It's been a long time since I complained about the subway. Perhaps I've been uncommonly lucky lately. Perhaps it's because I take the subway far less now that I live two blocks from the office where I work. Or perhaps I've simply grown jaded and/or resigned to the indignities of that mode of travel. This afternoon, for example, I came uptown from Chelsea on a crowded 3 train, which was making local stops on the 1 track (of course), and I was riding with two people who had brought their very large mountain bikes with them. I could write a whole long rant about how the bikers panicked when we got to 42nd Street and formed a cage with their bikes that blocked access to the doors and to the center of the car... But my heart just isn't in it. Instead, I'd like to bring you the latest installment of what seems to be an ongoing series: Annoying Surprises in Mollie's Mailbox. I think I'll even create a new blog category for mail-related stories. The Postal Service is the new subway!
Just to recap: in February I was excited to learn that I could file my change-of-address information online and skip the dreaded trip to the post office. Then, in March, I complained about our mail carrier's tendency to misdirect mail addressed to me, with my maiden name, to another tenant in this building with that surname (despite our apartment number, which is different from his, being clearly indicated on said mail). Then, last week, an interesting twist on that phenomenon: a large envelope intended for him, but addressed to our apartment number, was delivered to our mailbox. I guess that means our mail carrier has learned to look at the apartment number!
Things got more interesting this week, when this little number showed up in our mailbox. Take a moment to study it (click to enlarge if necessary); it tells a complicated story...
Apparently someone named James Wilson used to live on the Upper West Side. Not in the same building or on the same street as I did, but in the same zip code. And, coincidentally, his building had the same street number as mine. So: the Post Office attempts to deliver this piece of mail to him. It is refused. They look at their records and discover that another person with the same last name, but a very different first name, who lived in the same zip code, although on a completely different street, has registered a request that her mail be forwarded. And so they figure, Hey, close enough, right? I mean, it's not like "Wilson" is a really common name or anything. And even if we're wrong, well, how important can it be that this be delivered to the right person? I mean, what the hell, it's only a summons for jury duty.
So. Two days later, while I was still trying to figure out what to do about this, we got another piece of mail, also addressed to "James Wilson," but with our address. No forwarding. And it was one of those unmarked envelopes with only a P.O. box for a return address. I tried to look for the most likely explanation, but I was having real trouble coming up with what that might be in this case. As you may know, "James Wilson" is my father's name, so first I thought, Perhaps his name and my address got linked somehow and ended up on a bulk mail list? I couldn't think of any opportunity for that to happen in the past three months. So then I thought, perhaps this has nothing to do with my father, and is instead intended for the other "Wilson" who lives in this building -- whose name, I now know, is not "James." Also unlikely. The third explanation seemed no less of a stretch: could this letter, which came directly to us, be intended for the same "James Wilson" who used to live in the 10025 zip code, whose forwarded jury summons we got by mistake?
The husband was the one who got to the bottom of the mystery: He opened the letter and discovered it was from a collection agency. So he called them and explained that the person whose debts they are attempting to collect does not live at this address. Then he asked where they got the idea that he did, and discovered that the guy they want is indeed the guy who used to live at the address the jury summons originally went to. The collection agency told the husband they got this address from the Post Office.
Boy, that Postal Service sure can move swiftly when it wants to!
This morning I called the post office where all this confusion originated -- the one serving the 10025 zip code -- and tried to explain. The woman told me, "I'll try to find your carrier -- he may not be here," and put me on hold before I could ask why she needed to find my carrier to fix what I'm guessing is now a computer error. You know what would make standing in line at the post office even worse? If, while you waited, they played an obnoxious recording of cheerful voices shouting in your ear about all the wonderful services that are offered by the Postal Service and at usps.com. It just so happens that that's what they do on the phone. I stayed on hold for several minutes, with only the tinest smidge of confidence that this woman would be able to help me, or that she'd even come back to let me know if she couldn't. I pictured what that particular Post Office branch looks like on a Saturday morning. A familiar sense of despair came over me, a sense that my life was slipping away... So I hung up. I'll try again on Monday, and pray that they don't distribute our address to any more of this guy's creditors in the meantime. In the meantime, if you run into James Wilson, formerly of the Upper West Side and no relation to me, please let him know he's been picked for jury duty.
(Update: to read part two of this saga, click here.)