Tag Archives: post office

A Positive Word about the U.S. Postal Service

Okay, The Curmudgeon saw you roll your eyes when you read that title. Sit back, get a tall glass of whatever it is you like a tall glass of, and please continue reading with an open mind.

People like to complain about the U.S. Postal Service (which The Curmudgeon will heretofore refer to as “the post office” because that’s what people usually call it). Yes, the post office has problems – major, major financial problems, some of its own doing, some most decidedly not. Most of the post office’s current financial problems were caused by Congress and Congress could undo them with a figurative snap of its fingers – which, you realize, Congress will never do, first because 535 pandering members don’t want to do anything that could get them on the wrong side of constituents who like to complain about the post office and second because a vote confirming that an hour consists of sixty minutes would probably draw at least 100 dissenters in that dysfunctional body.

To be sure, the post office lacks a service ethic, as best illustrated by its hours of operation. Entities that want your business operate at hours convenient for their customers. Entities that don’t feel they need to compete for your business, or think you have no alternative to using them and expect you to conform to their own convenience, don’t. Doctors don’t have office hours at times most convenient for their patients; they have office hours at times most convenient for themselves. The same is generally true, with some exceptions, for lawyers, plumbers, electricians, banks, government offices, and many others. If there’s one major aspect of post office operations with which The Curmudgeon would quibble it’s the hours of operation at its public facilities: they are incredibly inconvenient for working people.

Somebody should do something about that.

On the other hand, The Curmudgeon has always marveled at the idea that you can slap a first class stamp on an envelope, throw it into a mailbox, and the envelope will arrive at its destination frightfully soon: the next day if the destination is relatively close and seldom more than three or four days if the destination is even across the country. Complain if you will about the rising cost of first-class postage, but The Curmudgeon has always found it amazing that he could toss a piece of paper into an envelope addressed to his father in southern California on a Monday morning, stick it in a mailbox before work, and receive a call from his father that Wednesday or Thursday or Friday at the latest to talk about whatever was in that envelope. Even at today’s forty-nine whole cents, it’s quite a bargain when you think about it.

The Curmudgeon also would like to take a paragraph to sing the praises of his own letter-carrier, Arlene. The Curmudgeon wears an off-the-rack knee brace while he works at home, so when he’s wearing shorts in the warm weather months, it’s there for all the world to see. Well, three years ago, Arlene started delivering The Curmudgeon’s mail directly to his door, as opposed to the free-standing, multiple mailbox units that can be found in most condo developments and increasingly, in many newer housing developments as well. He had two theories about the personal service: first, that she was sweet on him; or second, that she was buttering him up for a more generous Christmas tip. One day he pulled up in his car as Arlene was delivering the mail and she said to him, “I see you’re better.” “What?” The Curmudgeon asked. “Your leg – it looked like you had a cast on it a few weeks ago, so that’s why I was delivering the mail directly to your place.” Case closed. (Arlene’s a sweetheart: The Curmudgeon had an elderly neighbor who was clearly in failing health and she delivered the mail to his door for more than two years, until he passed away.)

The post office has also greatly improved how it deals with forwarding mail. Nearly eleven years ago, when The Curmudgeon moved to his current home, he carefully submitted change of address information to every company he wanted to follow him across the river, and for the following six months, those he didn’t honor with this information continued to follow him, their offerings always adorned with a yellow label that screamed “post office forwarding service.” After six months the labels stopped, the old junk mail disappeared – to be replaced, alas, with new junk mail – and life went on.

When his father passed away, The Curmudgeon arranged for all of his mail to be forwarded to his own house so he could be sure to take care of any financial affairs that might need attention. Now, as the one-year anniversary of dad’s arrives tomorrow, the yellow forwarding labels have disappeared, as he always knew they would.

But the mail addressed to his father has not.

junk-mail-300x225In fact, it now comes addressed to dad at his “new” address: THE CURMUDGEON’S!

That’s right. In its new efficiency, and in a manner that The Curmudgeon doesn’t understand, the post office has informed all of those purveyors of junk mail of their customer’s new address and they now think that dad’s a) still alive, and b) now living with his eldest son.

But he’s not. (Unless you count the box in The Curmudgeon’s closet with dad’s cremated remains.)

And now, on a typical day, The Curmudgeon receives more mail addressed to his late father than he does addressed to himself.

Dad made small contributions to Jewish causes and those causes obviously sell one another their mailing lists, so now The Curmudgeon’s mailbox is filled with solicitations from Jewish causes.

It may surprise visitors to this site to learn that The Curmudgeon’s father was a political conservative – something he came to relatively late in life – so The Curmudgeon now receives appeals from all sorts of right-wing whacko groups (as distinguished from normal right-wing groups).

