Issue February 18, 2009

Going post-postal

Now that America’s appliances are out on the front porch and the car is up on cinderblocks, it’s becoming routine for our most cherished institutions to call in sick and spend the day on the couch, huffing inhalants and scratching their lottery tickets and nether regions.

So it was no surprise when Postmaster General John E. Potter recently asked Congress to overturn the requirement that the postal service deliver mail six days per week.

Anticipating a $6 billion loss this year, Potter says the post office might need to reduce mail delivery to five days per week to save money. The day off would most likely be Tuesdays because “mail flow is light and also there’s a ‘Man vs. Wild’ marathon on the Discovery Channel.”

Your first, shocked reaction to this news was probably like mine: “The postal service still exists?!” Thanks to the Internet, I haven’t received an urgent piece of snail mail since 1995. Even the term “snail mail” is so antiquated that it sounds corny, like its fellow 1990s concepts “dialup modem,” “newspaper” and “full employment.” But what you youngsters out there might not know is that the post office once provided an army of dedicated, hardworking civil servants who tirelessly delivered mission-critical mail through “snow, rain, heat and gloom of night,” all while keeping a straight face — even though they were wearing short pants and knee socks.

What in the world were they delivering? “Letters.” Long ago, people used to write letters to each other. Letters are a little hard to explain, but imagine if you gathered up a month’s worth of your cell-phone texts and Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets and then edited them into coherent epistles, corrected the spelling and physically mailed them to all 427 of your friends, plus your grandma and your closeted gay uncle. Whew! No wonder old people look so withered, right? Some of them say it was because they had to walk to school through the snow uphill both ways and have sex without contraception, but it was probably the exhausting letter writing that caused all that gray hair and wrinkles and flatulence and erectile dysfunction.

Naturally, when the Internet came along, people fled from the post office faster than you could say “you’ve got mail,” and the postal service began its great cigaretteization. Volume dropped by 9 billion pieces of mail last year alone, and if you don’t count L.L Bean, Victoria’s Secret and Citibank Visa, the total volume of mail in the stream on any given day drops to approximately negative-seven. In response, the agency began removing its signature blue neighborhood mailboxes and created the “Forever Stamp,” which now sounds like a wildly optimistic estimate of how long the postal service will last.

I confess to missing the slower pace and lowered expectations of postal mail. Today it’s possible to piss someone off by taking longer than six seconds to reply to an e-mail. And something’s wrong when the business models of major corporations like Verizon, Apple and AT&T are based entirely on our inability to resist instant communication. Apparently, if we fail to tell the world exactly what we’re doing every moment, the terrorists win. And I do not envy bloggers, who must scramble to be the first to post frenzied ephemera like Daniel Mongiardo’s surgery schedule and Lindsay Lohan’s naval contents and the Obamas’ valentine meal menu — oh, and the Octuplet Mom’s TV appearance schedule, which probably makes them want to get into the bathtub and perform hari kiri with a rusty grapefruit knife.

But there’s no denying the environmental benefits of going post-postal. The lower carbon footprint of Internet bill paying, messaging, catalogs, magazines and teledildonics is incalculable compared to conducting that business via little white mail trucks. The Internet has forced upon us the type of green decision we’re too chicken to make elsewhere regarding energy, public transportation, efficient autos and rapidly disappearing mountaintops.

I deeply appreciate and respect the valiant efforts of our mail carriers to smile through their snotsicles during the recent ice plague. But that appreciation quickly turns to guilt when I sift through the noxious stack of direct-mail coupons, come-ons and crap they labored to deliver. I would personally have no problem waiting for all of my mail to be delivered once per week. Ideally on Fridays. Because that’s the day we put a brightly colored rectangular receptacle out by the curb, perfect for collecting it.