Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Partial Post

I went to the Post Office today. To get my mail.

So many things we used to take for granted. Regular mail delivery is one of them. In the destroyed neighborhoods, there is no mail service, nor is there need for it.

But even in areas not badly damaged by the storms and the flooding, the sight of a bag-carrying blue uniform is rarer than sympathy cards for Tom Benson. We’ve been at our new apartment for two weeks, and we’ve been visited a total two times. Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night can stop the mail, but labor shortages—game over!

The Post Office is as stressed as every other employer in New Orleans right now. They’re struggling to repair and reopen damaged facilities, trying to catch up on the backlog of work, and all the while trying to maintain the semblance of ordinary business operations. And they’re doing all of this with a reduced labor force.

Sure, we put in forwarding requests with the Post Office, but that’s just increased their workload exponentially as each piece of mail must be handled multiple times to get from mail sorter A to letter carrier B.

That’s why I went to the Post Office to get my mail.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. They’re doing their best to make it painless. They’ve come up with a fairly good process.

As you enter the building, you are directed to a table to fill out a little slip of paper. Name, street address, zip code. You give it to the lady at the counter, show a picture I.D. and she tells you to go wait in the lobby by the Post Office Boxes. Every few minutes, someone comes out with a handful of mail, shouts out the address or name, and you collect your mail, if there is any.

It was a curious thing, standing there in the post office. About two dozen of us, trying to be patient, waiting for the right number to be called as though this were Friday night Bingo.

“2553 Eads!” the lady called. A happy customer came forward to collect a thick wad of envelopes wrapped in a rubber band.

“6210 St. Anthony!” An unkempt young man smiled and waved, “That’s me.” He wears a fine layer of white dust that is evidence that he’s been working on the house.

“5829 Pratt!” I stiffen. Others stare with sadness. A middle-aged woman who looks like she’s been assigned to a hard labor camp comes forward to get two thin envelopes. Her expression does not change as she takes her mail and pushes on the glass door to leave. Most of watching understand her pain. Pratt is the first street on the west side of the London Avenue Canal. From her address, we know the levee broke a few doors down the street from her home. We know that dunes of sand, silt and clay cover her street and likely fill her home. She’s our neighbor and also a total stranger. We feel sympathy, empathy, and sadness for ourselves all in the same moment.

After about 10 minutes, I am handed a single letter and a post card.

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