THE POST office is going to make one more attempt to see that people address their mail correctly. If this fails, it's going to have to resort to drastic measures.

I was informed of this by a relative who works in the post office, who said the P.O. was losing patience with its customers. "We've done everything we could to make life easier for the customer. We've raised the rates of first-class mail; we've given everyone a five-digit ZIP code, we've put restrictions on the size and shape of the envelopes, and still the mail is late. We have no choice but to take stronger steps to preserve the system."

"How's that?" I asked.

"We've going to up the price of first-class stamps to 18 cents, and institute the nine-digit ZIP code. In that way, the customer will know we really mean business."

"I'm not too clear how raising the price of the stamps and adding a nine-digit ZIP code is going to help. Most people have trouble remembering a five-digit number."

"We have to make the customer realize that when he mails a letter, he has a responsibility for getting it to the other end. He can no longer just dump it in a mailbox and expect the post office to do all the work for him. We've tried to be nice about it in the past, but all we had to show for it were slower deliveries, lost letters, and lower productivity. So we've taken the next step. The letter-writer is either going to have to shape up or ship out."

"So you believe by taking a hard line, the post office service will improve?"

"If the nine-digit ZIP code doesn't sober people up, we have a contingency plan that will change the entire system."

"What's that?" I asked.

"We're going to make the customer deliver his own mail."

"How are you going to do that?"

"It will go something like this: After a person writes a letter, he will take it down to the post office and have the stamp canceled. Then he will proceed to the addressee's house and drop it in his mailbox. If he wants to get it there fast, he can take a taxi. If he isn't rushed, he can take the bus or subway, or even walk it there. But our responsibility ends as soon as one of our employes cancels the stamp."

"I understand that would speed things up in the same town. But suppose someone in Louisville is sending a letter to someone in California. That wouldn't work very well for him."

We have the answer for that. The person in Louisville would deliver someone else's letter from California to someone in Louisville, and the person in California would deliver the Louisville letter to the person in the town in which he lived. For example, if you were writing to your Aunt Flora in Burbank, you would go to the post office and after the stamp on the letter was canceled, you would pick up a letter from Pasadena. Someone in Burbank who was sending a check to someone in Maryland would pick up your letter and get it to your Aunt Flora."

"That sounds like a great idea," I said. "Through rain or sleet or dark of night the customer will get your mail to you. If that plan goes through, will you be able to lower the price of a postage stamp and eliminate the ZIP code?"

"No, we'll have to raise the postal rates to 20 cents, because we'll have to hire more people to see that the customer delivers the mail properly. Also, we have to keep the new ZIP code or our stamp-canceling machines won't work. The only advantage of the new system will be the customer will be involved with the mail service, and will understand how difficult it is to get a letter to where it's addressed."

"Will the customer also have to deliver junk mail?"

"Certainly not. That mail is much too valuable to leave in the hands of someone who is not trained in our business."