Tag: mail

The Decline and Fall of the U.S. Postal Service

selective focus photography of a mailbox
Photo by Abstrakt Xxcellence Studios on Pexels.com

There are some things from the past for which I am envious. Newspapers with a morning and evening edition. Good radio programming. And mail service that was so reliable, you never thought about it. It is the good old days of reliable mail service for which I particularly pine.

When I was a kid, the mail brought letters and magazines. This was true well into the first few years after college as well. when bills were added to the mix. Letters were always fun to get. In the days before the Internet, it was through magazines that I got my fill of popular nonfiction. Magazines like TV Guide also told me what was going to be on television that evening1.

Beginning in my junior year in college the mail brought new possibilities. I began to submit stories for publication. The stories had to include SASEs–self-addressed, stamped envelopes–so that the manuscript could be returned if it was rejected. For the first fourteen years I submitted stories, they were rejected, which meant a lot of SASEs2. And once I began to have stories on submission, each day’s mail contained the possibility of a sale. Those days of wondering if a story would come back as a sale or not, eager for the sight of the mail truck, those were delightful days.

Maybe it was the Internet and email and online everything, maybe it was mismanagement, or likely a combination of both, but the decline and fall of the U.S. Postal Service in the first half century of my life has been noticeable and hard. The last three or four years have been especially bad. While the mail service has added some useful features–like a daily email that shows you what is coming in the day’s mail–the reality has not lived up to the message. Two or three days a week, I’ll see three or four items in my morning email message, but will get no actual mail in my mailbox. It is as though the mail accumulates for a few days and then gets delivered in bulk.

When I have something to post, I’ll clip it to our mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up. On days that we get mail, the mail carrier will pick up whatever is clipped to the mailbox. However, on those days when we get no mail (despite the morning email message to the contrary), the letter carrier will walk past our mailbox in plain sight of the outgoing mail–and completely ignore it.

On our trips, I put a hold on our mail. Fifty percent of the time, the hold is ignored. Thankfully, our neighbors keep an eye on things and collect the accumulating mail. The other fifty percent of the time, the mail is held far longer than the hold indicates: most recently, nearly a week-and-a-half longer. I was able to submit a ticket to the post office, and get a response three business days later that they were investigating the matter, all during the time of the “extended” hold on our mail.

To me, the mail service no longer seems reliable, and I have been trying to ween my dependence upon it, relying instead on electronic forms of communication, and neighbors for things like collecting mail when were are away. To be fair, the local post office stood us in good stead when we applied for passports for the kids last year.

It would be one thing if there were reasonable explanations of this overall decline. The local post office claimed lots of people out due to the pandemic, which seems legitimate, except this decline began well before the pandemic. There is sometimes news reports of funding issues within the post office. I would be willing to pay more for reliable service. But the most recent reports I’ve come across refer to increased prices and reduced services.

Perhaps the post office has a P.R. problem. I would be interested in an in-depth, investigative report on the decline of the U.S. postal service. But I doubt that such muckraking would grab the attention of news editors, when there is so much more colorful, if ephemeral, news to report.

I’d send a letter of complaint the to Postmaster General, but I’m afraid it would get lost in the mail.

Written on April 3, 2022.

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  1. This was also when the semi-annual “sweeps” weeks still existed, and I’d pour through the latest TV guide to get a summary of the newest NYPD Blue or E.R.
  2. Self-addressed stamped envelopes.

Writers live for the mail

Kelly finds it amusing that the first thing I do upon arriving home from work is rush off to the mailbox to check for any mail.  I’ve tried to explain to her that writers live for the mail, but I’m not quite sure she gets it.

Granted, there aren’t a whole lot of science fiction and fantasy markets these days that don’t take electronic submissions.  But so what?  We live for mail regardless of its delivery mechanism.  At this very moment, I have 3 stories out for submission.  One of those stories is at ANALOG (and has been for 51 days–writers count things, too!) and my biggest reason for racing to the mailbox each day is in the hope that there is NOT a small, self-addressed stamped envelope there indicating a rejection.

(Think of applying to colleges here, and the stress and anxiety sweated out over the mail.  Would you get a “big” envelope, indicating an acceptance?  Or a small one, indicating rejection?)

