My mail carrier and I have a strained relationship. I pay rent two days early, never miss an electric bill; I scrub the bathroom at least once a week and clean up spilled crumbs immediately. But checking the snail mailbox evades me. The key is temporarily missing, hiding in the fleece pocket of a coat; checking the mail requires walking around to the front entrance of the apartment complex, an act which is never done otherwise. In the metal compartment, there is usually a stack of junk; occasionally, there is a coupon for yogurt or a health insurance statement or a Netflix DVD.
Inevitably, I go to check the mail after a week or two of forgetting or excusing and see there is a “BOX FULL” note taped to the top with red duct tape. Ugh. I drive it down to the post office and ring the bell next to the door, the top half of which swings open a moment or two later.
“I’m here to pick up my mail,” I say, and hand the mail-sorting man the note. If I’m lucky, he’ll close the top half of the door while I wait, with my sunglasses still on in the tiny glass-walled lobby, and come back with a stack of paper. If I’m unlucky, my mail carrier himself will be there, and he makes sure to give me a lecture.
The top of the door swings open and Mr. Mail Carrier has his hands on his hips, looking disapprovingly at me.
“You can’t just let your mailbox fill up,” he says. “Next time you go on vacation, fill out one of these and leave it for me.”
I was never on vacation, but I nod and thank him; he hands me a stack of thick yellow cards that will apparently let him know when to hold my mail. Today, though, I am extra unlucky. No nice mail sorter, no lecturing mail carrier, no: They say the note was left on the 18th and they held my mail for ten days; it has all been returned to sender.
I feel like lots of other 20-somethings must do this same thing. I know a couple of people who still send cards and letters in the mail, but that’s because the mail is charming in its ancient novelty, like writing on an old typewriter or wearing your grandfather’s old houndstooth blazer. Is the post office still relevant?