I was home again Monday afternoon and I happened to be walking through the living room when I heard the letter carrier put the mail into the mail slot. Though not particularly eager to inventory the day's bills, I took the few steps to the mailbox and extracted the contents.
The top piece was a salmon-colored card that recited the attempted delivery of a certified letter. Holding onto that card, I threw open the front door and went scampering (well, galumphing) down the block after the letter carrier.
"I'm sorry we didn't hear you ring," I began, "the front bell works only on occasion."
"No, I didn't ring," said the mailman (a younger man, not the lady I've often seen in the past).
I held up the card. "Don't you have something for me?"
"No," said the letter carrier, looking the card over. "They just gave me the card."
"But we haven't gotten one before," I said, and the mailman and I scrutinized the card trying to discern clues.
"No," he admitted, "it should say 'final attempt' or something...." We went on in this unproductive vein for a few more minutes, the letter carrier finally apologizing for not having the letter, but saying he can only deliver what he's given. The question next became how to actually get
the letter to which the salmon-colored card referred.
"I could put it in for tomorrow's delivery," the mailman offered (never mind that this seemed to contradict his prior statement about having no control about what he's given for his route) -- "but someone would have to be here to sign for it," I continued, "and that wouldn't be until the afternoon?"
So I decided I'd go to the post office myself in the morning to fetch the letter. According to the salmon-colored card, that would be my first opportunity.
I'll spare you the anguished speculation in which Long Suffering Spouse and I engaged concerning the certified letter. I was initially concerned it might be a small claims summons -- pretty dirty pool not sending the actual letter with the notice, but who could make the Postal Service participate in such skullduggery? But if it were the Tribune
-- the most likely candidate, I thought, despite my so-far unanswered letters protesting their bill -- (this post will provide more details
) the summons should have been addressed to Long Suffering Spouse; the salmon-colored card clearly indicated that the letter was addressed to me instead.
Next morning, I arrived at the local post office shortly after the doors opened. There was already a line.
An unhappy man was at the counter. He wanted to buy stamps and pay cash -- but the man at the window could not make change. He called out to those of us assembled in line, "Do any of you have two 10s for a 20?" There were six people in line; one did. (It wasn't me. Break a $20? I didn't have $20 on me.)
The customer at the counter was not mollified. An older gentleman, probably very nice in most social settings, he was nevertheless unafraid to express his opinion. "You'd think the Postal Service would give you enough of a bank to make change for customers," he groused. He was playing to the gallery -- those of us in line -- and the postal clerk at the window felt obliged to do the same.
"You think things are bad now," the clerk began, "but just wait. Things are only going to get worse. The good old days are gone."
Here was a man clearly worried about his pension.
Eventually, the old man left with his stamps and the line began to move again. The clerk continued to offer dark predictions about the future of the Postal Service to each new customer. Finally, it was my turn. (I was actually relieved. Based on the clerk's continuing remarks, I thought the Post Office might go bankrupt before I got to the window.)
I presented my card.
"Do you know what this is?" the clerk asked. "One of these boxes should be checked to say whether it is certified, registered or a parcel" -- he showed me that none were. His manner suggested that this was entirely my fault.
"I assume it's a certified letter from the number" -- I showed him the number scrawled on the bottom of the card, starting with 7011 -- "that usually means a certified piece, in my experience," I offered.
"Hmmmph," said the postal clerk, and off he stalked into a back room to look for my letter, muttering more to himself now.
Eventually he returned, letter in hand. I signed the green card. I signed a machine, like one of those credit card machines, at the counter. At that point I would have signed the palm of the clerk's hand if only I could just get out of there
I took my letter and fled. The clerk was telling the next customer, "Oh, sure things are terrible now. But they will much, much worse."
I suppose you may be wondering about the contents of the letter at this point.
Well, it was a letter from Youngest Son's old dentists -- pedodontists, actually.
We'd started in with this practice when Middle Son was about two. He broke a tooth learning how to walk -- a cringe-inducing tale I'll save for another day -- and, since we (meaning Long Suffering Spouse, mostly) weren't entirely enamored of the general dentists we had taking care of us
, we thought it prudent to put him in the care of a specialist. The younger children, including Youngest Son, also became patients of the group.
Youngest Son, however, is now 6'3" or so, nearly 20, and in college. He has aged out of the pedodontists' practice. Nevertheless, that group has called at least twice a week, and sometimes more often, trying to get Youngest Son to come back for another appointment. We never answered the phone. (I never picked up because Long Suffering Spouse told me she'd told the pedodontists that Youngest Son would be moving to a general dentist henceforth; I didn't find out until yesterday that she'd balked when they tried to stick her with a fee for transferring the kid's records).
From all their calls I'd guessed things must be tough in the pedodontist business, too, but the letter cinched it for me: After reciting the heroic efforts of the office staff to contact us, it went onto state that if all Youngest Son's teeth decay and fall out it won't be their
After picking up the letter, I went to get gas for the van. I paid $4.21 a gallon for regular unleaded. Eight days before, at the same station (one of the least
expensive in the area) I'd paid $3.85.
I read that the economy is getting better. But I see no proof in the world around me.