Metatalktail Hour: Speaking of the mail.... January 10, 2021 4:47 PM   Subscribe

More than usual, people are interacting via the post office, various delivery services, and sometimes becoming their own delivery services. I'd like to talk about the mail (since postal trivia is one of my nerdy interests). Tell me a story about the mail, or delivery of some kind, past, present, or future.

As always, conversation starter, not limiter, so tell us what is going on with you!
posted by jessamyn (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 4:47 PM (61 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Me, I am mostly looking forward to these glorious stamps by Rico Lanáat’ Worl.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:48 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


I just recently ended a two-week quarantine prior to shifting over to my work location, so I ended up having a lot of things delivered! I had groceries delivered a couple of times via Instacart (I know, but it was my only option to get food since I wasn't allowed to go to the stores). The local liquor store delivered via (oddly enough) FedEx same-day shipping. I had forgotten some things at home, so I got replacements via overnight shipping from Amazon.

It was my first experience getting stuff sent to me at a hotel, and it worked out fine. I also managed to avoid getting covid despite horrible flight delays and shitty anti-maskers all over the place down here, so I can get down to work.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:59 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


There is a man in Canada who is well known for his mail order pumpkin seed business. So well known that a letter addressed to "Mr. Pumpkin, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Canada" got all the way to him through the USPS and Canada Post.

I read this story a long time ago, but it was just in the news again recently.
posted by FishBike at 5:07 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


The goddamn Girl Scout cookies that were supposed to be delivered Wednesday are at a fedex facility an hour away and not in my belly
posted by dismas at 5:38 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


If you're in D.C. when there isn't a pandemic, I highly recommend visiting the National Postal Museum, which has interesting exhibits on stamps, postal inspectors and USPS history. They also have the somewhat unnerving taxidermied Owney, canine mascot of the railway mail system.

It's right next to Union Station, so a great visit if you come in by train, or want to visit the train station, which you also should!
posted by the primroses were over at 5:41 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


In the summer of 1978 I corresponded with my elementary school crush by letter - I lived "in town" in the very rural Midwest and he lived on a farm. One day he mailed a letter to me in the morning at the post office while passing through town; I picked up the letter from our PO box, rode my bike home, wrote a reply, dropped it off at the same post office letter box, and it made it onto the delivery truck so that he received the reply the same day. I'm still amazed that the timing worked out - it was the closest thing to email I experienced until email itself was invented. :)

I believe stamps cost 13c each at the time, though I might have the rate wrong - I know it was 13c sometime when I lived there because I'd buy them from a dispensed-from-a-roll vending machine and I'd get one 10c and 3 1c stamps with loose change from my piggy bank.
posted by sencha at 5:43 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


If you have something in a letter envelope that you're worried won't go through the machines, you can tell them, and they'll throw it in a basket of mail that doesn't go through the machines.
posted by aniola at 6:06 PM on January 10


Having been a postal employee for the past 25 years, I've seen people try to mail some of the oddest things.

Shipments of biddies (young chicks) from hatcheries - and during the Easter season we would occasionally get a shipment of chicks dyed in different colors ( pink, blue, green and purple).

A package addressed to a soldier overseas that turned out to be alcohol - and not the store bought variety. We discovered it when the package accidentally burst open on the dock. If you had walked into the facility you would have thought we were running a still.

A fully assembled rifle mailed back to the US from a soldier in Afghanistan - and not an American rifle either.

A pair of roosters, mailed in separate containers. One of them broke out of its container and assaulted the other one.
posted by Roger Pittman at 6:07 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


A year after my godmother died, right around Valentine's Day, her daughter got a Valentine's Day card from her in her mailbox. Apparently it had been sent the previous year and lost in the mail. It was spooky as hell.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:10 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


When I was a kid, I was a frequent pen-pal with old school friends, with the boys I met on a trip to Rome, and with just random people I met and connected with. In middle school (early 80s), the Swedish post office made a set of stickers that you were supposed to use to communicate things like "We are best friends!" and "I miss you!" by sticking them on the outside of the envelope. They had different meanings if they were upside down, the sticker sheet said. (I can't find any record of these online, sadly.)

I would always use those stickers with this one girl who was my best friend and then moved away in fourth grade. We stopped communicating a few years later, and I hadn't even seen or thought of her for decades (especially after I moved to the US). A few years ago, she found me online and we talked via email. She told me she still had all the letters I had sent her, that they all had those great stickers on them, and that she loved them so much. It was super great! (Let's not discuss how horrible I felt that I didn't have any of her letters saved! I guess an overseas move absolves me somewhat...)

Internet communication is great, but I miss mail. I think I have some of the stickers left in a drawer at my parents' house in Sweden, may have to see if I can dig them up and use them again for something. If I ever get to go back there to pick them up, that is!
posted by gemmy at 6:10 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


When I was little, I was convinced that raising the mailbox flag locked the mailbox. Therefore, the mailbox was the most logical place to store my treasures. Apparently, the postal worker and my dad had several conversations in which they discussed their bafflement of how a bird was getting in the mailbox to build a nest (my treasures being wildflowers and pretty rocks and interesting looking weeds). Eventually, the bird mystery was solved when little me informed my parents that the mailbox lock was broken because someone kept removing my treasure.

My parents still bring this up, more than 35 years later.
posted by Ruki at 9:05 PM on January 10 [18 favorites]


I couldn't go back to visit family for Christmas like I normally do (state borders are shut in Australia), and so my presents were posted to me. Both my mum and my sister got my mailing address wrong. In different ways.

I'm fine, really. Just sad and fixating on small things.
posted by kjs4 at 9:09 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]



You remember when citibank said they would replace your credit card anywhere in the world within 24 hours? If you were in a difficult location they called me. I got to see some supercool archeological sites all over the world.