Dad had long subscribed to a variety of health information newsletters, never quite grasping that the information for which he had long paid had now become readily available, without charge, on the internet. The newsletters continued to arrive, along with appeals from newsletters to which he didn’t subscribe.

Dad didn’t make purchases through the internet. He would see something he wanted on the internet – usually basic men’s clothing and gizmos because he was a sucker for non-electronic gizmos – and write to or call the companies to get their catalogues. He’d then order their stuff and, seeing they had a customer, the companies would keep sending him their catalogues. As a result, The Curmudgeon now receives numerous catalogues every week.

Haband men’s clothing? The Curmudgeon would ordinarily wisecrack here about how that’s stuff for old men, but then, dad did live to eighty-one.

And charities – oh, the charities. And if a charity is writing to you, you know what it’s enclosing: address labels!

Envelopes and envelopes full of address labels!

Interestingly, when The Curmudgeon moved from one Philadelphia address to another back in 1990 he barely received any charitable appeals with address labels, but when he moved from Philadelphia to a tonier New Jersey suburb in 2003 he received a lot of them.

The obvious conclusion of the charities: Philadelphians are all poor.

But now The Curmudgeon has so many address labels with his father’s name on them but his own address that if dad were to rise from the dead tomorrow and live at this address for another eighty-one years he still would never, ever run out of address labels. The Curmudgeon knows this to be true because he’s resided at this address himself now for nearly eleven years and hasn’t even put a serious dent in his own supply of charity-provided address labels – and that’s after he’s tossed every envelope full of address labels that he’s received for the last five or six years.

But this isn’t about the labels. It’s about the post office.

Say what you will about the post office, but while you’ve heard people complain about it, you’ve probably never personally experienced one of those “lost in the mail” problems; the things you send through the mail always reach their intended destination. The service may not be friendly or convenient, but it’s good.

And that junk mail is never, ever going to stop following you.

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Saving the Post Office

In his December 16, 2011 post, The Curmudgeon wrote about the woes of the U.S. Postal Service:  its revenue is shrinking, its costs are climbing, and there’s no relief in sight.  Congress, living up to its reputation, is making it even harder than it should be for the post office to climb out of hole that Congress itself dug for it.

But The Curmudgeon has a possible solution:  a way to increase post office revenue at no cost to taxpayers.

Anyone who has ever purchased a magazine has had the frustration of dealing with blow cards:  those annoying postage-paid inserts that readers are supposed to use to subscribe to the magazine in their hands.  Never mind that about ninety-five percent of all magazines sold in the U.S. today are sold by  subscription, which means the postcards seeking new subscribers are primarily reaching people who already subscribe.  Despite the obvious folly of asking people to pay twice for the same magazine (although The Curmudgeon has often been intrigued by the idea of one copy of a magazine for the living room and another for the bathroom), the typical magazine comes complete with anywhere from two to six or eight of these blow cards (so called because they are literally blown into the magazines by a machine).  They’re annoying:  they fall all over your floor, they make it awkward to leave a magazine open to the page you were last reading, and they’re a constant reminder that the magazine publisher has no respect for its readers.

But those little cards are money in the bank for the post office.  Postage for a postcard is twenty-nine cents.  When the post office delivers a postage-paid postcard to the magazine, though, it collects an additional fee, above and beyond the twenty-nine cents, for the service of delivering the card.

So here’s the idea:  collect all those postcards, keep them in a nice, neat pile, and every time you accumulate a certain amount – say, 100 of them – walk them down to your corner mailbox and dump them in (and don’t forget to jiggle).

It’ll be ka-ching!!! for the post office – major new revenue, more work for postal employees.  If we all work together, we can show our true American spirit and join forces to save the post office.  We can do it!

The Curmudgeon has already been doing this – for years.  Why?  Because, well, he’s curmudgeonly and because it’s not enough to mutter under his breath every time he discovers the sixth or seventh card to fall out of this week’s edition of The New Yorker now littering his bathroom floor.  He must admit, though, that the idea is not his own:  it came from one of the Freedman sisters, either Ann Landers or Dear Abby, many years ago.  It so happens that The Curmudgeon has always thought they were both seriously stupid women, and Dear Abby’s daughter, who inherited her mother’s column like a bad piece of furniture, is probably even dumber than her mom.  Even so, he must give credit where credit is due:  it’s an absolutely inspired idea and one worth adopting nation-wide.

So now, everyone:  Collect those postcards.  Create a pile, walk them down to the corner mailbox, and walk home proud in the knowledge that instead of standing on the sidelines and waiting for others to solve this problem, you have yourself become a problem-solver and are contributing to the preservation of one of the most important institutions in our country:  the U.S. Postal Service.

Start today!

Time for the One-Dollar Stamp?

The U.S. Postal Service has been in the news a lot lately.  The post office, they tell us, is going broke.

