SkewedNews — My local mailbox used to be very important to me.
This story is set in the mid-1990s. Email had caught on, but connections were still via dial-up. Sending file attachments was an ordeal; a simple graphic might take 30 minutes to upload, and if you forgot to press *70 to deactivate call waiting the transmission would inevitably get interrupted. So I still used the mails, mainly to send cartoons to my syndicate, and marketing samples to prospective clients.
One morning, when I looked out my fourth-floor apartment window across the street from the Frederick Douglass housing project in Manhattan, I noticed that my mailbox was gone.
This being Manhattan pre-9/11 (they removed a lot of them for fear of terrorists…what, mailing themselves?), my next-nearest mailbox was three blocks away. But I liked having a box right across the street. Why walk six blocks (round trip), sometimes through sleet, if you don’t have to?
I called the main post office at Eighth Avenue and 34th Street, the iconic block-long hulk across from Penn Station with the famous “sleet nor snow” motto carved across the top.
“Good morning. I’d like to report a missing mailbox.”
Click. Click. “The Girl from Ipanema.” Click.
“Hi. I’m calling because my mailbox is missing.”
On and on it went until finally, I got the Right Person.
“Where is the box?” she asked. PC keys clicked in the background.
“The southwest corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 101st Street.”
I held. There was clicking, searching, sighing, coffee sipping as well as slurping.
“Okay…your nearest box is at 200 West 101st Street.”
“That’s the one I’m calling about.”
“All right,” the Right Person said. “The mailbox you should use is right there across from you, at the corner of Amsterdam and 101st!”
“No. It isn’t,” I said. “I’m looking at it right now. There are four bolts sticking out of the sidewalk where it used to be. Which was until yesterday. Now it’s gone.”
It was at this point that I began wondering whether the box had been stolen, and if so by whom, and whether my cartoon about NAFTA was ever going to make it to San Francisco, and whether the post office lady was teasing me.
She was not.
“Sir,” she said, releasing an exasperated I-can’t-believe-this sigh, “I don’t understand why you don’t just use the mailbox that’s right there across from your address. What’s wrong with that one?”
“It’s not there.”
“Yes it is.”
“No it’s not.”
“Sir,” she continued, “I can see it right here on my computer.”
“I’m looking right out the window!” I said. “I’m right here, looking at where it was, and I’m telling you, it’s no longer there.”
“Sir,” she said with an air of finality, “if you think you know more about mailboxes than the United States Post Office, I can’t help you. Good day.”
She hung up.
I put on my shoes and walked up to 104th Street.