I loved it until the time this guy looked at his watch and said I was late. I'd never been hit by shrapnel before and he was whining. He had air conditioning and the whole rest of the country was out of gas. The army was slaughtering peasants up by the lake. 30, 70, 200 - depends who you ask.

People look at me and don't think I can pick them up by their mandible. I said I was not late. He said how about a drink. I put him down.

He'd been listening to the shooting getting closer all day. I spent the night and he told me a better way to get back to the airport. He made a frittata and decided to come with me when a shell landed in the pool. We got half way before having to give up the vehicle to marauders. They also took his credit card.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:28 PM on January 10 [20 favorites]


It is not much of a story, but I still have fond memories of Jimmy the mailman who was our letter carrier growing up. He walked his route with the huge leather bag on his shoulder. He would only walk up the driveway and on a walk to get to the house mail slot. He would not walk across the grass as a shortcut to the next house. No mailboxes in front. Mail slot in your door. He would always stop to say hello to me and my brothers when we were playing basketball in the backyard. He loved to talk basketball with us. As we got older and started playing for our high school team, he actually came to a few of the games. Turned out he was all County in basketball in his day and played for a rival high school to ours. He also was the embodiment of the USPS slogan. I do not remember him ever taking a sick day nor did he ever not deliver no matter how much snow or rain was falling. My mother would tell me that he asked after us when we moved out and went to college.

Oh, I remember the one time he let me lift his bag. It was a huge leather thing with about 20 houses worth of mail in it. He would work 10 houses on one side and then work back 10 on the other side to get to his "jeep" and refill the bag. We were a little less than halfway. Parenthetically, you could set your watch to Jimmy. At our house at 2:45 everyday. Anyway, he was watching us shoot hoops and put his bag down. I was about 14. Weighed maybe a buck 10. I asked him if his bag was heavy. He smiled and said you get used to it. "Could I try it?" I asked. "Sure" he replied. With help, his help, I got it up to my shoulder and immediately fell over. He just smiled and said, "I told you it takes some getting used to."

These days the USPS is much maligned. THere is the myth of the worker "going postal". From way back then to now, I find the postal workers to all be cheerful and pleasant to deal with and quite frankly the service, mail a first class letter for less than a dollar and it gets anywhere in the country in 2 or 3 days, a pretty darn good deal.

Last observation, but I recall that stamps are actually considered legal tender. They sell them at the grocery store. Ask your cashier for a book and they will actually have them or send you to the service desk. I keep meaning to buy like a bag of chips and pay them in stamps, but I never remember to bring my stamps.
posted by AugustWest at 9:47 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


I went to Italy in the mid 80’s and would send postcards to friends and relatives daily. I really liked the people watching in the Florence post office. What puzzled me was the array of stamps used - the worker would open a big book, with stamps under a fly leaf and pick the stamps for the post cards, never the same stamps, even for same-sized postcards. It was fascinating.
In an Irish post office in a very small town, I saw the postal worker refuse to serve someone unless they hung up their mobile phone. I *loved* that!
posted by dbmcd at 11:19 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I am a total fan of cool postage stamps, and I confess I often buy some planning to use them but just keep them because they're so great. (Which is fine by me, because it supports an institution I really believe in, and is a really, really cheap way to do it.)

My latest favorites are the The Snowy Day stamps (if you don't know The Snowy Day, it's WONDERFUL) and the Ruth Asawa stamps (apparently no longer available).

(Also THANK GOODNESS FOR FOREVER STAMPS. Having to buy penny stamps and stick them on when the rates changed was such a stupid thing, even if the penny chandelier stamps were quite pretty.)

I currently have a bunch of Sarah Vaughan, dinosaur, and Sally Ride stamps.

Stamps are great.
posted by kristi at 11:48 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


When my sister was away at boarding school, my mom sent her delicious homemade fastelavnsboller. They took a detour... and arrived three weeks later, all green and fuzzy with mold :(
posted by rawrberry at 12:53 AM on January 11


When we lived in the UK we'd go to auctions all the time, mostly for my partner to find books for her book business. Sometimes this meant buying a larger lot of stuff that also included random letters and maps and whatnot.

One box we bought was full of Victorian vinegar valentines. It was a wild collection and a bit of a chore to sell them off to various places like a couple to the Wellcome trust and this one valentine for a Postman which was bought by the National Postal Museum in London.
posted by vacapinta at 1:22 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Thanks to everyone who sent me cards for the holiday card exchange!
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:21 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


People look at me and don't think I can pick them up by their mandible.

This is my new mental illustration for the word "understated."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:27 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


In my teens I had a long-distance relationship for a while, and the young lady in question mailed me one of her earrings, in the first letter she sent me. I think the idea was that she had pinned the letter shut with the earring. It got pretty severely squished by the sorting machine, and so the post (heh) got wrenched out parallel with the rest of the earring, and the back vanished completely, or so I thought. I found that earring-back probably six months or more after I opened the envelope. It had avoided the vacuum cleaner by lying in the dent one of my bedlegs made in the rug.

Recently, this Xmas, in fact, I found out (I hadn't considered it before, really) that many websites can't or won't ship to multiple addresses in a single order. I don't know if that's for purposes of taxation, or calculating shipping, or something else I haven't thought of.

One of the things I miss about magazines is, in the mail section of some (kids' magazines, mostly), they would print images of spectacular fanart drawn on envelopes. I doubt very much that kids are drawing fanart on envelopes any more, and almost certainly not mailing letters to magazines any more, and all of that contains a lot of lost stuff from the past that makes me kinda sad.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:51 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I discovered a friend of my mum's collects stamps so I sent him the interesting international ones I got in the card swap!

I'm currently seeing how long a box will take to arrive from England in a time when some delivery companies there have stopped shipping to Europe thanks to the B word!
posted by ellieBOA at 2:51 AM on January 11


I got a Happy New Year postcard from my last-year-Secret-Gift-Swap-Giver in Japan, emmling! A nice little surprise this weekend.

