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Postal Travels

Every so often the unbelievable lands at my feet.

Like at the post office.

My mother died, so I had to mail some papers to MetLife. You may have heard of them as they’ve been around a long time, like 150 years (since March 24, 1868).


$62 Billion in revenue, serving 90 million customers in over 60 countries. Snoopy. Yeah, THAT MetLife.


However, evidently, the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t.


With self-serve computer-generated First Class postage affixed, as I am about to release it into the mail slot, a kindly voice in my head suggests a thought that stops me.

“Might you not want to take a quick pic of that envelope?” comes the voice. It may have been just a thought, not a voice, or so I've been told. Pick your poison.


Either way, I tend to do what voiced thoughts tell me to do, because, why take a chance?* Seconds later, I let the envelope slip through the mail slot to join the swirling mail tsunami of the USPS, feeling confident that I have secured a digital memory of it. Plus I have the USPS tracking number.


A couple days after the promised First Class delivery date I noticed a scrap of paper annoying me by being in my way as I rummaged around in my bag. Yanking it out, I realize it’s the USPS receipt, and it’s high time to check on the status of my envelope, headed from NY to RI.


During the task of inputting the 800-billion-digits of the USPS tracking number, I take a quick bathroom break and stop to get a sip of water. After entering the final digits, I’m surprised to see the USPS declare that my manila envelope has been “delayed”…but is on her way. Looking more closely at the details of her itinerary, I see that the envelope is now located in Virginia.


Virginia? Hold on, let’s pull up a map, because isn’t that, like beyond RI? Whatever, she’s in good hands, the United States government’s hands! They’ll sort it out, literally.


Two days later, the voice of curiosity inquires, so I shovel ten bazillion digits back into the USPS tracking box only to find that Miss Manila has gotten a taste of the sweet south and apparently likes it because she’s now dancing her way even further off course -- to North Carolina. The reassuring, unconcerned, or perhaps overmedicated, details from the USPS still maintain that the mail piece is “delayed” but on its way.


Now I hear my mother's voice saying “What the hell is going on here?”


*Aside: This is a corollary of the belief that it’s always better to choose your own lottery numbers, instead of doing the completely random number-generating “Quick Pick” option, which my husband once irresponsibly suggested while I labored to choose only the very best and finest numbers for my lottery card. Incredulous at his unfounded suggestion, I responded: “Quick Pick? Now why would I do that? And leave it to CHANCE?”

“Delayed? Delayed?”? Girl, you slept through your stop on the train to RI and now you’re heading for what, FL?


I storm around the USPS site looking for a phone number, a chat, something to help. There’s only an online form to fill out for “missing mail”, which I begin filling out.


And then, the question from the USPS which both shocks and startles me.


“Do you have a photograph of the missing piece of mail?”


SFX: (A phonograph needle scratching across the full length of a long-playing 78 RPM vinyl album)


Are you getting this?


The USPS, who hath issued a unique, ten-hundred-billion-digit UNIQUE TRACKING NUMBER to my individual mail item, FOR THE ALLEGED PURPOSE OF TRACKING IT, is asking if I have a PHOTOGRAPH of that piece of mail.


Because somehow, amongst the 660 million pieces of mail that the USPS handles daily, a PHOTOGRAPH of a lone manila envelope will be the key to helping them locate it.


I am just trying to explain to myself how this will work.


So in the cavernous rooms where government employees sort mail into large bins with wheels and push them across the floor to join even larger bins of mail, when a single piece of mail goes missing, the thing that helps them distinguish and pluck one needed envelope from the haystack will be a photograph.


Perhaps there is space on the bulletin board where photos of WANTED criminals once hung (since it turned out the Internet outran bulletin boards for efficacy in tracking criminals), and are now replaced by photos of LOST individual pieces of mail. Postal workers passing the bulletin boards during their day check out the photos and commit them to memory in case they spot any of those missing pieces of mail during their day.


Then one day, running from across the warehouse, a postal worker may spot the lost piece of mail at the bottom of a bin, or slipping off the back of the desk, and recognizing the curve of its indicia from the photograph, plucks it from its wayward path, and restores it safely back into its proper place in the system.


Not the 5+4 zip code. Or the street address. Or the fact that METLIFE is a fairly large well-known entity, and likely isn’t skulking around hiding down some unnamed back alley in RI.


The US Postal Service is asking if I snapped a quick photo of my piece of mail and, presumably, logged it into my own personal mail-that-I’ve-already-released-to-the-USPS system, and if I could do them a solid and share that photo to help them help me.


Well, laugh all you want, friend. But indeed, I do have a photograph of my manila, and upload it with aplomb.


Of course, as a devout practitioner of redundancy, I also kept copies of the documents enclosed, and faxed them all posthaste to METLIFE.


Sweet lady Manila is still traveling the country, or the world, for all I know. And all for the reasonable cost of postage.


Really, I don’t have to look far for topics. This $hit is real.

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