Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reflections at the Post Office …

I notice a landscaping firm has been putting the final touches on new vegetation to the east of WHAT, a vacant lot which used to be a wasteland. As I drive around the Post Office complex and park in front of the theater, I wonder whether the firm’s owner has green standards like Laura at Littlefield Landscapes?

The Wellfleet Post Office is deserted. Not a single person in line, unusual for a Saturday morning. I deposit my postcard on the scale, ring the bell, look around at the large, faded photo of old Chequessett Inn before the ice storm. Theoretically, postcards do not need to be weighed, but this one’s going to Europe, and I’ve lost track of the latest increase in postal rates.

A female employee emerges from a back room, someone I don’t recognize. Perhaps the regular mail clerk is sick or on maternity leave?

The woman throws a suspicious glance down at the post card. “Does this contain anything liquid, fragile, hazardous, perishable or powdery?” she says, fast, as if she were an eight-year-old, eager to show off recently acquired skill at tongue-twisters.

“Excuse me?” I say.

A stranger has appeared with a package, and the postmistress, who was sorting through a pile of letters, now pauses to listen.

The mail clerk repeats, in a tone that shows impatience but only slightly, “Does this contain anything liquid, fragile, hazardous, perishable or powdery?”

“But it’s only a post card!” I turn to the stranger, eyebrows raised.

“My God, it’s a postcard!” she chimes in, disbelief in her voice.

“If we have to weigh it, we have to say it,” the clerk says in singsong.

“Imagine I were a criminal and intended to send a dangerous substance through the mail, do you think I’d answer yes to your question?”

The clerk shrugs and offers up a tight little smile.

Anthrax is one good reason to beware of postcards I suppose, but what’s the probability that I had powdered it before leaving home? After all, I’m not wearing gloves and would have made myself sick, too. On the way back to the car, I think about the world we have created where it’s okay to use Round-Up in the garden, as much as you want, even if it ends up in our drinking water because it’s a free country, anything goes. But, at the post office, you’re expected to fess up to dangerous substances that might injure Federal workers, and if you try to send something toxic through the mail, you will get arrested. Seems like we need the same rules for our environment ….