Tipping people at Christmas isn't really a huge thing here in the UK but this year we'd had so much post delivered by one particular Royal Mail person and one particular parcel delivery person that we gave them both a Christmas card with a tenner in. Not a huge amount but hopefully showed that were were grateful.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:06 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I used to work in the complaints department for Royal Mail, the UK's oldest postal service, which was state-owned from 1516 until 2015 (a mere 499 years) when the government sold its remaining shares. Anyone who's done customer service work for the kind of organisation where in theory the whole country is your customer can imagine some of the enquiries we saw. The time I had to write a letter explaining how cheques work in fairly explicit detail after we had a complaint about a cheque lost in the mail and the person was demanding we refund them the full value of the uncashed cheque sticks in my memory in particular.

A common form of compensation if you could prove that something had been lost in the mail but the item was of negligible value or you couldn't prove the value of the item you lost (i.e. you didn't have a receipt included with your claim or proof that you'd withdrawn money that had been lost, like an ATM receipt) was a book of six first-class stamps. This was at least somewhat well-known among the subset of consumers who love to game a system, so if an individual had received more than a certain number of books of six first-class stamps, the database would flag future complaints as a possible fraud attempt. I once received a complaint from a gentleman who wrote on his form "please do not insult my intelligence by sending me a book of six first-class stamps"; my delight on finding he was actually entitled to a book of twelve first-class stamps was immense, my only regret that I never got to see the look on his face when he opened that particular compensation letter.

There was plenty of general-purpose lack of effective form-reading, as you might expect from an audience of complainers that consists of basically everyone; the complaint forms had a box to include the name of your business in case you were claiming compensation for business mail losses rather than personal, and it was not at all uncommon to see personal complaints submitted with wording along the lines of "private person" in that box, even though the form made it clear that one did not need to fill that box in if one was not acting on behalf of a business when making a complaint.

Probably the wildest active mail scam while I was working there was when people would claim to have mailed something as expensive as the special delivery insurance limit would cover (iirc it was around £500 unless you bought additional insurance), e.g. a camcorder (in the days before everyone had a camcorder in their pocket in the form of a smartphone) that they had proof of purchase for, when they'd actually mailed a box of potatoes (or similar) that were roughly the same weight as the expensive item and then claimed that somehow some unscrupulous postal worker had tampered with their mail, stolen the item during transit and replaced it with the same weight in potatoes. This was functionally impossible given the way the special delivery mail process worked at the time, so this kind of claim immediately got flagged as fraud. And the way the complaints system worked back then meant that occasionally people would send in this box of potatoes as proof of mail tampering, so if one turned up in the boxes of complaint forms we'd need to pass a box of potatoes over to the fraud team.

The other main thing I learned was that some people will sell absolutely anything on eBay, and will claim for it if it goes missing or gets damaged. The number of times I had to process complaints that were basically £2 worth of McDonald's happy meal toys (not even rare/collectible ones) that had gone missing in the post was astounding.

This was, in retrospect, a lot of words about the mail for someone who initially read the title and thought "I have nothing to contribute to this thread".
posted by terretu at 4:15 AM on January 11 [17 favorites]


Beekeepers can order bees, to be delivered by the U.S. postal service. The queen is in a little cage, inside a larger wire mesh crate that is full of bees. Additional bees hang around the outside of the crate; I do not know if they are escapees or stray bees who decided to tag along. The outside bees hang pretty close to the crate because of the queen's pheromones. They are pretty docile and uninterested in anything other than getting back into the hive, but the buzzing and flying around can be a little unnerving.

Which explains the phone call from our rather excited post master one morning, inviting us to come pick up our package immediately.

I can understand why they did not want to bring it out in the usual afternoon delivery truck.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:21 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


When I was a kid, and we didn't have stamps in the house, we used a clothes pin to attach nickels, dimes and pennies to a letter, and put it in the rural route mailbox to be picked up.

I remember when you had to lick the stamps to activate the glue. I admit I kind of miss that.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:29 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I recently received a message from a cousin - her son has started collecting stamps and she wondered if I could collect a few that I receive (I'm in Sweden, they're in Australia) and send them on to him. I have essentially no contact with her, and have never met her son, but I'm happy to help.

I barley get any mail with stamps though, so I put the word out on my (very small town) facebook page and now the local stampcollecting club has given me a few books full of stamps, and several locals have stopped by with bits and pieces of their own collections - all for this Australian boy, a relative of someone they've never met who happens to live in their town.

After this mess of a year it feels really nice to have a concrete 'good' thing happen - people taking time and energy to help someone else for no personal benefit. I'm going to put all the stamps together in a nice little package, and maybe send a letter as well about all the various people that have come together to help him out. I feel much more invested in this project than I did at the start, and am really looking forward to sending out a spectacular package :)

(Speaking of which, if anyone has some interesting stamps they want to send to a boy in Australia who loves his new stamp collecting hobby, memail me and I'll send an address :) )
posted by twirlypen at 4:58 AM on January 11 [12 favorites]


I moved to a new place in June. My dog DOES NOT LIKE one of our mail carriers. When he sees her start to circulate the block he comes back to me in my office and cries. It's how I know the mail is about to arrive.

One day we went and sat outside and waited for her, thinking maybe if he saw me talk to her that would show him she's good people. He sat down by the front of the gate vibrating from stress the whole time she went up to other houses, and then ran up to the stoop to hide behind me when she showed up at ours.

I've got one of those fun mail slots on the front wall of my house, and a few folks have suggested that maybe it's because she comes all the way up to the front door that he doesn't like her? That theory was plausible for a while, but here's the thing: he doesn't act this way, barely reacts at all, for any of the other couriers who come all the way up the stoop to my door. Only this mail carrier.

