The Postal Service has taken more than a few shots -- and many of the haymakers have been delivered by the guy typing this.

But postal folk do sometimes surpass themselves, and expectations, too. Here are two recent post office stories to gladden the heart and quicken the pulse.

ANNANDALE: Karen Cox of Fairfax Station has been married for seven years. Her engagement ring has nestled snugly on her finger throughout that time. But one day in September, as she was mailing some letters, Karen accidentally let go of the handle of the mailbox.

Her hand banged against something metallic and hard. When Karen took a look to see if she had drawn blood, she noticed that the diamond in her engagement ring had been jarred loose, and had fallen into the mailbox.

Karen immediately called the Annandale post office to ask when the next scheduled pickup was. "I planned to stand guard by the mailbox until the mailman came," Karen says.

But the Postal Service didn't make her cool her heels for hours. Jim King, a supervisor, hopped right in his car and drove over. Jim had to poke around in the dust for several minutes with his pocketknife. But finally, voila.

"It's nice to know that someone out there really cares about people," says Karen. Take a bow, Jim.

CHEVY CHASE: "Bob," writes Mike Junge, "I am one of the legions of returned Peace Corps volunteers who have settled in the area . . . .

"I spent an idyllic two years on a small island in the Pacific Ocean -- Ponape, Micronesia, to be exact. I made many friends with the local people, but as you know, when one leaves an area, it is difficult to keep in contact. It is even more difficult when there is a language barrier."

So imagine Mike's pleasure when he found a letter in his mailbox the other day, postmarked Micronesia. It was from a fellow teacher on the island. But because of the language barrier, the Micronesia buddy had fumbled Mike's address.

The envelope said:

Mike Junge

4803 Chase, Md., 20815

Mike's correct address is 4803 Chevy Chase Blvd., Chevy Chase, Md., 20815.

No big deal, you say? Just the work of a postal clerk who looked Mike up in the phone book?

Sorry, but Mike's unlisted.

You think it's still not a real toughie because the Zip Code was correct? Well, you're right up to a point. But there must be hundreds of Mikes (and quite a few 4803s) in Zip Code 20815. Obviously, a clerk cared enough to ask around and see who had a Mike Junge on his route.

Mike calls the post office's performance "a quantum leap of detective work." I call it something a little more simple: wonderful.

Add one, postal . . . .

There I was, early on a Saturday morning, out in front of the house to inhale a large gutful of air and to plow through the bushes (as usual) in search of the newspaper.

The paper was in the driveway, where I could see it, for a welcome change. But in the hedges was something grayish blue. I picked it up. It was a baseball cap with the "U.S. Mail" insignia on it.

Did the mailman who works my block lose it?

Did someone who works at the nearby post office drive off in a huff on Friday night, heaving parts of his uniform out the window as he went?

Or are U.S. Mail caps available to anyone, the way Budweiser caps and New England Patriots caps and thousands of other "insignia caps" are?

My daughter and I headed for the local post office. We thought we were knee-deep into a mystery. Turned out we were headfirst into a laugh.

We marched up to the counter. I handed the clerk the cap and told her the story. Without batting an eyelash, she asked:

"But did you find the mailman?"

Nope, sorry. I'm going to assume he was never lost (please?). And I hope he and his cap have been happily reunited.

By the way, the clerk told me that only postal personnel wear U.S. Mail caps. In case you ever go hunting for the newspaper and find yourself in the same soup . . . .

Add two, postal . . . .

Yes, cynics, you do get a chance at bat.

Marie Lauducci of Alexandria is very close to her 83-year-old aunt, Marie Rozier, who lives in Tuolumne, Calif.

On Aug. 31, California Marie mailed Virginia Marie a letter.

On Sept. 19, Virginia Marie received it.

Why the delay?

Inexplicably, the Postal Service had sent the letter by way of Nicaragua.

In case you thought there isn't still a little room for improvement in Postal-land.