In "mail hell" you don't get your bills, your checks, or your bank statements on time, if ever. You get slammed with late charges and reconnection charges. Your phone, Internet service, cable, and utilities are cut off. Your voter registration is revoked. Your credit rating is reduced to shambles. All because of a screw up by the P.O. that has taken on Kafkaesque overtones. Or else the Newman character from "Seinfeld" is running the P.O.
This is how it happened.
In January last year, my son moved from Memphis to Montana. His name is Jack. The P.O. apparently took his change of address notice, matched it to every J. Branston on its list, and began sending some of his mail and some of my mail to Missoula.
No big deal, it would seem. An understandable mistake, easy enough to fix with a phone call or two.
Actually no, not even close. Canceling a forward is not easy. First they started sending Jack's mail back to Memphis. Then, after insisting they finally had it right, they resumed sending both his mail and some of my mail to Missoula.
A call to the Missoula postmaster, a very nice woman who wrote a sympathetic letter and somehow got it delivered to me, determined that the problem was on the Memphis end.
I have a wonderful carrier, a woman who goes by "C.C." and is cheerful, dedicated, and single-handedly shortstopped some mail from being misdelivered. But she couldn't do it all.
So I went to the Hollywood substation. A nice woman named Sara has met with me half a dozen times to hear my sorry tale and accept copies of my explanation of the problem and examples of misdelivered mail. But she can't fix it either. I have made so many visits to the substation I am known as "the Montana guy."
I wrote polite letters to the P.O. and I wrote cranky letters. No difference. I imagine somebody like Newman fiendishly tossing them into a junk bin or maybe forwarding them to the Army or the Treasury or Homeland Security.
Informing senders that I had not moved did no good. Bills would be correctly addressed to me and the P.O. would readdress them with a yellow sticker and send them westward. Compounding the problem, the P.O. notified the Shelby County Election Commission, Bank of America, MLGW, Comcast, and ATT that, yes I had moved, overriding my instructions. So the cutoff and late charges and reconnect charges began to mount up.
Explaining a P.O. problem to ATT or Bank of America, as you might guess, is useless. It's not their fault. Just pay us.
This week I made another visit to the Hollywood station with a stack of mislabeled Montana mail evidence sent to my work address. This time I was given a number for "The Postmaster" who, supposedly, figured out that a forward stays in place for 18 months not 12 months. And, supposedly, he put a stop to this with a single call to a single supervisor who will see that no more yellow labels with a forwarding address to Montana get put on my mail.
We will see about that. Meanwhile, I read that the two-cent increase in the price of a stamp is supposed to generate more than $2 billion for the P.O. next year. As a settlement, that sounds about right.