And then! And then! To further complicate this, we had a substitute mail carrier for a few weeks, and he didn't react to her at all. He also doesn't react to the nights & weekends mail carriers. Just this one lady.
posted by phunniemee at 5:56 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


If you mail a letter today using stamps from the year I was born, you'll need 11 stamps.
posted by JanetLand at 6:02 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Three mail stories.

* When I was a child, I wanted to send a fan letter to Charles Schulz; I looked up what I thought was the address of his agent, and sent him a letter complete with a little drawing of a dancing Snoopy. However - I had been looking at an outdated reference book, and my letter arrived at a typewriter company. One of the secretaries returned it with a note explaining what happened and reassuring me that "I'm sure Mr. Schulz would have liked your drawing very much". Somehow this struck me, even then, as a very Charlie Brown thing to have happen.

* This Christmas, my parents' package to me was one of the many packages that had unexpected delays. They brought it to their local post office on December 11th, and on about the 15th, they started regularly asking me if I got it. I had to keep telling them no. They gave me the tracking number; all that the post office said was that it was in transit. Finally my father visited their local post office on the 22nd to ask them to look into things. That generated a more robust tracking, and both they and I followed it the rest of the way all the way. We are all still baffled about why it took the package twelve days to get from Cape Cod to Springfield, Mass - I'm assuming it went through Narnia.

* This is a good one.

At my last apartment, one summer day I got a package slip in my mailbox. I walked to the post office the next day to pick it up; the agent I spoke to at package claim went into the back room to look for it, but after a few minutes came out and said he couldn't find it. I'd had bad luck with this post office before, so persuaded him to look a second time. He did so - for just a minute. "I don't understand, I have this slip here, though," I said.

"Maybe it's still on the truck," the agent said.

"Huh?"

"Maybe he just didn't feel like delivering there and it's from today, and so when he gets back it'll be here. Try coming back tomorrow."

"But...I got it yesterday."

"Sometimes people do that, they put in the slip and don't bring the package back here and try again."

"That doesn't....make sense."

"Well, if you have a complaint," he told me, "here's the 800 number. Maybe complain against that agent."

I said okay, and walked out, still baffled. A block away I saw a mail truck parked on the sidewalk, and a mailman was eating his lunch. On a whim I stopped there. "Sorry to bother you, but I have a weird question - would a mail carrier ever put a slip in a mailbox just because they don't feel like delivering the package?"

"Huh? No."

"Or put a slip in one day and they try again the next day?"

"No, that's weird."

"I thought so too..." and then I explained the conversation with the previous agent. I mentioned my address. "Oh, hey, you're my route," he said. "Listen, I could look in the back, but I don't remember any packages for you today and I am eating lunch..."

"No, I understand," I said. "Hey, you'll never get what that guy in the office said about you..." and I told him the rest of the conversation.

He got very still. "Is THAT what he said?" I nodded. He dropped his sandwich, grabbed his keys and started up his mail truck. "You go head on back to the post office," he said. "We are going to sort this out RIGHT NOW. You head on back and go wait in the lobby." And he started driving towards the mail truck entry for the post office.

I only had a half a block to walk. When I walked in, the agent I'd spoken with earlier spotted me and called over, "Did you call that 800 number?"

"Oh, I did something even better," I said cheerfully. He just blinked at me and then went back to whatever he was doing.

I waited there for about two or three minutes, and then suddenly my mail carrier appeared at the package pickup window, scaring the hell out of the other agent. "Miss? I have your package right here." I walked over to the window, took it from him and thanked him, and as I was walking out, he was turning to the other agent and saying "now, what the HELL were you saying about me forgetting to put packages in holding?...."

I sometimes wish I'd lingered to hear how the rest of that conversation went down.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


My mail carriers are great. When I was away for months, the Post Office didn't get my hold request, and when my mailbox was overfull, Billy stored it at the PO in totes. I made him a blueberry pie. If I make cookies, I usually leave some. Want news about our town? Ask the mail carriers. Chatted with Billy the other afternoon, sadly, he thinks masks are unnecessary and Covid is not that big a deal. I told him some true stories from our state, asked him to be careful.

I got a big bag of stamp from freecycle for mail art and collage. Stamps are cool, beautiful, often a reflection of the art a culture is making.

If there's interest in a mailart swap on MeFi, I'd be happy to organize it. MeFi card club has been really great; brightened my Covid Christmas.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


The summer after my sophomore year of college in the mid 80s I was at home up in the Chicago suburbs and my first “in love” boyfriend was home in southern Illinois. Both of us had summer jobs, neither of us had our own car, long distance calls were expensive. Of course, no cell phones or texting or even email. So we wrote letters.

I can still remember coming home and finding letters from him waiting for me on the kitchen table. And I remember writing back and calculating how long it would take to get to him and then if he waited a couple of days to write back how long it would take to get the next letter from him...and re reading all his letters in order...this went on all summer.

It was so lovely and romantic and I kind of feel sorry for people who never got to experience that.

We broke up about a year later but stayed in contact a bit for a few years after we graduated. About ten years ago I learned that he had died. I still have all those letters. I don’t read them but I have them.
posted by bookmammal at 6:53 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I have a shoebox full of all the letters I received my freshman year of college, 1982-1983. Over the years I've thought about opening the box and rereading them, but nostalgia gets more and more painful the older I get so I suspect the time for doing that has passed.

