Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The USPS: now, it's rocket science to mail a letter.

Not so long ago, we Americans had a simple mail system: you paid by the ounce. I have a scale, and I could mail all my own packages. So simple!

Now, though, U.S. mail has made it so complicated, even the employees are puzzled.

There are several new restrictions which penalize non-standard envelopes. One - "Length is the dimension parallel to the address" - is obvious. Another - "your letter must fit through this little slot here" - is obvious if you're standing at the post office counter, but not at home, where you don't have one of those little slots.

A third - "The length divided by height is less than 1.3 or more than 2.5" - is a headache. Yes, I could get out my calculator and figure this out, but it makes me sigh. I should get my ninth-grade friend Menticia to figure it out, she's supposed to be working on fractions and proportions. However, she's still a little stumped by how many 1/4 cups of flour comprise a cup of flour so this one might be a bit much for her.

Then there's this: "Letters that meet one or more of the nonmachinable characteristics below are subject to the nonmachinable surcharge." Again, some of these are obvious ("It has clasps, string, buttons, or similar closure devices" or "It is a square letter").

Others are problematic. "It contains items such as pens that cause the surface to be uneven" How uneven?

Answer: for this, one must drive to the post office and stand in line so a certified postal service employee may inspect the surface.

Even tougher: "It is too rigid – does not bend easily."

That's the one that I have stumped postal employees with on more than one occasion. A cd in a thin cardboard sleeve, for instance. The employee will try twisting and bending your letter to decide if it qualifies as bendable.

I was told "it's a judgment call" recently when I complained mildly about the lengthy discussion that was going on behind the service desk as they handed my marginally-acceptable object back and forth amongst themselves, bending it and rendering their various opinions.

"We're the gatekeepers. If we say it's ok, it's ok."

So yesterday I stood in a long line at the post office - grumbling to myself that in the old days, the time and expense of this trip would have been unnecessary since I have a postage scale.

I also wondered how much longer the lines at our post offices are, now that mailing stuff is a "judgment call."

Did you notice - for a while USPS had a guarantee of how little time you would stand in line, but that didn't work out, so they TOOK THE CLOCKS OFF THE WALLS so you wouldn't see how long you're waiting? It's been a couple years, and the wire is still sticking out of the spot where the clock used to be at my local post office.

I gave the lady my 20 "save the day cards" wrapped in brown paper and waited for her verdict. She looked at my object, bent it, looked at her proper-proportions chart, was silent for a while, and then, with a question mark in her voice, said/asked: "This is a tough one. $4.95, small package?"

I didn't like that answer so I just stood there silently and waited.

She twisted it some more and then said: "$1.56?"

I said "I like that better, OK," and paid. She put postage on it and tossed it in the bin, but she was clearly reluctant, looking back at it with some regret. I was afraid she would fish it out of the bin and reverse her decision so I skedaddled.

Isn't this weird?


At 7:34 AM, Blogger doris. said...

Great post. Just goes to prove that truth is stranger than fiction.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Cap'n Sylvia Sharkbait said...

What? You bargained with the USPS? Unbelievable! A couple of weeks ago at the local post office I stood behind a woman who argued loudly with the postal clerk about cost and they called the cops on her. Clearly your silent method is far superior.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The inflexibility rule is absurd. I just got back from the post office after having to add postage to 127 wedding invitations because they required 20 cents more postage because of this inflexibility rule. I could strangle someone :)


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