You’ve Got Mail

Andy Rooney is dead. Super dead. And that leaves the rest of us with a lot of slack to pick up in the grumpy, complain-about-stuff-that-doesn’t-really-matter department.

Not one to shirk my responsibilities, I am ready to step up and be the curmudgeon that Rooney would have wanted me to be. While he often formed his rants around things like the number of phone books in the average North American household or the difficulty in using a Phillips screwdriver, the target of my ire today will be the post office.

Before I begin, I want to say that I am a big supporter of what has come to be known as snail mail. Prior to moving to Peru, I spent more than $50 sending letters and packages to friends who had donated to my volunteer program’s fundraising efforts.

Why? Because there is nothing quite like opening your mailbox to find a hand-written note amidst your alma mater’s requests for money and your mom’s latest issue of Good Housekeeping.

Since arriving in Peru, I have been the fortunate recipient of a good chunk of mail from the U.S. Because my friends and family back home appreciate taking the time to prepare a letter or package as much as I do, I have received everything from Fair Trade chocolate and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper clippings to All Dogs Go To Heaven and a photo of my friend Jeff with his ex-girlfriend at their high school graduation.

So I dig the mail. I stand by the mail. And this is why I feel justified in my anger towards the mail’s seeming determination to be as inconvenient as possible.

The first ripples of annoyance came when I contacted some fellow volunteers living in Central America a month and a half after I had sent them a package. They told me the mail had not arrived. Reasoning that I had been robbed by a mail worker living somewhere between Wisconsin and Belize, a petty thief who really had a hankering for a letter and burned CDs, I chalked my effort down as a loss.

Then in late February or early March, I was surprised to get a Christmas card from my mom. Not one to thwart someone else’s desire to extend the season, I opened the card and realized she had sent it on December 23. I would have been confused had someone not stamped on the envelope “MISSENT TO THAILAND.” Easy mistake, I guess. “Peru” and “Thailand” share none of the same letters, are on different continents and probably have as much in common culturally as I do with an Eskimo.

But at least it got here, right? As long as the post offices were open, whatever I sent or others sent me would in due time get there.

Wrong, and wrong for two reasons.

#1: The part about getting there. As the Central America story demonstrates, mail, despite the existence of open and operating post offices, will not necessarily arrive. For another case in point, my friend Thomas told me a month or two ago that he had sent me a letter. Said letter also has yet to make its way into my hands.

#2: The due time part. While most of the mail I send or others send me is not time-sensitive, some of it is. As an absentee voter who buys into the “civic duty” argument for going to the polls, it can be pretty exasperating to receive a ballot for an election that occurred a month ago. I have debated returning such ballots with a note saying, “This is who I would have voted for,” but I figured there was a good chance those, too, would never make it to their final destination.

I might have been willing to look past all this, but a couple months ago, I had one of those “last straw” moments when I received notice that I had to travel to Cusco, a large, metropolitan city about an hour’s bus ride from Andahuaylillas, to collect a package. All of my mail arrives in Cusco anyways, going to the Jesuit residence where Padre Oscar, the priest who works in Andahuaylillas, eventually gathers it and delivers it to us volunteers. A notice like the one I received means that for one reason or another, the post office wants to review the contents of a package.

I made the trip to Cusco on a morning when I didn’t have to teach and proceeded to wait for over an hour while the postal workers did God knows what. Eventually, a woman called me to a secluded room where she opened my package in front of me. I’m not sure what about the package had given her and her coworkers cause for concern, but they must have been pretty disappointed not to find anything dangerous or illegal inside the envelope. Just that book about dragons and tattoos, a Rolling Stone with Bruce Springsteen on the cover, candy and few other odds and ends. More irritating than the total innecessity of the trip was how un-embarassed all parties sans my own seemed about the remarkable waste of time in which we had all just partaken.

So yes, I feel a little let down by the mail. Whenever I hear about budget cuts that could eliminate USPS’s Saturday delivery, I feel sad to think that people have become so enthralled with the expediency of e-mail, texting or instant messaging that they never sit down and write a note to a friend. But it’s hard for me to justify using an alternative system that has on a number of occasions failed to fulfill the very purpose for which it exists.

I don’t have a solution. To be honest, though, Andy Rooney never really did either. I simply hope that in whining about things like this, I can, like Andy, someday get a job at 60 Minutes or, better yet, get my mail.


About brianharperu

A recent Marquette University graduate who inexplicably finds himself living and working as a Jesuit Volunteer in Peru, Brian enjoys writing, learning new musical instruments, imagining himself to be a better athlete than he is, eating pancakes and voting as part of his civic duty.
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