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Once upon a time, in Ye Olde Days, before email and  texting, there was a thing called ‘mail’…you know, friendly hand-written letters, greeting  cards — things one actually looked forward to receiving. They brightened up one’s otherwise shitty day. They were delivered by minions of something quaint called a  ‘Post Office’ — first to your own personal mailbox by your front door, later to the community box down the street. You had a key to unlock your numbered  box and all you had to do was brave the raging snowstorms and ice in the winter, the blistering sun and debilitating humidity in the summer to liberate your mail. All good in theory…but being a government-run operation, the theory seldom matched the reality.

Despite their  old-fashioned pledge to deliver mail through rain, sleet, snow, vicious barking dogs, foraging raccoons eating their way through the neighborhood garbage bins,etc., the dedication the Post Office was once so proud of has gone the way of the dodo bird. I must be clear here: I have met some lovely, helpful individuals working for the P.O….it is the corporation in general with which I have many , oh so many, grievances.

The biggest problem I have every winter is that the locks to the community boxes freeze with our cold, then wet, then warm, unpredictable weather. More than once I have broken a key in the lock and have had to request that the P.O. come out and replace it. Which they do– for a fee. Well, they may claim a new lock installation is free, but the keys required to open the new box which is still off-limits to me, cost, as I recall, something like $25.If I were a suspicious person (and I am), I’d conclude that, since the P.O. is a losing venture, monetarily speaking, (since internet everything has usurped it), this  broken lock issue is simply a money-making scheme.

Before I left for Mexico (having been unable to access my mail for over a week by then), I phoned and explained that my key wasn’t opening my lock and would they be so kind as to send someone (a person, a rhinoceros, anything!) to fix it.

“Oh, it’s likely just a frozen lock,” the perky representative explained.

“No shit, Sherlock,” was what my inner voice replied. My real voice commented:”I doubt it. I’ve had that happen before. This is different. The key goes part way in then won’t go further and won’t turn to open the box. I am expecting important things in my mail (like my renewed driver’s license) and I’d like to get my mail before I leave the country. I need the locks changed ASAP!!”

After 45 minutes of combined chit-chat and online filling-in of forms, I was assured the lock would be changed (via a RUSH order) by the day after I left for Mexico. I sputtered at her…perhaps she didn’t understand the urgency of the matter…or the meaning if the word ‘rush’. She was delightful and tried to help but it was above her pay grade apparently. Since I would not be home when this happened, a notice of the finished work would be left under a heavy black pot by my front door.(Dark Ages, anyone?) This note would tell me where to go to retrieve my mail — that would be the mail they would, for the princely fee of $33, be holding at a post office. But we have no actual post offices here anymore. They are all franchised in drug stores, grocery stores, for all I know in the local crack house in the middle of town! So that notice was crucial to getting my mail out of jail.

I arrived home after 2 weeks in Mexico to hear a voice message on my phone saying the lock had been de-iced and was fine. “Go check out your key and collect your mail,” said the lilting voice.

My inner voice asked:”Wait a minute. If I paid $33 to get them to hold my mail, why would it be in the box?” The answer to this was discovered in an email I discovered at midnight the night of my return. It informed me that, since the hold was in effect only until the 27th, any mail would have been put in my box. It was now midnight on that fateful day and the order was no longer in effect. Now I happen to know the mail delivery is made in the early afternoon, so technically, I think they jumped the gun on collecting and re-locating it. The Witness Protection Program could learn from these guys.

I dutifully took my key and checked the box first thing the next morning. Surprise, surprise! It still did not work. I hadn’t actually expected it to. Since it was Saturday, my problem would have to wait until Monday to be resolved…as if.

I called to explain the situation (again) on Monday morning. The rep insisted the lock was working since they had de-iced it. With steam coming from my ears, I announced ,”It does NOT work. I tried it on Saturday.”

“Well, perhaps that’s the problem. Did you try this morning?”

“Why would I do that?” I asked, hostility oozing from every pore. “Was there a second moon in the sky last night that nobody told me of? And while we’re on the topic, I think, since no lock was changed and it still doesn’t work, I should be reimbursed the $33 for holding my mail.”

Was that hysterical laughter I heard? It was. “Oh, we never refund on holds,” she told me. “It’s our policy.” I refrained from telling her where she could put her policy but agreed to check the key one more time. I did. It didn’t work. ..at which point, I summoned The Neighbor, the one who has helped me out of so many jams it’s like we’re the members of an exclusive ‘Can’t Shoot Straight Gang’.

“Help! ” I begged. Bring some WD40 …we’re springing that mail if I have to kick down the entire box!”

“Right…be there as soon as I put my pants on. Should I bring tools too?”

“Yup…everything up to and including a blow torch. And possibly a disguise.”

We rendezvoused at the box. First we sprayed with WD40. A little movement but the key still didn’t turn. My accomplice then looked closer at the lock and dove into his bag of tools, bringing out a screwdriver.

“Uh, can we be arrested for damaging Federal Property…even though it’s to get MY stuff?” I asked nervously.

“Don’t know…I’m American and I’m not sure the laws are the same here. Besides, wasn’t that the same argument O.J Simpson used that landed him in the clinker? That he ws just trying to get his stuff back?”

That was a discussion for another time — a time when we’re not committing assault and battery on a mail box. On the other hand, we looked around and saw nobody who could I.D. us, so away we went. He pried the box open and was able to fix the problem. As we skulked back to our respective houses, me carrying a huge pile of mostly junk mail but some important items, we looked at each other. “We were never here,” I whispered.

“Oh, by the way, if you find my health card in your mail, would you let me know? I’ve been expecting it for weeks.”

“Why would it be in my box?” I asked. Then I answered my own question…the posties often mix things up and we get other peoples’ mail.

I called the P.O. rep to let her know that my mail had been freed. “Oh, that’s wonderful,” she chirped.

“Just don’t ask any questions,” I added. “Oh, and about the new lock that was to be installed…do you charge for that?”

“No we don’t,” she answered, obviously puzzled.

“Great newsstand, dare I say, a true miracle! Well, let’s just keep that work order in play…I have my mail but that lock is temperamental…and it might have sustained some slight damage, uh, I mean, what with all the ice and fiddling with keys and all, this could happen again. You never know. Strange things happen.”

As I hung up, I hoped the new lock installers wouldn’t take note of the scratch marks…in my defense, at least we didn’t have to resort to the blowtorch.