Actually, the post office has been bleeding money for years, but this time, it’s serious.

Really serious, they tell us.  Honest injun.

To which The Curmudgeon says “So what?”

This is only an issue because once upon a time, Congress declared that the post office needed to pay for itself – to be self-sufficient.

But it’s not.  The post office spends more money delivering mail than it receives in fees.

To which The Curmudgeon says, again, “So what?”

Other than Congress saying the post office needs to be self-sufficient, there’s no inherent reason why the post office needs to be self-sufficient.

When you think about it, what’s more worthy of some degree of federal subsidy than mail delivery?  Health care?  Yep.  Public schools?  Okay.  Social security?  Uh huh.  National security?  If you insist.

But anything else?  National parks?  No.  Farm subsidies?  No way.  Airport security?  Uh uh.

But there’s this new trend in recent years in which certain elements in Congress – and their darjeeling-sipping supporters – have decided that they hate government and everything about it and want to get rid of any service that doesn’t pay for itself.

They are ably abetted in this movement by captains of industry who want government to get out of their way and spend money on absolutely nothing (except, of course, the lucrative government contracts those captains crave).

But no mail delivery?  Is that what they really want?  Do they really want the private sector to take over mail delivery?  Really?

Sure, they could try.  There’ll be plenty of companies lining up to take over the post office’s package delivery business.  Federal Express, UPS, and the little guys are probably salivating over the possibility.

But what about delivering individual pieces of mail – you know, a simple envelope with one or two or three sheets of paper?  Think there’ll be companies lining up to carry credit card bills from South Dakota to Alaska for forty-five cents?  To carry Florida state income tax refunds from Tallahassee to a tiny town on the edge of the everglades?

Sure, the post office can and should do more to reduce its costs.  It could close post offices – a lot of post offices, for that matter.  Until a few years ago, The Curmudgeon conducted most of his mail-related business at a postal counter in a nearby greeting card store.  Surely the post office could find more such partners – drug stores, office supply stores, supermarkets, any business whose owners think increased foot traffic might improve business.  Those of us of a certain age certainly remember Sam Drucker doing double duty as general storekeeper and postmaster on “Petticoat Junction.”  They could do it again.  If it was good enough for Billie Jo, Betty Jo, and the lovely Bobbie Jo, it should be good enough for us, too.

And while post office officials are talking about possibly ending Saturday delivery, there’s no reason to think that small.  What about every other day delivery?  Some people might get Monday, Wednesday, and Friday delivery while others get Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday delivery.  Or twice a week delivery – or even once a week.  While there would certainly be a degree of inconvenience associated with less frequent deliveries for a month or two, people would eventually adjust and move their lives into synch with the new way of postal life.  As for those who believe their packages absolutely, positively must be delivered overnight, well, there’s always express mail – the private companies and the post office, too.

This is not a change to be undertaken lightly.  The post office is one of the biggest private employers in the country (it’s technically not considered a government agency, which reflects a silly perspective), and reducing deliveries to save money would involve laying off a lot of people.  Think about it:  letter carriers who work five days a week could work three days a week on their “regular” routes and then two days a week on another route.  Surely there’s enough turnover in an organization that large to enable the post office to reduce its payroll greatly without massive layoffs.  Perhaps modest layoffs would work – maybe people hired just in the last few years – and maybe some incentives for older workers to take early retirement.  The post office would still need to operate every day – mail still needs to be moved, even if it’s not being delivered – but less frequent delivery would certainly enable the service to function with fewer workers.

Postal volume is down, we’re told, because of the growing use of electronic mail.  We don’t send ordinary letters anymore (did we ever, really?), we send electronic greeting cards, we receive many of our bills electronically, we pay our bills online, etc. etc.

But consider this:  as much as those captains of industry say they want government to get out of their way and let them do business (other than those lucrative government contracts), does anyone think ordinary businesses would stand still for a government-forced shutdown of the post office?  Do you think utility owners will accept the prospect of no way to get their monthly gas, electric, water, and telephone bills to their customers – and to receive their customers’ payments?  Will retailers who depend on weekly circulars to lure customers to their stores be willing to go out and hire thousands of people to deliver those circulars door to door if the post office stops delivering?  And what about the magazine industry – do you realize that only a tiny fraction of magazines sell at newsstands and that the vast majority are delivered by mail?

The Curmudgeon suspects that the captains of industry who hate government and want it to get out of the way so they can do business (except for their lucrative government contracts) will stand up and demand that Congress find a way to help the post office – even if it means subsidizing it.  And those members of Congress who thought they always had big business on their side?  They’ll learn that they thought wrong, that there are some government services worth delivering even if, heaven forbid, tax money has to help pay for them, and that mail delivery is one of those services.

Coming soon:  A great way to increase the volume of mail the post office carries at no cost to consumers or government.  You’ll love it.