Monday, October 17, 2011

Hold Mail

I like the mail. I have the same sentimental affection for it that I have for the pocket watch my grandfather carried. I remember waiting for the mail carrier to deliver my self-addressed stamped envelopes, the ones writers used to send to agents so they could mail us rejection forms without having to pay postage. I used to call the mail truck “the shadow,” because the fear of rejection is almost as great as the fear of death. We all use email now. It’s quick and painless enough to pass muster as not constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

Still, the mail comes every day. Even though there is not much important in it nowadays, you can’t let it pile up in your mailbox when you’re out of town, so every time we go away I log onto and submit a hold mail request. I have a user name and password, just like on every other website. The post office website never remembers me, though. I have to fill in my full name and address every time. The site is slow and cumbersome, and several times I have come home to a box stuffed with random mail, like Tuesday’s and Saturday’s. I’ve taken to printing the confirmation of my mail hold and taping it inside the mailbox door so it pops up to scare away mail.

On a recent trip, Meg and I decided to play hooky a little longer, so I went online to extend my mail hold. Oops. No can do without the confirmation number, the one taped to the mailbox like a string of garlic.

Desperate to avoid post office Muzak and endless transfers deeper into the bowels of bureaucracy, I emailed the customer service department and begged for help. After a few days (standard time for mail delivery, apparently, even the electronic kind) a nice woman named Linda responded. She addressed me as “Page,” the name of my mother, whose bills I used to pay from my home; Mom has been dead for three years now, so having the post office call out to her was a little weird.

My half-dozen emails with Linda went like this: Linda: Here’s how you do it. Me: Tried that, didn’t work. Linda: The confirmation number should be right there, upper left corner. Me: Nope. Linda: If you placed the hold by calling the post office, you can’t extend online. Me: No, I placed the hold online (thinking, I just told you that). Linda: If your request has expired, you can’t extend online. Me: The request has not expired; can’t you just send me the number? Linda: Sorry, you can only get the number by logging on with your username and password. Back to square one. Frankly, given that her responses were so determinedly unhinged from the reality of my facts, I was kind of disappointed that Linda didn’t ask how Mom was.

The exchange was not fruitless, though. I learned two lessons. Number one: write down your hold mail confirmation number; otherwise, you’ll never see it again. Number two: don’t stockpile “forever stamps.” Mailmen and women are an intrepid lot. They deserve our gratitude, and a gold watch. Neither snow nor rain nor heat has stayed completion of their appointed rounds. But the Internet is a storm of a whole other magnitude.

(Epilogue: As Linda directed, I called the post office and asked them to hold the mail for four more days. When we got home, on our porch was a basket of all the mail that had been held for three weeks. It had been there for four days.)

1 comment:

  1. Life is frustrating, but at least you can find some humor in it as well.

    Maud Carol