As even occasional readers of this column know, the United States Postal Service is the subject of many of the letters that reach me.
Occasionally a letter contains words of praise, but that is unusual - not because there is so little to praise but because few people take the trouble to write when they are pleased. Anger caused by bad service is much more likely to result in a letter.
For this reason, I try to temper the publication of critical letters by adding reminders that postal workers have the same characteristics most of us have, whether we're in the government or not.
The average American wage-earner is reasonably diligent, reasonably intelligent, and reasonably conscious of an obligation to do his job well and earn his day's pay. But, alas! A small percentage in the general population, in the private sector, in the government as a whole and in the Postal Service in particular do not measure up to these standards, and they sometimes give their colleagues a bad name.
Two specifics that come to mind will help to illustrate. A first-class letter bearing $1.32 in postage was postmarked in New York on April 23. It was addressed to me - accurately and legibly - and called for a reply to be back in New York by April 30.
Unfortunately, the letter did not reach me until Friday afternoon, May 4. For some inexplicable reason, mail between New York and Washington appears to go by way of the Fiji Islands or New Delhi.
When mail trains made the run between New York and Washington in four or five hours, it usually took two days for a letter to be delivered. Now that everything goes by air mail, four days is standard, butthe Swift Couries do not always meet that standard.
The second matter I would like to mention this morning is a fine example of why we must be patient with postal workers.
Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.) sends out a steady stream of letters to a man whose name is somewhat similar to mine. Sen. Hayakawa addresses these letters (by means of preprinted labels) to The Washington Post, although the addressee has never worked for The Washington Post.
The Post's mail desk and copy aides always deliver these letters to me.
The letters look like routine press releases, but that's just a guess, of course. I have no right to open them. Nor can I throw them into the trash, as I could if they were addressed to me. I must make an honest effort to route them to the addressee, whose address I do not know, or return them to the sender.
So for several years I have been forced to write "Not At Washington Post" and "Return To Sender" on several envelopes a week - sometimes two per day. After the hundredth time, that can become annoying.
On two occasions I have written to Sen. Hayakawa's office asking that the letters be redirected to the correct address. There was no answer. Twice I phoned and asked tht the address be corrected. I was promised that it would be. I was promised that it would be. But the flow of letters from Sen. Hayakawa has continued unchecked.
He keeps sending them out. I keep sending them back. And occasionally the same letter comes back to me several times despite my indication on its face that it was not intended for me.
About 10 days ago, my patience ran out. I gathered up three Hayakawa letters that had arrived in the previous three days and with a felt pen that makes letters three-sixteenths of an inch broad, I filled the entire 9-inch width of the envelopes with inch-high letters that shouted in flaming red: "NOT AT THE WASHINGTON POST. RETURN TO SENDER." Then, instead of putting the letters into our "Outgoing" mail, I took them outisde and posted them in a USPS mailbox.
Two of the letters were returned to me about a week later. I assume that the third was returned to Sen. Hayakawa's office, where somebody made seven copies of each and carefully filed them under "J" as in junk.
Yes, the United States Postal Service is trying - sometimes very trying. But you've got to admit that the Swift Couriers are not unique. Sometimes we match them, snafu for snafu. And sometimes we're even worse.
Herm Albright's car was in the repair shop more often than not during this past winter, but now that the snows are finally gone, it is running better. Herm says, "I'm beginning to think that all it really needed was a salt-free diet."