over there so others can get to the counter?” Kenny raised his turbulent eyebrows at me.
I glanced back at the completely empty mail lobby, loaded up my tote bags, stamps, purse, and seething frustration, and proceeded to the outer room.
About a quarter of an hour later, the last of the envelopes had been duly stamped, and I was trudging over to the “Stamped Mail” bin. Mirthlessly, I eyed the adjacent bin, labeled “Metered Mail.”
But, the last laugh was theirs: striding toward the exit, I spied this helpful US Postal Service sign: “Helping Make Your Life Easier Is What We Do Best.”