Hearing the news today about the end of Saturday mail delivery from the hemorrhaging US Postal System struck me hard. I love receiving mail. Not the bills or flyers, mind you. But mail. Printed material.
Growing up, mail was the highlight of the day. Back then, we received letters from family members flung across the country. My friends from overseas. Cards. Postcards. Invitations. School acceptance letters. Diplomas. Small packages. You never knew what you'd receive in the mail.
When I lived in France, we had mail delivery three times a day. Once again, I loved checking my mail box, mostly to receive letters from home. Not to mention love letters from the romantic men I met. That was always the highlight of my day.
Today, I live in the wilderness and all my mail's delivered at the local post office. The post office is the Number #1 hub of the community. The gas station and The Bake House take second place neck-to-neck. Even though I don't receive much mail, given the change over to email, I still go there daily to rub shoulders with the denizens of this community.
Before my move to the wilderness, I lived in Astoria, Queens for ten years. As President of my co-op building, one of the first things I did was have the battered Lobby furniture replaced. I had to take into consideration that there were a lot of resident senior citizens at the time, some very ill tenants as well as a handful of scurrilous renters. Don't ask me why, but a lot of people were incontinent in that building. We had issues about them not bundling their Depends properly when they threw them down the garbage chutes. Yeah. Gross.
The Board members wanted to put in leather chairs.
"Hell no!" I said. "Those chairs, should they not be stolen by the drug addicts on the third floor, will be ruined in seconds. We have to get chairs that are comfortable, look nice, not expensive and piddle-proof."
Given those parameters, one Board member, Laslo, did research. And he found the best imitation leather recliners. Have to admit, they were elegant, comfortable and easy to clean. They were so comfortable that our mail carrier, Kenny, timed his delivery to our building to take lunch seated in one of the new Lobby chairs. Sometimes his wife joined him to eat home-cooked meals.
Kenny was a short, slender, Chinese-American with a long pony-tail. He always had a smile on his face. Not only was he adored in the building, the entire neighborhood stopped Kenny on his rounds to greet him. He knew each and every one of us personally, exchanging pleasantries.
When we redid our mailboxes, Laslo met with Kenny and asked him for advice as to the best way to construct them for ease of use. Talk about tailor-made!
One time, I was agitated that I didn't receive my graphic novels from France. I'm a great lover of graphic novels, especially from overseas. The only place I could find them was in Toronto when I visited my cousin. Instead of flying there, I ordered them online. I stopped Kenny. "I've the receipt from the online company that they sent the books out a month ago. Yet I never received them."
"I'll check at the post office." He phoned me later to tell me he never saw them.
The online company gave me the registered numbers which they informed me were delivered. I contacted my local post office, 11101, for an investigation.
"Oh boy," laughed Kenny. "The Post Office doesn't know who they're dealing with!" He referred to my local celebrity status for I, with the assistance of one neighborhood homeowner, brought a developer to his knees.
My claim to fame in Astoria was due to winning against a developer. Next to my building was a huge and empty plot of land that extended from one street to the other. It was picked up by a developer who wanted to put up a 23-story Section 8 building. My neighborhood had at the intersection of each street 6-story buildings. Dotted along the little side streets were homes and smaller apartment buildings from 2 to 4-stories. A 23-story building would be a tower that could be seen for miles.
Not only that, he intended to build this monstrosity right to the property lines, cutting off air and views from my building and the neighboring one. And cast a shadow on the houses across the streets on both sides.
Taking into account that we had no parking already in the streets, the overcrowding in the neighborhood schools, I knew this building would only serve the developer's interest to the detriment of the community.
The other woman and I made up petitions, went door to door getting them signed, attended Community Board meetings, neighborhood association meetings, met with Assemblywomen and Helen Marshall, the Queensborough County President. We were a thorn in everyone's side.
Because of us, the developer had to make a presentation of the Board of Standards and Appeals in Manhattan. Twenty homeowners joined us in talking to the Board. I requested a copy of the developer's plans and his analysis of ROI (return on investment).
The second meeting with the BSA, I brought in spreadsheets of financial analysis, using the same material as the developer.
The developer and his lawyer from a top real estate law firm, Sheldon Lobel, had no idea that I was a financial analyst with 30 years experience on Wall Street. They thought I was just a neighborhood buddinsky. The father of one tenant in my building was an architect and specialized in urban planning. Armed with the information he gave me, I made a presentation to the BSA and pointed out the erroneous calculations the developer made in his favor including floor space as well as interest calculations on the loans. I was certain that no one else had scrutinized the data that in-depth before.