Each day that I don’t get something from ANALOG increases my hope that the story I have sent has made it farther and farther up the editorial scale.  Writers say that they want fast responses from editors, but what they really want are fast acceptances.  There is a thrill to not knowing as time stretches on.  A kind of quantum state of acceptance kicks in where a manuscript exists in both accepted and rejected states simultaneously until the wave function collapses and an SASE shows up in the mailbox–or an acceptance shows up in the inbox.

Writers also read all kinds of things into these submissions.  Perhaps the longer my story is over at ANALOG means it really is rising up out of the slush, into the hands of assistant editors and maybe even Stan Himself.  Or perhaps, everyone is on summer vacation and manuscripts aren’t being read.  Or maybe–horrors!–the thing has been lost in the mails!  Such things have been known to happen.

There is not quite the same thrill with markets that take electronic submissions, and I’m not sure why that is.  Some of these markets even go so far as to tell you where in the queue your story sits, and some of them respond so quickly that you don’t even have time to built up to the requisite peak of anticipation.  Nevertheless, in all these cases, I am checking my submission spreadsheet several times a week to see how long various manuscripts have been out, daydreaming each time that one or more will come back with an acceptance–or, dare I dream it!–a cluster of them.

And when we do find that SASE in the mail, we don’t tear it open instantly.  We weigh it carefully in our hand, hefting it to determine if it is merely a form letter rejection, or perhaps something more, something editorial comment.  It is, alas, always light, but that doesn’t deter me.  Short story contracts are usually short and it would be easy to squeeze one into the envelope.  And of course, there is always the last resort: that the market has decided to accept manuscripts the way that John Campbell accepted them: with a bare check.  Could a check be in that SASE, we wonder?

Of course, eventually we tear it open to some amount of disappointment, but if we are serious about our writing careers, then this low point doesn’t last long.  For within a few minutes we have it in another envelope (or virtual one) and on its way to the next market on the list and before the day is out, we are once again seized by that lottery-daydream possibility that our story has already sold, and we are just waiting to get the official word.

I tried to explain all of this to Kelly, but she just thinks I’m some kind of obsessive nut.  Exactly, I toldher, what writer isn’t?

Short week!

Because Monday was a holiday, I have a short work this week. Next week too, come to think of it. And that suits me just fine. I was pretty busy today at work, but it felt good. I had planned to get up and go to the gym, but I slept in until 5:30 AM, lazy bum that I am.

After work, I was craving Mexican food, so I walked across the street and went to Chevy’s. I sat there eating while reading more of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (I’m up to the entries on “Anthologies”.) It was very relaxing. I was so absorbed by the book that the train ride home flew by. I was back home this evening around 5:45 PM, although with the time change and overcast skies, it seems much later.

A couple of mail items. A renewal offer from F&SF. Like ASIMOV’S and ANALOG, I’m re-upping for the maximum they offer, which in the case of F&SF is 2 years. Also a hospital bill for $131 from my visit to the emergency room back on October 11. And I got something from Boskone 45 for which I am already a member.

No writing yet today and I’m pretty tired right now (even though I got a good night’s sleep last night) but I expect to get some done before I go to bed.

Giving up on The Reagan Diaries

My general rule for bailing out of a book is if I don’t make much progress after 2-3 days. It usually means I’ve lost interest, because when I am interested in a book, I make time for it. Because I’m biased against Reagan, I gave him a week, but while I made it more than halfway through the book, I’m afraid I’ve lost interest and am bailing on the book. This is tough because if I don’t finish a book, it doesn’t go on my reading list, and so I’ve given up on 2+ weeks of reading. So be it.

This morning, on the train into work, I started Alan Alda’s Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself and at the pace I’m getting through it (and enjoying it), I’ll have it finished tomorrow.

Incidentally, I was up at about 4:50 this morning and couldn’t sleep any more for some reason. So I got ready for work and came into the office early. I got here around 6:15 AM.

Spoke to strausmouse on the phone last night. When I woke up this morning, I had a photo of Hannah from Lisa kruppenheimer, as well as some pictures that Andy had sent. Oh, and I got my first AT&T bill in the mail yesterday.

