If the United States Postal Service ever decided to stop delivering letters to me, I would be out of business.
Nevertheless, I hope that today's column annoys some VIPs. I offer no criticism of the Swift Couriers who work at the peon level, because as far as I can ascertain they perform their tasks as diligently as any other segment of the American labor force most specifically those of us who are in the news business.
My purpose here is to needle the USPS's shakers and movers, or perhaps the Congress. To do this, I will quote from a letter sent to me by Cecil St. Clair King Jr. of Arlington, who writes better column material accidentally than some of us columnists do on purpose Cecil's letter said:
"While standing in line this morning to mail some Christmas packages (and if you want to know why I waited so long to mail them, the answer is that -- for me -- it's not all that late), I was watching two busy clerks manning three stations.
"As each person reached the clerk and handed him a stack of packages, the clerk put each package on a standard post office scale and jiggled the little weight back and forth until it fell into a notch that suited him. When that happened, he would bend over until he could read the tiny figures. Then he would consult his documents until he found the appropriate amount for that notch.
"There is also a large scale, next to the little one with the notches. The face of the large scale is toward the clerk; the metal back is toward the customer. In using the large scale, the clerk waits until whatever moves on his side stops moving. Then he consults his documents, just as he does when using the scale with the notches.
"While I would not characterize these operations as excessively time-consuming, given the procedures and equipment, it is not altogether a negative experience. It does give us customers time to make friends with other folks in the line, and to read the many interesting posters and ads in the area.
"After I left the post office, I went to my neighborhood supermarket. I stopped at the deli counter and asked for a quarter-pound of cheese, noting with some surprise that the price had not gone up in the last two days and was still below the price of gold.
"The speedy clerk tossed a few slices on his scale and before my wondering eyes there was instantly displayed -- and visible on my side of the scale -- the unit price of the cheese, the weight of the slices on the scale, and the exact price of my purchase. As I wondered over to the beer counter to buy something to go with the cheese, I reflected on the difference in the two operations and wondered whether it had anything to do with post office deficits or Safeway profits."
As I indicated at the outset, it is unfair to criticize the peon in a horsedrawn buggy for taking so long to complete his appointed rounds. The guy I'd like to irritate is the fellow who decided that USPS ought to be a horse-and-buggy operation in the first place. NOEL, NOEL,
Ordinarily, I do not write about problems of this kind. I can usually resolve them quickly, thus eliminating the need to publicize them. A resident manager who is quite deaf when an elderly tenant complains can be miraculously restored to good hearing when a reporter looks into the matter.
This case touched me more than most, possibly because it arrived almost on the eve of Christmas, when most of us were preoccupied with the joys of living and of sharing the warmth of the season's happiness with family and friends.
The problem? My caller is alert, intelligent and articulate. She is gentle-woman. But she is 86 years old, and blind. She lives in a "home" in Washington. Her on income is $231.50 a month from Social Security. Of this, she must pay $203.50 a month for her room and board. That leaves her $28 a month for everything else: soap, toilet articles, telephone -- everything.
She told me that a long time ago the ceiling in her room began to leak when it rained. She says she reported this to the manager, who put down some old mattress pads to soak up the water but made no repairs. This went on for weeks; then one night the ceiling came crashing down. The blind woman was moved into an undersirable room the home hadn't been able to rent to anybody else.Now, many months later, the blind woman is still in the inferior room. The better one was repaired and rented to somebody else.
When she finished telling me her story, she was crying softly.
I hope it will not be necessary to write a full-scale account of this matter. I hope I will be able to take care of it privately, as usual.
I have mentioned it only to restore the perspective of those among us who think peace and good will have really triumphed over contention and unconcern. We should live so long.