The developer and his lawyer moaned and hollered from the galley while I spoke to the BSA. I simply explained that if they had a six-story building that didn't block the two abutting neighboring apartment buildings, they still would have an ROI of 64% as opposed to 2,540% with their original plans.
The head of the BSA said, "Give me your papers."
After the meeting, a NYPost reporter came up to me. "Can I quote you?"
"Just put in the President of the Co-op," I said. "I'm not here to promote my name. This is to maintain the quality and integrity of the community."
When he approached the developer, his architect and his lawyer, they jumped at the opportunity. "Yes, put our names in there!" They hopped up and down in glee that they were going to be in the newspapers.
Then, they approached me. "Listen, can we have a meeting and hammer it out?" It wasn't until that moment when I became the de facto representative of my community.
"Sure," I said. A Community Board member arranged for us to meet in his office at his company, a funeral home.
There I sat with the architect, the lawyer from Sheldon Lobel, the developer, the Community Board member and a guy from BSA.
"That was some presentation you made," said the lawyer. "Let's cut to the chase. What exactly do you want?"
"Quite simple. First off, 30' variances on both sides of the building. Six-stories not to exceed the height of the parapets of my building. An underground garage to accommodate cars for each of the apartments."
"Done." They knew if I made another presentation, they'd only be able to construct a hut.
Afterwards, the Community Board member sidled up to me. "You got balls. Do you know you just bested one of the top lawyers in one of the top law firms?"
I shrugged. "Honestly, this was a piece of cake. For nearly 30 years I worked in trading rooms on Wall Street telling men they have to cut lines which means they can't have higher bonuses."
Years after, people in my neighborhood treated me like royalty. I saved their homes from perpetual shadow. Not to mention market value. But, the subsequent poor economy took care of that.
Which was Kenny's allusion. Sure enough, I received my books. Someone from 11101 stole them. Probably realized they were in French, for they were finally delivered, box opened, pages dog-earred.
Then, one day, Kenny said he wasn't feeling well. He sat down on the chair, listless. A few minutes later, he resumed his delivery and later died from a heart attack. He was only 52.
We mourned Kenny. He was a staple in our lives, a great guy. He took his job seriously and made sure to know everyone on his route. Given the impersonality of big cities, for Astoria is huge, Kenny single-handedly introduced a sense of small-town community in my neighborhood.
Then, they brought in another guy who was just there to make a buck. He tossed the mail in our boxes haphazardly while listening to blasting music from his iPhone. Only interrupted to fight with some woman on the phone. After never receiving mail for a month, I complained to 11101.
"No one will ever replace Kenny," said the supervisor. "He was one of a kind."
"I know that," I said, "but how difficult is it to place mail in a mailbox?"
After not receiving any mail whatsoever for three months, I called the supervisor again. "Listen, I don't know about you, but I do need to receive my mail. I've important legal documents that I haven't gotten like my mother's death certificate and papers relating to her estate." I had no idea what other mail I didn't receive. In that vein, I changed all my billing to online and canceled all my magazine subscriptions.
"I'll talk to the guy."
The postal carrier stopped me in the Lobby the following day. "I heard you complained about me." At least he realized who I was. "You'll never receive a piece of mail as long as you're on my route."
Enraged, I phoned the USPS Executive Office. The supervisor from 11101 came to my building to meet with me. We went outside to talk.
He implored me. "I can't reprimand or fire the guy. I'm stuck."
"What do you mean you're stuck?"
He said, "I fired a woman last year and she then sued me on a personal level for discrimination. I'm going bankrupt because of her. I should never have fired her although she didn't do her job."
"WTF is going on with the Post Office?"
"The workers are protected far more than you can imagine. Nothing I can say or do will induce that guy to do his job right. My hands are tied. And that's the way it is now at 11101."
Since then, I never received a piece of mail going to 11101 post office. I only had three letters forwarded since my move three years ago. I've no idea where my other mail went. At least today, at the rural post office, I get all my mail, as limited as it is, for now I receive mostly everything by email.
My former neighbor, Laslo, told me he still doesn't receive mail. We're talking eight years now. He, as well as the other residents in that building, have switched to online billing and cancelled their magazine and newspaper subscriptions.
So, thank you postal workers for allowing the slackers and the incompetents to take over. You FORCED people like me to use online billing and to cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions. To use FedEx and UPS for our packages. Pretty soon, your hours will be severely constricted and you'll soon be laid off. I hope you're happy now.
To quote my twitter friend, @misterhoover52, "Mail is a relic. It's time to let it go."
It didn't have to be this way...
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