Happy hour tonight in celebration of Jesseca’s 30th birthday. And the last Yankees/Red Sox series of the regular season starts tonight as well.

Three-train Thursday

At Mt. Vernon Square, this afternoon, where I transfer to the Green Line, I let two Green Line trains pass because they were bursting at the seams. I finally got on the third train to come by. It meant a total of about 15 minute delay, but I was engrossed in The Reagan Diaries and didn’t really notice the passing time. (Packed trains were probably a result of back-to-school, plus residual fallout from a problem on the Red Line.)

When I got home, I had mail from Amtrak. As a “Select” member, they sent me two free upgrade coupons, a free “companion” coupon, and a free day’s access to Club Acela coupon. Next time I take the Acela up to NYC, I’ll be sure to make use of one or more those coupons. The rest of the mail was junk.

Still too tired (lazy) to cut the grass, but I’ve decided to do it Sunday morning, so I’m no longer stressing about it. Going to spend the evening reading, and maybe squeeze in a little writing too.

Saturday morning

Wow, I slept in later than usual this morning, finally getting up at 9:30. I had a headache before going to bed last night so I took a couple of Tylenol PM’s and I think that might be the culprit. Nevertheless, I slept well, even though it was very hot and humid last night (not only did I have the central air on, but I had the small window unit in my bedroom running all night).

Got the latest issue of mental_floss in the mail yesterday. It’s a special “Presidential” issue and has articles packed with all kinds of little-known trivia about presidents.

I’m nearly two-thirds of the way through Creating Short Fiction, which is very good, and I expect to finish with it sometime today.

And speaking of books, last night I ordered a copy of shunn‘s brand new chapbook, An Alternate History of the 21st Century and I’m looking forward to reading it when I get it.

But first things first: breakfast.

Various errands

Several minor things taken care of and a few left to do. I have sent away my application to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America now that I qualify for membership.

Yesterday, I called American Express to have them raise the limit on my new American Express card. I’ve never had an American Express card before and when it was issued to me, it had a $5,800 limit. That’s about 7 times less than the limit on my Mileage Plus Visa, and it makes it difficult to use for travel. For instance, I used it at the hotel in Rome as well as for the various car services and the bill came to something like $2,400. When I tried to use it at the hotel in London, it was declined. I wasn’t sure why at the time but I discovered why yesterday when I got the bill. It would have gone over the assigned credit limit. I called and explained that I used these cards for travel and the hotel bill in London alone was $4,000 and that the card is pretty much useless to me if I can’t use it for travel. They doubled the limit for me on the spot, which now makes it worth keeping.

I booked my car rental through Hertz for my trip to Morro Bay at the end of this month. Ever notice all of the ridiculous fees that get added on? There’s sales tax at 8.25%. There an “airport concession fee recovery” at 11.1%. There’s a “customer facility charge” at $10.00. And there is a “California tourism commission assessment” at 2.5%. Everyone, it seems, gets their cut. I’m paying $39.47/day for a full-sized car, which for 4 days should come to $157.88. Instead, with all the aforementioned taxes and tariffs added in, the bill comes to $205.17 or what amounts to about a 30% tax! Or looking at it another way, I could have rented the car for an addtional day for the cost of those taxes!

Bees have built a nest behind one of the shutters outside the front door of my house. I need to get some of that spray that kills them off, then wait until nighttime to use it in order to get rid of them. I’m not looking forward to that.

Scientific American and American Express

The May 2007 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN was waiting for me when I got home this evening and it looks like a particularly juicy one with articles on space science, medicine, energy, paleontology, information science, neuroscience and physics. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.

Also in the mail was an application for a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. I have only one credit card that I use and I’ve had it forever, my United Mileage Plus Visa. I have never had an American Express Card, however, and some of the Starwood benefits it comes with are particularly useful, considering the fact I will be staying at three separate Starwood properties while on vacation in Europe this summer. So I think I’m going to sign up for it.

Scientific American and American Express: it was a patriotic day for the mails.

