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There were long, long lines. Customers were impatient. Clerks were rude and short-tempered. They were out of most of their stock. Furious patrons vowed they’d never be back. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But it wasn’t Christmas. It was just a regular day at my local post office.

The post offices I frequent— the Roland Park and Hampden branches— now close each afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m., triggering a scene of merriment worse than the mayhem of the season to be jolly.

Lines normally associated with the Nazarene’s birthday, the April tax deadline or an old-fashioned savings & loan bank run are now daily sights. As Bob Dylan reminds us, “The post office has been stolen and the mailbox is locked …” I imagine a similar scene is occurring throughout the city as post offices shut their doors for one- or two-hour spans (not the same spans, of course, because that would be too user-friendly). Some now close for the day at 1 p.m., making even bankers look like they’re doing overtime. If your post office has not started closing, don’t worry, it will soon enough.

At the Roland Park station, the automated stamp machines broke during the reign of Reagan and were never repaired. The old photocopy machine, a device that might be useful at a post office, died. So did the plants. Recently, drawings by small children based on their heart-warming visits to the post office were removed. (Why add insult to injury?) All of the old clerks have been transferred or retired and now only one harried clerk staffs the counter most days.

The clock has been removed, too. Why remind customers how long they’ve been in line?

Perhaps the end of the postal service should not surprise us. First they took away most of the corner mailboxes. Then they reduced hours. The mail arrives later and later every day. Soon they’ll throw Saturday mail under the bus. The cost of mailing has gone up as the service has gone down. The price of the first-class stamp in my lifetime has rocketed from 3 cents to 44 cents, more than half that increase occurring in the past 20 years.

Lately the funsters at the postal service have been running these madcap TV ads designed to make it seem simple and even fun to go to the post office. It’s just one big happy family. No problem. No worries. We’re your pals at the U.S. Postal Service. There’s lots of smiling, and I think there’s hugging, too! The ads are beyond preposterous. People taking hallucinogenic drugs must be making them.

Not long ago I was selected to complete a customer satisfaction survey about the postal service. It came on the very day that my mail was delivered after 5 p.m., the two weekly newspapers I subscribe to arrived two weeks late, and I’d stood in line for one hour at my local branch. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Americans are losing their sense of humor.

The salutation alone was the first belly laff.

“Dear Valued Customer…”

Valued customer?

Some days I receive mail that has been chewed up by either animals or machinery. I get a lot of mail that is wet. We’ve had droughts and my mail was wet! I get mail for people who lived at my address when James Polk was in the White House. When I get mail for my neighbors, I deliver it to the correct addresses, as they are nearby and I can use the exercise. (I know that this is probably a federal crime and that the FBI may come and see me now because they aren’t very busy.) This gives me an opportunity to engage in banter with other members of the valued customer family. Most of them do not like the postal service, either.

I did not bother to fill out the survey. Like most of my countrymen I rarely go postal. I have largely eliminated the postal service from my life. The Internet, UPS and FedEx have made that possible.

When I was a child, the mail was delivered by a postman right out of the imaginings of Norman Rockwell, a grandfatherly gent with a good word for one and all. He whistled. You could time his arrival with a calibrated watch. Even dogs liked him.

Once, mailmen were the cheerful face of the government at its best— patient, helpful and reliable. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail, and all that. We don’t have a regular mail carrier now, and we haven’t for years. We never get mail if it snows. NEVER.

And now, everything at my local post office seems like a bad omen. Last year, they left the flag up all year, near as I can figure. Those broad stripes and bright stars that flew over Fort McHenry during the perilous fight flew every day and every night. They never took it down! Finally, the flag disintegrated, just sort of unraveled in the wind, much like the postal service.

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