I started writing letters to my mother the last year and a half or so of her life, mostly to use my typewriter and collection of old business letterheads. She never wrote back (people never do, I find), but she liked getting them very much. When we cleaned out her house after she died I found them in various drawers and boxes and brought them all home with me.
posted by JanetLand at 7:17 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


One time I sent a letter to my friend in Vermont with only her first name and zip code. The letter read, in its entirely, "I just wanted to see if this works"

She got it.
posted by bondcliff at 7:28 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I thought I had a great bit of postal trivia but I now can’t find confirmation of it online and I’m wondering if it was made up or if I have a detail wrong. I heard it from an old relative who was a longtime postal worker and also dabbled in collecting and selling rare books. The story goes: one of the dozen or so Gutenberg Bibles in libraries in the United States was donated to the library by a millionaire (of course) in the early 20th century who was also an eccentrically enthusiastic fan of the US Postal Service. So instead of hiring professional art handlers to get this rare item to the library, he packed it up in a crate stuffed with excelsior, brought it to his local post office, and sent it like a regular package—like, with stamps. That’s how confident he was in the dependability of the USPS. And though the receiving library freaked out about the method of transporting a Gutenberg Bible, the book got there just fine.

Does anyone else know this story? I want to say the millionaire was a Vanderbilt or some Roosevelt-adjacent Gilded Age type like Ogden Livingston Mills, but I’m not finding it that way. And I had in my head that the particular copy being mailed was the Gutenberg at the Huntington in Pasadena or the Morgan in NYC, but I’m not finding that either. However: the Morgan Library’s writeup of the provenance of its Gutenberg is a fantastic read if your favorite part of heist movies or The Maltese Falcon is the plausible-sounding history of where the loot came from!

This was a fun rabbit hole to fall down; it turns out I’ve seen at least four Gutenberg Bibles, none of them sent by mail AFAICT. But now I’m curious to know if this story’s true or not & will keep digging around.
posted by miles per flower at 8:13 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


When I was fourteen, my best friend had mono at the same time that I was home with a back condition. We would write long letters, draw cartoons, devise little games, etc., then every day my aunt would drive over to her house, drop my packet off, and pick up hers.

I now live in a small town where for many years I had an office downtown. If the UPS guy found the office closed, why then he would just (correctly) assume I was home having lunch and drive it up to the house.

Our current UPS driver is an absolute gem. He loves his job, knows all the dogs by name, and if you ask how he’s doing he says “I’m out making people happy!”

In a different kind of delivery, the other day I had occasion to enter one friend’s empty home, retrieve a package, walk it over to another friend’s empty home and drop it off for him on his kitchen table, and I thought well this is probably unusual now for most people in this country. I feel lucky to still be living this way.
posted by HotToddy at 8:56 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


A friend moved from the US to Ireland for work some years back. Because of how his housing had been arranged, he didn't know his address, just the directions from town. So he went to the post office to find out what address should be put on his mail. "Which house? What's your name? You'll get your mail." I think his full address ended up being "name, name of house, town, county."

My favorite USPS story is also my favorite State Department story. About a month before leaving for a year abroad in college, I realized I should actually make sure my passport was valid all the way until my planned return date, instead of just my vague memory it was valid through then. Turned out it expired the month I left, not the month I was to return a year later. Oops.

You could pay extra when filing your passport renewal if you needed expedited handling, and the form for that had you fill in your departure date. I sent everything off as soon as I could, paid the extra $20 or so, and waited. I mailed it on a Monday. That Saturday I was home alone, watching Saturday Night Live, when the phone rang. "May I speak with [my full name]?" Speaking. "You have mail from the State Department. Are you available for me to bring it by now?" It's 11:30 on Saturday night. That won't be necessary. "I will deliver it tomorrow. Will you be home?" That won't be necessary. It can come in Monday's mail. "It's special delivery. I'll bring it tomorrow. Will you be home?"

Sure enough, Sunday afternoon a USPS van pulled up in the driveway and I got my new passport, less than a week after I had sent off the renewal. Special delivery really is something.
posted by fedward at 9:50 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


When I moved down to Monument Valley, Utah, to teach art at the high school there, a coworker told me it would take more than a year to get a post office box, don't even try, just get your mail at the school. So, of course, I went immediately to the post office, where the sweetest and most soft spoken man greeted me, this is at Oljato, Utah. I asked about a box, and he said he had boxes but only a big one. "I asked, how much is that?" He answered, "Six dollars." I asked, "A month?" "No," he said, "Just six dollars, it covers the cost of making new keys later." It turns out there are no addresses on the Navajo Nation, a left over from US cruelty, no one reveals where they live, unless they want to get their power turned on, then they have to draw a map, because, there are no addresses...

My oldest friends want to start writing letters, and I am down with that, except for the mental sludge I have about doing anything...getting started with anything.
posted by Oyéah at 10:28 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


One time I sent a letter to my friend in Vermont

That was me!!

We are all still baffled about why it took the package twelve days to get from Cape Cod to Springfield, Mass - I'm assuming it went through Narnia.

My partner sent me a holiday package--we were all NO PRESENTS this year, but I said I'd like one of his homemade cards for Xmas--on the 18th that went to Springfield before it came up here. And it stayed there for weeks. I think they had some staffing shortages and maybe other issues, all I know is any package that went to Springfield didn't come out again for a long time. Upshot: I got the package on January 2nd because my well-meaning-but-not-great-at-following-instructions partner had decided to also send me a bag of pork rinds (I do love them), so what would have been a card in an envelope had turned into an awkward sized parcel that got stuck in a sorting facility.

This was the day of the Gala and I was really tired out afterwards (for obvious but also not-obvious reasons) and I opened the package which did not have a card (it had a heartfelt kind of letter, but it wasn't what I wanted and I am one of those rigid-expectations people) and I just lost it with all the bottled up sadness I've been having this whole damned last year. Felt bad for not_on_display who, in his lovable ADD style, had thought he was going "above and beyond" instead of not doing the one thing I'd asked him to do. So I had a good cry and we had a good talk and he sent me another smol package a bit later and it made it here in two days.

if you ask how he’s doing he says “I’m out making people happy!”

