The Postman

It's just easier to blame Kevin Costner.

Never, in all of my pre-LA jobs, did I ever set up a direct deposit account for my paychecks. I like physically receiving my checks because they’re a pretty tangible and definitive reminder of why I’ve been working – there’s nothing like being handed a piece of paper telling you how much money you’re going to get to restore your faith in capitalism, and then looking at the tax deductions along the side to instill an immediate and irrational loathing for socialism and government in all its forms.

With freelance PA work, you’re seldom working for someone long enough to set up direct deposit – most of the time, you’re not even there long enough for them to cut you a check, so they just mail it to you after the fact. This is actually pretty cool for me, because potentially finding an envelope full of money motivates me to put on pants, go to the mailbox, and sift through the coupons and credit card offers.

To be honest, I think I’d probably do a lot more around the house if there were a chance of finding a paycheck along the way. There should be a service that hides your paycheck in a random nook or cranny in your apartment every week, forcing you to go through cleaning and organizing all your shit while you look for it. ”Well, bad news is, the paycheck wasn’t behind the toilet this week. The good news is, the bathroom is clean now!”

The downside to receiving your checks in the mail is that you’re pretty much putting your entire livelihood in the hands of an inept federal agency that clearly quit giving a shit around 1995. Nowhere are the failings of the United States Postal Service more apparent than my apartment complex, which either A) Is in the mail equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, or B) Is owned by somebody who fucked the postmaster general’s wife.

For example, a girl named Bree used to live upstairs. The entire time she lived there, just about every piece of mail anybody ever sent her wound up at our apartment, in spite of the fact that the number on the envelope did not match the number on our mailbox. Recently she moved out, and now, somehow, even more of her mail has been coming to us.

I guess one way to look at this is that maybe our letter carrier is a friendly, wizened old man, disheartened by the increasing isolation of 21st century life, who is intentionally delivering our mail to the wrong units so that, in the process of handing off our mail to one another, we’ll all meet and become friends in some sort of heartwarming, Amelie style attempt at matchmaking. However, I haven’t ruled out apathy and low intelligence just yet, either, because so far two letters mailed to me by a close friend as well as my California driver’s license that the DMV says they sent three months ago have failed to show up at anybody’s apartment, let alone mine.

I should point out, by the way, that I don’t live on top of a mountain or in space or on a houseboat or something – I live along a major thoroughfare in a small apartment complex populated mostly by good natured working class Mexican families and at least one low level drug dealer. My place is by no means difficult to find or get to; the culprit here is that somewhere along the line there’s a guy who just doesn’t give a shit, and the inevitable victim is me.

As I write this I know there’s a pretty big check in the mail coming my way, and every day that I don’t find it in the mailbox is another day that I start to fret about the possibility that my earnings have been gobbled up by outdated bureaucracy. I mean, if my mail isn’t coming to me, and it’s not coming to my neighbors, and it isn’t going back to the original sender, where is it going? Did they build their sorting center over a Native American burial ground or something? Did a comical bulldog eat the envelopes at an inopportune time as part of some zany, ongoing caper to get my mail delivered? I mean, if that’s the case, fine – I just want to know so I can take an active role in the caper. (I don’t do nearly as much capering as I’d like to these days.)

Or maybe, rather than being a benevolent old man trying to get residents of my complex to be friends, our mailman is very slowly and deliberately going postal by systematically stealing all of my mail just to fuck with me. I mean, if it comes down to that or him shooting a bunch of people, I guess I’ll be the bigger man and take the hit on that one.

What’s frustrating about this – outside of the fact that I’m not getting things like my driver’s license and, more importantly, the letters my friend Adam writes to me when he’s drunk – is that it’s giving Libertarians everywhere an opportunity to nod smugly and say, ‘Toldja so!” I have not had these sorts of problems with FedEx or UPS – they’ve got a bottom line to protect, and everything gets where it’s going promptly. Have you ever seen a UPS guy not in a hurry? That’s private enterprise, and while it sucks for healthcare it’s working like gangbusters in the ‘making sure important mail doesn’t vanish due to carelessness’ department.

Looking on the bright side, though, in addition to my driver’s license and letters from friends, I also haven’t received any junk mail at all recently. Things that I actually want to get represent a statistically insignificant amount of the mail I receive – most of it is shovelfuls of business reply mail envelopes and coupons to get my car detailed. If not getting a few pieces of mail I want to get is what it takes to not get tons of useless junk either, I guess that’s a worthwhile trade to make, even if that means I have to go and pick up my paychecks by hand.

Truman Capps pictures his undelivered mail winding up filed next to the Ark of the Covenant in that big warehouse.