Mail call

Some interesting mail today. I got two of the books I ordered, including Barry Malzberg’s Breakfast in the Ruins, which turns out to be The Engines of the Night, expanded to twice it’s original length. That’s fine since, although I’ve read Engines of the Night twice before, it is one of those rare books which receives 5-stars from me. I look forward to reading what has been added.

I got my temporary AARP card in the mail today and that sounds like a joke, but unless someone put my name in for me, it is no joke. The accompanying letter indicated that I am eligible to join the AARP and all I have to do is mail in a check for $25. Granted I have reached mid-life. But I have by no means retired! I’ll send them $25 once I retire. (Of course, by then, I’ll need to send in $250, what with inflation.)

I received the June issue of ASIMOV’S today as well.

There was an email from my tax preparer with several questions she needs answers to in order to complete my returns. For instance, while I had $650 in charitable donations last year, I listed none this year. Did I forget to include them? The truth is, no. I’m embarrassed to say that my donations this year fell far short of my goal. Mostly out of laziness too. I donated small sums here and there, but nothing worth reporting. I feel guilty about having to respond in the negative to this. My feeling is that I should be donating more and more each year. Over time, I’d like to be donating about 10% of my income to charity, but I took a step backwards in 2006 and will work to correct it this year. (What’s worse, my income went up, and I bought lots of stuff that wastes my time and contributes little else to my life–the money would have been much better spend on various charities.)

The other question was about any writing expenses I incurred in 2006. I feel that now that I have sold a story, I can legitimately write off some of my writing expenses as business expenses, but to be honest, those expenses are minimal. There is the cost of paper, which I would purchase even if I didn’t write. And there is postage which, while it adds up, still does not seem like it’s a sum worth reporting. Other than that, I can think of any other writing expenses.

Anyway, I’ll send her my answers tomorrow and will hopefully have my taxes completed soon so that I can mail out my payment to Uncle Sam.

I should have been in bed almost an hour ago. I’m finishing up the chapter that I am reading in In Memory Yet Green (through 75 pages) and then it’s lights-out!

Wrap up

Another long day. When I got home, I had the latest issue of mental_floss in the mail. I also received the April/May 2007 issue of ASIMOV’S which also happens to be the 30th anniversary issue! There is a great retrospective editorial with snippets of editorials from all the Asimov’s editors, including Isaac Asimov’s first editorial for the magazine. And of retrospective by Robert Silverberg in his “Reflections” column. There are a couple of novellas, a novelette, and nine short stories, which I think is terrific!

I’m off to bed. I’ve got to be up at 4:30 for the gym, and I have a busy day tomorrow. I’m already looking forward to happy hour after work.

Poetic license

It had been a while since I sent in my drivers license renewal to the MVA, and with my license due to expire in about a month, I was wondering today when I would get it. After all, I need my license to drive, but I also need it as a for of picture ID (my pilot’s license does not have a picture). Then I remembered that I now have my passport and could use that as ID if I needed to. Still, it would be nice to have my license.

But you’re ahead of me. When I got home from work this evening, my license had arrived. It’s different than the one I received nearly 5 years ago. For one thing, the electronic version of my signature is so small it’s nearly impossible to make out. There are other attributes that have changed as well. I guess Maryland has redesigned their license in the last 5 years. My license is now good until March 2012, when I’ll be 40 years old!

Back in the driveway!

When I got home from work this evening, the warm, 50 degree weather had melted enough of the ice in front of the driveway that I was actually able to park my car in the driveway tonight for the first time in almost one week!

I finished SF AGE Volume 1, Issue 6, which completes the first full year of the magazine. I’ll be posting my thoughts later this evening.

Got my Amtrak GuestRewards Select membership kit for 2007 in the mail today. I number of free first class upgrades and free use of Club Acela. Ironically, it’s been so much cheaper to fly to NYC than to take the train that I’ve flown the last three times I’ve gone, so who knows if I’ll ever even get to use these benefits. Also got the latest issue of AOPA Pilot in the mail.

I’m going to relax for a while. I’ve got Heroes, Studio 60 and 24 TiVo’d and I’ll probably watch those. Then I’ve got the final draft of “The Folly of Man” to complete as well.