The guy at my post office--Bruce whose business I know a bit more than usual because he has a trans kid and our local rural newspaper did a nice piece on some of the trans kids in our region (and their families) when there was some bathroom panic that the paper was responding to--whenever I say "Thank you" he'll reply with "No, I'm thanking you!"

I'm heading there right now, mailing off more maple candy and some food bank donations. Maybe I'll get some stamps when I'm there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:34 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Three entries
So my post office trivia also involves another thing I like—train travel. One year for my husband’s birthday, I booked us on an historical steam-powered train excursion that left the Alexandria VA train station and traveled to Charlottesville. It was a delightful trip on a beautiful day. There were a variety of historic passenger cars—open windows, open cars, where passengers could sit and talk to other train lovers. Lots of families with picnics. Also lots of cinders blowing in because of the open windows/cars. Sidings all along the route were packed with well-wishers waving & honking. I have one of those flashes of memory where I see two kids & a dog running down a long green lawn toward the train, calling & waving. In Charlottesville, we had several hours to eat, tour, whatever, and we could watch the engine on the turntable.

The postal part? The USPS had authorized an official Railway Post Office car on the train for the one-day excursion. It was staffed by retired railway postal workers. We could buy vintage postcards and mail them from the train with a special postmark from the day. We mailed cards to everyone whose address we could remember! The Railway Postal Workers were sharing the stories of their careers—a mixture of postal clerk stories and railroader stories.

It was all so much fun and a truly memorable trip.

I do love the post office. As a little kid, my brother once mailed a letter addressed to Grandma & the zip code. It was delivered to her, based on his name in the return address. His last name was not the same as hers. Small town PO at its best.

Another one—a postal mystery. I mailed my daughter in Chicago a package in a priority box from our local post office with a printed label with her info. It didn’t arrive after several days, so I went online to look. It showed as delivered to an address in a small California town—not one number in the two addresses was the same. So I talked to the station manager here, who planned to call the CA PO when it opened. He did, but didn’t have any new info when I talked to him again. He assured me he would get to the bottom of this. A couple of days later, my daughter called to say it had shown up at her apartment. I called the station manager back to report; no one could explain the mix-up. It seems the recipient had done the right thing and sent the package on, but why would a mail carrier leave it at some random CA address?
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:41 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


This thread inspired me to check the tracking, and I have now learned that the last of my outbound cookie swap packages was delivered Saturday. It only took 22 days to get from DC to Philadelphia. The first delivery, to Greensboro, NC, only took three.
posted by fedward at 11:23 AM on January 11


My dad was a postal worker, so I grew up around post offices. They're pretty drab places, especially pre-internet when we had to walk there barefoot in the snow uphill both ways and whatnot. But what they do have in abundance is rubber bands. My siblings and I had some pretty epic rubber band wars.

And... wow. This is one of the first real "I'm old" moments of my life. I spent a lot of time in post offices, and that's all I can remember? The memory is slipping. I do remember the color brown, though. Lots of brown.

I'm still a member of the Springfield (Ohio) Postal Employees Credit Union. My dad set up savings accounts for us when we were like 12, and I somehow never closed mine. I still get a statement every month demonstrating the power of compound interest.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:52 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


After having seen Canada's postal system, I don't understand the US postal system. It makes no sense. We label an entire town with a given zip code (example '04653') and the mail goes to a smaller mail facility to be sorted and determined which vehicle it gets loaded into and magically it gets to you. When a place grows and changes, we jam in a new zip code and change everybody's zip code that is affected and new routes have to be figured out. It is bonkers. We think that it doesn't happen, but zip code boundaries change all the time. Maybe not yours - but a bunch of them do in some random place and that means - you can't map it from year to year. I mean, its close - but towns add streets and it just turns into a nightmare.

The closest things that ZIPs map to is ZCTA (ZIP Code Tabluation Areas), which are census tracts, which are built up from blocks and block groups. Blocks are the areas that census workers have to investigate where people live and block groups are adjacent areas of these. ZCTA from kind of more logical lines for zip codes, but as one can guess - since the census only comes every 10 years - ZCTAs don't change fast enough for the postal service. Basically it is a mess. ON EDIT: In specific your ZCTA may not line up with your ZIP.
--
So let's talk Canada... Canada operates with 6 alphanumeric characters arranged into two triplets. The first 3 are [Alphabetic][Numeric][Alphabetic]. The second three are [Numeric][Alphabetic][Numeric]. The first three represents a physical area 'K0C' (somewhere in Ontario) and then '1P0' would represent the 'Milk Run' that the mail carrier travels in order to deliver your mail. Add a road, or have mail for the same street travel on a different mail truck - its a totally different ending triplet!
--
So in order to explain where someone is in the US - we do a 5 digit zip + 4 additional bits of information that really can sometimes just be for the same place. It makes no sense!. at 5 digits, we have a maximum of 100,000 separate areas. With the added +4 we get more- but the zip +4 doesn't have a sub boundary, the +4 is purely imaginary. So sure... we can have up to a billion unique entities, but a bunch of them can be on top of themselves - so they serve no logical purpose.
--
Such is not the case with Canada. Canada provides a clear geography with the first 3. I mean, there are maximally 6,760 geographies with which to define Canada. Then you've got 2,600 separate milk runs per geography, giving you a region and an exact route to get to someone's home - just by knowing their zip code! There are 17,576,m000 unique possibilities in that case. Or if Canada really wanted to stretch things out - every two people could be on a different milk run - It'd be dumb, but it'd work.

Anyways... both of these are vastly superior to the British system, which as far as I can tell relies on knowing trivia for landmarks that may have been removed a hundred years ago, and you could legitimately live at a street address that requires fractions because who needs logic anyway? I mean, for some areas, being a postal worker in London has got to be as hard as being a cabby...
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:20 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Oh and I had a great-uncle who was the most spectacular calligrapher, the kind where the letters turned into birds and flowers and fairies and every fanciful thing you could think of. This he would do on the envelopes of all his letters, and everyone in my family had framed envelopes on the wall. I remember my grandma telling me that the postman asked if he could have one.

