dead letter office

Nothing in life has a zero percent failure rate, right? And certainly not the post office, whose accuracy in delivering mail to the address I once held in Oakland hovered around 85% (by which I mean: roughly 15% of the mail we received was meant to go somewhere else, addressed usually to another street; and who knows how much of our own mail never arrived, presumably delivered somewhere else).

It stands to reason that there must be one mailbox somewhere that the USPS has completely forgotten about. I wonder where it is and what’s in it. Whenever I mail anything I consider this. And then I think about the resolute trust we place in institutions like the U.S. Post Office. Um, is this weird? If that 85% accuracy rate was normal instead of (let’s hope) some temporary ghetto Oakland anomaly (disturbing enough), would we all stop mailing things? What if it dropped to 50%? Is there a support group for this mailbox concern? And is everyone in it wearing a tinfoil hat?

straight from the USPS FAQ:

What factors determine where Collection Boxes are installed?

The number of street collection boxes installed, their location, and the frequency of collection service depend primarily on the mailing patterns and the volume of mail generated by the individual community. As these and other local conditions change, collection service is modified and adapted accordingly. For decisions on specific collection boxes, post offices will apply the applicable Postal Operations Manual guidance.

The United States Postal Service relies upon its postmasters to make the decision on where these boxes should be deployed as they are in the best position to review their use and value to the community.

Really. Is this a war? Like maybe some vexed postmaster filled out the “Install New Outgoing Parcel Receptacle” form and stuck it in Box A and thought it would be really fucking funny not to put the “Add Mailbox to Carrier Route” form in Box B. Or maybe a mailbox was slated for removal, but the email ended up in someone’s spam folder. Seriously. Or the mailbox removal guy, after several numbing years of driving around waiting in vain for the dispatcher to give him an address, figured it was a safe bet to play hooky for a day and head to the beach. Maybe the pickups were re-zoned, and one mailbox just got spaced. Anything could happen. Administrative errors happen all the time. I bet there’s a lot of red tape involved in installing a mailbox, judging by how hard it is to do something like request a new stop sign in your neighborhood. I’ve tried this, by the way, with no success, although I occasionally visit my old apartment building and there are now humps all over the road. I’d call them speed bumps, but they are clearly labeled “humps.” Obviously less labor intensive than installing a stop sign. And more effective, since when confronted unexpectedly with the word “hump” I’d guess a lot of us would be willing to comply. Hump? Sure! Stop? No!

Another thing I’ve always wondered: who works in the dead letter office, and how long do they have to wait before the dead letters are public domain? Does someone make art out of the unclaimed mail? Or does it all go straight to the shredder? I’ll take it. I will hold funerals for all the dead letters. This could be a groundbreaking art project. I’ll take the Santa letters too, and I’ll write back to all the kids and dash their hopes. Better coming from a total stranger than their parents, whom they trust. I’ll tell them bad kids sometimes get better presents than they do, and they’d better get used to it. Next year.

Next year.

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