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They Were Only Mostly Dead

, , , , , , | Working | October 25, 2018

(I become a manager in a post office in the early 1980s, and quickly gain a reputation with the union workers. It is first earned when I am called in to handle an office that is delivering an incredibly low percentage of the mail, which has only worsens in the week before I go in. After the introductions, I start my observations, and nobody’s behavior or stations immediately stand out as unusual. However, just as I turn my back to go double check the numbers, I spy someone throwing a few items into the pile for the Dead Letter Office, the resting place of any mail that absolutely cannot be delivered no matter the circumstances. On a hunch, I inspect an item within the obscenely large pile awaiting shipment, and I find the answer. Since the addresses written on the envelopes don’t magically change by themselves, even if the intended recipients’ addresses do, the post office itself has to change it for them after the change of address is filed. Today, that’s not a big deal, since we have computers, but this is the 1980s; while I cannot conclusively say the post office hasn’t started implementing computers yet, I can say that we aren’t anywhere near ready to begin the transition. As a result, looking up the change of address means extra leg-work and going through overstuffed filing cabinets looking for a matching name with just eyes. When mail reaches the Dead Letter Office, the process is repeated in order to ensure the item actually cannot be delivered and isn’t a simple error. If the Dead Letter Office is able to find an address for any mail, the mail is returned with the new address written on. In order to minimize their own work, this office has been foisting their own job of looking up forwarding addresses onto the Dead Letter Office. Rather than taking the one to three days it would normally take for this process to be completed, it instead takes up to a week to find the address and deliver it. I am never able to confirm this, but I believe the further drop in numbers is the result of a silent rebellion from the Dead Letter Office; they have realized they are being forced to do someone else’s job and have stopped applying new addresses to the mail, but the mail is then quickly sent back to the Dead Letter Office, trapping it in perpetual transit between the two. Rather than own up to having the evidence immediately, I instead talk to the other managers and supervisors, and make them agree to abide by whatever I say. Then, I gather the whole team for a meeting, after wheeling in the mail for the Dead Letter Office.)

Me: “As I said earlier, I’m here today because your numbers are down and we all want that problem fixed. After walking around, I noticed your mail for the Dead Letter Office is considerably higher than average. I can’t help but wonder if the mail in here is actually dead, something you’re supposed to be confirming yourself before it’s added to this pile. So, here’s what’s going to happen from now on. At the close of business every day, the other managers and I are going to review every item in this pile. If one item — just one item — could have been delivered, we’re calling in the inspectors, launching a formal investigation, and anyone it declares responsible for wilfully misdirecting mail will be fired.”

(I walk away and motion the rest of management to follow. No sooner than my back is turned, I hear the pile being deconstructed. I settle into my office afterwards. Not even five minutes after I close the meeting I receive a phone call.)

Me: “[Location] Post Office. This is [My Name]; how can I…”

Caller: “Who the f*** do you think you are?”

Me: “Who is this?”

Caller: “What are you, an a**hole?”

Me: *hangs up*

(The phone rings again almost instantly.)

Caller: “Did you just hang up on me?”

Me: “Who is this?”

Caller: “Answer the f****** question!”

Me: *hangs up*

(The cycle repeated for a bit until he finally figured out I wasn’t going to let some random person talk to me like that. I later found out from another manager that he was the union rep, and was not very pleased when he found out what I said during the meeting. And for those curious, I didn’t have to stay late that night looking up forwarding addresses, or any other night, because there was almost no mail being sent to the Dead Letter Office after that.)

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