For the third time, my mother’s packaged Hanukkah and birthday presents had been plonked on the counter of the United States Postal Services (USPS). For the third time, a triumphant teller had rejected them. This time the pidgin-speaking employee muttered something about, “Too heavy for register.” Yes, a command of the English language is not a USPS-employment requirement for a job that entails interfacing with the public.
The first teller had sent me and parcel packing because it was secured with the wrong tape. “Dis tape, dis tape,” she grunted, pointing to a dark coil in her drawer. She was unable to specify what distinguished my sealant from hers, primarily because her English was slightly less proficient than that of an American-born parrot. I promptly purchased packing tape that advertised its USPS compatibility.
This time my husband tried his luck. After a 40-minute wait in the Christmas queue, he encountered another female flunky. What was required, IT said, was adhesive brown paper, not tape. Already two hours late for work (expensive for a contractor), he rushed home, where we diligently rewrapped the thing. I sallied forth for our third attempt.
“No, not good,” said the linguistically lame, but unapologetic, equal-opportunity appointee. “Too heavy, no register; wait in queue,” the wretch barked. Are you kidding? I refused to budge and demanded to see the supervisor. When he emerged, he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—explain why I was not told on my first visit (in English), that USPS doesn’t register packages in excess of 5lbs. Or why the titmice tellers faulted the masking tape each time, sending us away with instructions to change it.
But then monopolists need not explain nor apologize for incompetence or caprice. USPS, after all, derives market dominance not from what it offers consumers, but from an exclusive grant of government privilege. As a monopoly, it doesn’t need to compete or engage in a voluntary exchange with consumers. Rather, it controls the market by forcibly prohibiting others from entering it. With such ill-gotten gains—and the power to keep you and me a captive audience—what did The Supervisor care if the cretinous underling had us at her lazy beck and call?
Between the first and second rebuffs I had fled to the privately run UPS Store, being quite prepared to pay double, rather than confront another USPS skank. There I was greeted by a sweet lad, who was only too pleased to help and sympathize with survivors. “Are you going to reject the tape on this package?” I inquired in trepidation. “No, Ma’am, of course not,” he smiled. “Ma’am,” now that’s an honorific you’ll not hear at the USPS. (Smiles are as rare as manners.) The young man cares to keep his customers and his demeanor reflects this. You can’t get away with being rude when you run a legitimate business, that is, you can, but you’ll pay the price.
He explains, however, that the USPS syndicate has kneecapped him. There are certain services UPS is prohibited by law from offering. They’ll gladly post my parcel, but they can’t register it. And I want to secure the thing. Yes, I know that I’ve stated on the accursed PS 2976 and the 2976-A forms that my poor parcel is worthless, containing a mere used handbag, second-hand (but clean) underwear, and a truck load of Centrum for my aging parents (to explain its weight). But this is not quite accurate.
That’s the other thing about the USPS and the cartels in Canada and across the pond. For those not yet apprised of the differences, the American post office and customs don’t tax, they regulate; their counterparts in Europe and “Canuckistan” regulate far less but boy, do they tax! Declare the full value of the items in your package, and its poor recipients will pay an arm and a leg to retrieve private property they didn’t steal. If corporations colluded this way to shake down customers, they’d be prosecuted under antitrust law.
My New Year’s Wish for United States Postal Services is that it be dissolved and its employers left to the mercies of customers like me.
©2005 Ilana Mercer