Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Minion of a Bygone Era

The mailman walks with a limp as he carries and sorts the heavy advertising brochures and catalogs that now make up the bulk of today's mail. I often see him when he arrives at in the lobby towards the end of his long day, as he performs his time-consuming and increasingly thankless task.

He patiently fills the endless rows of mailboxes with the mostly "junk" mail that now brings in a lot of the revenue for the struggling postal service -- mail from advertisers that the residents routinely dump in the trash bin downstairs before they head up to their apartments.

I am always surprised that just from the daily arduous task of placing mail in the endless rows of boxes, he has taken the trouble to match up all the names to the faces he occasionally sees. When I happen to see him, he knows my name and formally greets me.

He is an elderly black gentleman who has worked in the civil service for years. He speaks to me of his bad knee and upcoming retirement. When he disappears for a while, the delivery goes awry, and I get mail intended for numerous other residents. When he returns, order is restored as he resumes his routine of putting the mail into its designated boxes.

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," is the unofficial postal service motto, (inscribed on the General Post Office facility on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in New York City), conveying the reliability of mail carriers and their once important mission, recalling the days when mail was the only form of communication and linked distant places. In today's fast-paced world, the mail carrier serves as a reminder of that different slower-paced one, not all that long ago, when his arrival, together with the letters he brought, was eagerly anticipated and awaited. Today, he is often not even noticed, as many, at least in my high-rise building, no longer bother to check the mail regularly. 

In an era when electronic communications make up most of our correspondence, his services are now becoming antiquated and often redundant. The letters and printed bills that the post office used to routinely deliver have slowly become a thing of the past, and the occasional letter we still do send has become something we have come to disparagingly call "snail mail."

Nonetheless, even today, the mailman's regular presence still conveys a reliability more so than that of the Internet, which though most convenient, is also prone to frustrating and unpredictable outages. The letters he occasionally brings are something concrete one can hold on to, as opposed to something intangible stored out there somewhere in the amorphous "cloud" of the Internet. As our need for the postal service slowly declines, and in view of the recent talk of cutbacks, I fear that mail delivery as we know it will eventually become extinct. 

I know I will also miss this gentleman soon to retire who regularly greets me as he cheerfully and tirelessly goes about his appointed rounds.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. We take so much for granted, and changes happen, sometimes we don't even notice. Thank you for the reminder to look around,and to notice our surroundings more often.

  2. Yes, changes do happen slowly over time, and I am not always convinced they are for the best. Thank you for your insightful comment and for taking the time to read.