Wednesday, July 01, 2009

On the Inadequacies of Sending and Receiving Mail in NYC (aka Please Mister Postman, seriously, PLEASE)

One of the burdens of living in New York City is the responsibility one feels to comfort non NYC dwellers who insist that I live in a very very scary place. On a recent trip to the heartland it occurred to me that even worse then living in New York City (where at least they have all of those fabulous musicals) is living in Brooklyn. Inside the city limits of the Big Apple, Brooklyn means baby carriages, composting and jamming with your band but everywhere else it means the mob, knife fights and really annoying accents. And as I discovered in May while visiting an old folks home in Wisconsin, no one's grandma wants them living in a dump like that. My own Grandma and Grandpa along with all of their senior friends feared the crime, the grime, the subway, etc -- but strangely no one ever seems to bring up the truly horrifying things like the supermarkets and the mail. If only they knew.

When I moved to New York almost five years ago the first challenge was figuring out my address. It seemed that somehow I was living in as many as 4 different cities at one time. I thought I had moved to Astoria, but my mail came to Long Island City. And somehow I also lived in Queens. And also in New York City. This confusion stems primarily from the borough system which totally makes sense *in theory* but in actuality still confuses me even after almost 5 years in the city. Basically, it seems that in order to make all of the boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island) part of one big megacity this weird borough thing had to be invented. It turns out that my mail would be delivered to me if addressed to any the 4 places listed above. I assume that the postal system hates New York City for this selfish deviation from the "works for everyone else" system and that the pains I detail in the coming paragraphs are the direct result of retaliation from postal employees. Honestly, I can hardly blame them.

Once I got settled in I had a few letters to send a few bills to pay. I stuck these in the mail box outside of my house on my way to work -- there was no flag to put up but I figured the mail carrier probably knew the deal, "oh, new envelopes with uncanceled stamps, this is outgoing!" Yet every night I would come home to a mail box stuffed with delivery menus, new bills, 5 copies of the Victoria's Secret catalog (Obama should look into putting those mofos on the finding Bin Laudin task force they can track down anyone) and all of the outgoing mail that I'd left in the box that morning. Curious. I quickly concluded that I had a lazy bastard for a mailman and resolved to schlep all of my outgoing mail to the office until some Saturday when I could confront the man in blue at my door. Luckily my chance never came because I soon found out that in New York City mail carriers do not pick up outgoing mail. So actually ALL mail carriers in New York City are lazy bastards. At least I wasn't being singled out. Much Googling has been spent trying to get to the bottom of how it came to be that NYC mailmen won't pick up the netflix return envelope and my rent check all to no avail. I did discover that mailmen also don't pick up in Canada so I have to assume that this is just one more way that the liberals in NYC are trying to turn us all commie. Normally I drink the blue koolaid and support all efforts to bring the socialism but here I must protest, Canada obviously knows nothing about how badly I need to avoid walking 3 blocks to the mailbox (you'd think a country that is normally covered in snow could relate).

I really adore getting packages (queue, "I've got a package you might like little lady..."), so much so that I might occasionally order something online just to have the thrill of looking forward to receiving a package in the mail. This small joy has almost been beaten out of me by the mail system in NYC. I've determined that if you ask for something to be delivered to your house there is really only a 1 in 3 chance that you'll ever receive it. This statistic varies little from mail system to mail system. USPS, UPS, FEDEx, they're all equally f-ed up.

Typically, this is how things go down. I place an order for say a really cute dress by Penguin that I've somehow managed to score for $40 and then I begin obsessively reloading the order info page until I crash online store. Eventually the web services team is called in, stability is restored and my order goes from "processing" to "shipped." And then I start praying that the package will actually show up at my house -- oddly, god rarely intervenes on my behalf.

Things that might happen in place of coming home to the joy of ripping open cardboard:

  • Your mailman may decide that he doesn't feel like carrying a package all the way to your door so instead he'll just leave a "we were here but you weren't home" note the gist of which is "haul your ass down to the central processing center if you ever want to see that beautiful necklace you ordered off of Etsy." Note that actually being home when the mailman stops by to drop off this note will in no way ensure that you avoid this outcome.

  • Your mailman may decide for no apparent reason that the same stoop that he happily left packages on just last week is suddenly VERY UNSAFE (perhaps my grandma called him) and that he could not possibly leave packages here where the gangsters might pounce on them (gangsters love nothing more than an Amazon box full of trashy vampire liturature! Except heroin.). No amount of pleading notes left for the mailman saying "seriously, it's COOL! Leave the package right here!" will be at all effective and again your presence will be requested in central processing land (Do you think the subway goes there? No, it does not.)

  • Your mailman may decide to not even attempt delivery but to instead just claim he tried to deliver the package but that you said "please, no, do not bring it to my house, I would love to travel down to central processing and pick it up myself, i love a good walk through the projects."

The irony that I can get someone to bring a Vietnamese sandwich or an order of ceviche to my house at 1am but is beyond my reach is not lost on me.

The US Postal service recently raised the price of a first class stamp for about the 13th time this week and I can only assume that all of these extra funds will be directed to the vast pool of resources that they dedicate to coming up with new ways to screw NYC and as I said before -- I get it. But Please Mister Postman, Mister Fedex, Mrs. UPS -- do not continue to punish the good citizens of NYC for the selfish decisions of our forfathers, they had no idea that they were thwarting an organization that would go on to pretty much patent the act of going crazy and shooting all of your coworkers.