Much later, when I got married and moved across the country, I started doing paintings of my little homestead life on the envelopes for letters to my mom. At the start of covid I was sorting through old boxes of photos and ephemera she had kept and found some of these.
posted by HotToddy at 12:28 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


(copied from a previous AskMe answer):
This is the true story about how I mailed poop.

About 15 years ago I was living in New York City, in a place where if you wanted to mail a letter you had to walk to the big mailbox on the corner. On that particular day I had an important letter to send, that had to go out that morning. So I put the letter in my pocket, put the dog on the leash and went for our morning walk. But I can be a forgetful person, so as I was walking the dog I kept repeating to myself, "Don't forget to mail the letter. Don't forget to mail the letter." So the dog did her business ("Don't forget to mail the letter. Don't forget to mail the letter.") and I cleaned up after her ("Don't forget to mail the letter. Don't forget to mail the letter.") and I walked to the corner and I mailed the letter. And then I realized that the letter was still in my pocket.

Yep, I mailed the poop.

And you can't reach in to the big mailbox because everything drops to the bottom and your hand won't fit in the slot.

So then I freaked out because I couldn't put the letter in the mailbox because what if the poopbag opened and my letter got poop on it and the cops would find it and say "You mailed poop. You go to jail!" (this was always my son's favorite part of the story) So I had to sneak down the block in the other direction to mail the letter in a different mailbox and then ran back home and hid for a week. Or at least it felt that way.

I did not go to jail

But I am still very worried that because I just posted this, I might.

(and if your child is like my child this is often when we would segue into the story of Al Capone and why you don't mess with the postal system, but that's just us)
posted by Mchelly at 2:08 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


When we were in Hawaii for our wedding/honeymoon in 1991 we sent a get well coconut to my father-in-law. And when I say sent I mean we literally bought a painted coconut, stuck stamps on it, wrote his address on the coconut, and mailed it. It made it to Arkansas from Honolulu.

Photo of said coconut. We got it back when my wife's grandmother died in the 'oughts. The coconut lives in my home office now. The address is still legible on the back side.
posted by COD at 3:45 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


On a pre-pandemic trip to the Post Office I bought a sheet of Hot Wheels stamps from a clerk who all but begged me to buy them. They apparently were not a popular choice in that office, but I like them, especially for paying those rare bills that require a check. I guess I just like the idea of some bored clerk in a bill processing facility getting a chuckle out of my goofy Bone Shaker Hot Wheels stamp.
posted by cheapskatebay at 3:50 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Because I have not been anywhere recently l would like to go to Tristan da Cunha, preferably on one of the vessels featured and buy these stamps at source.
posted by adamvasco at 4:10 PM on January 11


Last spring, while trapped in my house on a conference call, I watched three mailmen scale the 10-foot-tall chainlink fence around the high school track. My mailman did it while carefully carrying his full mail sack (he did not chuck it over the fence like the teenagers do with their backpacks). Two of the men proceeded to run a 100 meter race while the third filmed it on his phone. Then they all climbed back over the fence and went their separate ways.

I asked my mailman about it later, and he admitted that he lost. “I take all challengers, though. You want to race?” he added. I have not yet taken him up on his offer.
posted by Maarika at 6:03 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


Since the 1970s, Australia Post has used red Honda CT90 and CT110 motorbikes, they're ubiquitous and known by everyone as 'postie bikes'. Auspost auctions them to the public when they reach a set distance, so they've also been very, very cheap, in the order of $500–$1,000, or far less for an unregistered 'paddock basher'. They're an established part of motorbike culture here (almost always with a cut-down milk crate attached as luggage), there are intercontinental tours (crossing the country at a ball-tearing 60–75km/h), a racing schedule, ludicrous modifications, and generally being recognisable as a cheap, unkillable, learn-to-ride-on or flog-to-death utility bike. They are being phased out in favour of electric bicycles and electric three-wheelers, which are safer and more environmentally friendly, but as ugly as sin. In nostalgic response Honda is reissuing the model with front-and-rear ABS disc brakes, LED lights, and a digital display (and a price tag an order of magnitude higher). Sic transit gloria mundi.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:50 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


My favorite thing that was sent by mail is the Hope Diamond, when it was sent to the Smithsonian.

I too had a new boyfriend writing me physical letters over the summer between Freshman and Sophomore year in college. We had lived in the same dorm Freshman year and he had charmed and mystified the dorm for a while before I knew him, or before anyone knew it was him, by going around at night and writing interesting notes and quotes on people's dorm door message boards and signing them with the pseudonym "Doc".

So, he proceeded to do something similar to the letters he wrote me. He put all kinds of interesting stamps on them, he drew on the envelopes, added quotes, and used various exotic envelopes. It was an *event* when one arrived. Our rural mail carrier, who knew everyone and everything, was following all this with great interest. One day when Mom happened to be near the mailbox when he was delivering one he looked at her and said "That boy really likes her!" (Reader, I eventually married him, and I still have all the letters.)
posted by gudrun at 6:19 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Many years ago, when I lived in downtown Ann Arbor, a package showed up at my door. It was sent from a military base in Japan and was addressed to someone else in Ann Arbor at an entirely different address, but an address label from something I'd sent had gotten stuck on top of the recipient address, and the postal delivery person didn't notice the error. I found the intended recipient on Facebook and sent a message about the package; she wrote back and gratefully explained it was a wedding present from her old roommate who lived on a military base in Japan, that she herself was also currently living in Japan, and that her husband would collect the package from my porch. Cool. I left the package there, it was gone the next day and the intended recipient confirmed her husband had picked it up, I figured that was that.

