Saturday, April 7, 2007

Barb vs the Pullman Post Office: A Cautionary Tale

While I don't intend to make a career of it, I enjoy making fabric postcards and sending them to friends I can count on to ooooh and aaaah over them. I made a lovely Easter one (see preceding blog entry) for my mother who lives in a retirement home about two and a half hours away. I took it into the Pullman branch of the US Post Office in a carefree manner, having sent over thirty of them before this one. Each time I have to explain that yes, they're legal and yes, I've done it before...only I've never sent one with Evil Otis (name changed to protect someone from something). Evil Otis looked at the card with his customary arrogant sneer (his postal duties tend to depend on what he feels like doing that day) and said, "You can't mail this. It's not paper. It's not a post card." I explain that it meets the USPS regulations and is mailable. He rolled my eyes at me, at which point I explained that Nice Paul (his real name) and Sweet Janet have done over thirty of them before with no problem. He maintained that I couldn't send it through the mail, so rather than argue with him (when I'm seething) I took the card and left. I went out to the car, took a couple of deep breaths, and, after a lifetime of working in a bureaucracy realized that I just had to go higher up the food chain. I went back in, asked to speak to the post master (Pullman is a very small town) who, strangely enough, couldn't be found. (If I had to contend with an annoyed peri-menopausal woman, I probably would've hid, too.) They did, however, find the supervisor and she took my card away for the next ten minutes trying to find an answer.

What she did was consult Sweet Janet (who pointed out that it fit their "test slot") and then called Spokane for the "real" answer. She came back and said that Spokane had said that I could mail it at the first class rate and that I should stick it in an envelope. "Well, that sort of defeats the purpose of making a post card, doesn't it?" I asked. She maintained that it shouldn't go through machinery like that (note: no beads, sequins, anything sticking up--it's perfectly flat). I said, "Well, I need to have them hand canceled." Noooooo, no way. "The post master doesn't let us hand cancel things". Well, except the 30 or so I've sent so far, I pointed out. "Well, I *suppose* that some people do it from time to time, but we're not supposed to." I admit it, I gave up. I went home and it sort of gnawed at me.

Now, this was at the beginning of a lovely week off from work. I'd had two days off before that and my brain's alpha waves had been nice and smooth up to that point. But...once again, all of those years working for the state had taught me a lot so I went to the USPS site, got the definition for a postcard and my card met all the criteria. I called the supervisor again. She conceded that I didn't need the envelope, but that they still wouldn't hand cancel it. She suggested I call the guy in Spokane that she'd talked to. Nice guy--very reasonable. But first of all, be aware that when you go to the USPS site and look up regulations for a postcard (which is a challenge in itself--it isn't the most user-friendly site out there) that there are *other* regulations on the site, different from the ones you can find--but you have to know the section of the postal code that covers your issue in order to look it up. Indeed, according to this guy, a postcard has to be made of paper. Fine, whatever--I really didn't care about the fact that I'd have to put a 39 cent stamp on it. But, in regard to hand canceling--it's up to the local postmaster. They can, at their whim, say no. Which mine does.

My friend, Susan, pointed out that all sorts of things get sent through the mail. She cited coconuts sent from Hawaii, but I've also seen things sent in plastic pop bottles. What it comes down to is that if I participate in another postcard swap, I'm going to have to take them to Moscow or Spokane to be canceled and mailed. (Actually, Susan offered to take them to Garfield to be mailed, too, bless her heart.)

I've been interested in Buddhism for years now, and am especially fond of the writings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun living in the US. She always advises people to meditate while breathing in negativity and breathing out compassion. So...I'll give it a try. I'll breathe in jerky postal workers and breathe out compassion. I'll try.


Anonymous said...

ARRGH! How frustrating! Yes, breathe, breathe...
I've never been able to convince Australia Post to let me send fibreart postcards either, although apparently some Aussies have had some success. And one I received from a friend in the US had its zig-zag edging forcibly ripped open and "repaired" with bright yellow "Inspected by Customs" sticky tape!

Barb said...

Ouch! Talk about insult to injury. :) Perhaps we need to do some "consciousness raising" with the postal services. We should have an international fabric postcard day to raise awareness.

Karen said...

Hi Barb, there is no reason you cant send them through the mail. The Post Office you use needs to read the manual! As an employee of the USPS I am once again saddened by the lack of professional behavior of some of these people. Hand canceling them should be a given~ I have delivered all kinds of goofy things like bottles and coconuts and even inflated beachballs, surely a quilted postcard is one of the easier ones to deal with. So sorry to hear you had to contend with such nonsense!

Barb said...

Thanks for your comment, Karen. I've done businesses at post offices where they understood that they're providing a service, but this particular one is full of "attitude". Luckily I have another one only 8 miles away. I quit trying to change their minds and just went where I can do what I needed to do. :)

Dianna in Maui said...

I have an Evil Marie at one post office here on Maui, but I have about 5 other POs within reasonable driving distance, so there! I've heard you can even sent car tires through the mail. If you can stick a stamp and label on it, you can mail it. HA HA! I even have one brave friend who put a $20 bill in a clear window pouch sewn to a postcard with the phrase: "who can you trust?" stamped over it. It actually made it to its destination unscathed. Next time you're at your PO ask what days Evil Otis has off and do your mailing on those days. :-)

Denise said...

My Evil Otis is called the Pencil-necked Geek! He drives me nuts and I had to stop going there! I've taken to just putting postage on the postcard and dropping it in the mail box, where they will just have to deal with it!
I'm from Canada and we have those issues, but there is one office where they love to see what I bring in!!
Cheers, Denise
Looking forward to seeing what you are doing with the BJP!

Pallas said...

I just found this entry through a google search. Why a google search you ask? Well, I just had the same sort of experience not fifteen minutes ago at my town's postoffice. (I'm trying to find out why they have such a problem) I brought my fabric postcard home and will try the neighboring town tomorrow. I have mailed fabric cards and had them hand canceled before so it is frustrating to be sure.

I enjoyed your account and made me chuckle to know I'm not the only slightly ticked female in the US trying to mail a hand canceled fabric postcard.


Pallas said...

I went with fabric postcards in hand to my alternative postoffice in the neighboring town, San Jacinto, prepared to do battle if necessary. Well, as luck would have it, I got a teller I recognized as a long time employee. I asked her if she could hand cancel the cards for me. She said sure, and stamped both of them without hesitation. Then, she said "Oooh, postcards - neat" Now I want to clone her for every office in the country.

Just a tid bit I found online that may work for the hard to convince postal workers:

There is a service that costs 17 cents extra for first class mail for items that are considered non-machinable. For instance when you mail something that has a bulky item enclosed that could hang up the sorting machine etc. Thought if nothing else, that could be an option to mail the fabric cards.


PS - Small world about your great aunts having lived in Hemet. It has grown so much in the past ten years that you wouldn't recognize it if it has been a while since you visited here.

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