Helen Sollner asks, "Did you know that collection times indicated on mail boxes do not mean what they say?"

Helen says the Sunday pickup time posted on the box at Connecticut Avenue and Manor Road is 4:30 p.m. When she saw a Postal Service employee emptying the box at 3:45, she asked, "Do you come back after 4:30 to pick up the rest of the mail?"

He laughed. "No," he said. "I have 40 boxes to collect and they're all marked for 4:30 pickup, so I get some of them before 4:30 and some of them after."

Helen didn't think it was a laughing matter, and neither do I - especially in this era of once-a-day collections. A person who mails an important letter (an income tax payment, for example) a few minutes before the collection time posted on the box has a right to assume that the mail has not yet been picked up. If the posted collection time doesn't give assurance that the letter will be picked up today, not tomorrow, it has no meaning at all.

So I put the issue to a spokesman for the Postal Service, and after he discussed it with the postmaster he called me back with this comment:

"The postmaster is going to have a chat with that man and remind him that it is our policy not to pick up mail before the time posted on the box. Usually, we aim to pick it up a few minutes after the posted time - but never before."

"In other words," I asked, "you will not change the posted time of collection, but you will change the work schedule for that particular employee? Is that correct?" And he said, "That is correct."