Some months later, I was on a Megabus to Chicago, and a random guy sat next to me. Eventually we started chit-chatting. He mentioned having been recently married to a woman who currently lived in Japan whose old roommate was also living on a military base in Japan. I asked if he'd had to pick up a misdelivered wedding gift from someone's porch downtown without ever meeting the resident, and yes -- turns out that was the case. Fun small world connection; had he sat somewhere else on the bus, we never would have talked and figured it out. It made for a good story at parties.
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:18 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Another story, another comment: a friend who lives in England mailed me a postcard from Edinburgh. It was a benign postcard of castles with a completely inoffensive message about having fun visiting Scotland. Completely mysteriously, the postcard was censored at some point with a sharpie to block out all instances of the word Edinburgh, made its way to a post office in the Philippines whereupon it gained additional postage, and then eventually made its way to me in Washington, DC about six months after it was originally sent.
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:21 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Games Magazine used to have an Envelope of the Month, which was always either incredibly intricately decorated, or had the address in the form of a puzzle that the mailfolk managed to solve (sometimes both). They would probably make a great FPP, but I just scoured the internet as best as I could and couldn't find any visuals to link to.
posted by Mchelly at 9:16 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


- Along the same lines as COD's coconut, I dated a guy for awhile in the early 90s who had an ongoing challenge with his best friend to mail each other the weirdest things they could think of. Apparently he successfully - with the right amount of postage - mailed her a silver milkshake cup like the kind that's used in a professional milkshake maker.

- In the late 70s I used to find pretty rocks and put them in our curbside mailbox as a gift for the mail carrier. One day one of my parents was checking the mail, saw the rocks and muttered "who's doing this?" and swept them out onto the ground.

- For my birthday last year my mom sent me a package by two-day express mail, ie. pricy. I noticed an unfamiliar package in the foyer of my building for a few days but didn't think anything of it. After about four days I checked the label and discovered that it was the package from my mom. Oops.

- I started a contract job last September and was mailed a laptop, which I was happily using. Another package had been sitting in the foyer of my building for a week or so addressed to Mark Somebody but I didn't recognize the name so I ignored it.

About a week after I started the job I was on a zoom call with my manager and his name was on the screen above his picture. All of a sudden I realized that the package was addressed to him so I ran out to the hall and it was a box containing a wireless keyboard and mouse. I never used them but now that I'm returning the laptop the instructions said not to return keyboards or mice so now I've got a brand new bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
posted by bendy at 9:25 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


My sister and I, who were separated from each other when my mom and stepdad split, reconnected later in our teens. For years we sent a journal back and forth, like an extended letter. I think she currently has it; it's a document of Significant Teen Angst, but also a connection we both needed for years.

Said stepdad was my most faithful correspondent (after a decent interregnum). I have dozens of letters scattered among my various boxes of personal archive, in their envelopes with all my various addresses over the years. Since he died I have meant to gather them and sort them into their own box, but have not had the emotional fortitude for it. When I was at his place just after his death, only my most recent letter was there - I pocketed it and brought it home. I hope the rest are burnt rather than available to the estranged family member who ended up with his house.

Like many of us, I am still waiting for postal deliveries from the holiday season this year. I have talked to my local posties and they have frankly said that the distribution centers are affected by lots of people having covid.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:41 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I had the same mail carrier here for 23 years, until she retired last year. She also delivered at my workplace, so if something came to the office on a weekend, she would deliver it at my house, and the other way around on a weekday, if it was valuable. She trained the guy who took over the route; he was with her for 18 months learning all the ins and outs of this very bizarrely laid out island, and all of the bizarrely laid out people as well. If you're trying to find somebody, they'll know to the hour of the day where to look.
There's a notification on my phone now that tells me when the mail carrier is within 50 yards of the house with a delivery, and that's just spooky.
I made a special trip to the Post Office in June when they announced that Bugs Bunny would be on a special pane of Looney Tunes stamps as Brunhilde from "What's Opera, Doc?", officially becoming the first drag stamp issued in the history of the US Post Office; here
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:41 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I have now for my sins--which apparently include talking about it--inherited the upkeep and feeding of my institution's peregrine falcon webcam.

Difficulty level: the only people who knew anything about the setup retired four years ago, the embedded video player on that page stopped working last week because the company discontinued it, no one's entirely sure where the actual web page itself is being served from, and the only "documentation" of the whole thing is a two-page RTF file written by my predecessor that reads like The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, IT Gentleman.

And yet. Over the space of a few hours today, I managed to get a working stream going with a replacement player--better yet, an open-source one with no ongoing license fees. Now I just have to plug the thing into the web page...once we find it. That faint tooting sound you hear is my own horn.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:10 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


....and just as I typed that, the thought-to-be-defunct player started playing the video feed again properly. I'm going to be so irritated if this thing fixed itself while I spent four hours trying to fix it.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:22 AM on January 13


Oh, I have a care-package-mailed-to-me-in-college story, sort of.

My freshman year, my mother would include batches of these chocolate-oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies I discovered in high school; she baked them for me since I didn't have access to my own kitchen. The first time I got them, I shared with my friends on my floor in my dorm, and everyone loved them. I shared again the next time, and the next.

As time went on, the more people on my floor got covetous and the less open I was about whether I had them; people in my dorm would start asking about cookies if they saw me carrying a package to my room. Then came the day sometime early second semester when I got back from class and saw there was a package for me, and I hid it under my coat, snuck up to my room, confirmed that I was alone, and hid the package under my bed - and still within five minutes later three of my floormates came to knock on the door and say "we heard that you might have some more cookies in?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I got a letter from the government yesterday / Opened it and read it / It said I was a sucker / There was a cheque for ~£500 or whatever / Picture them not clawing it back? I said "Never!"
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 11:24 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


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