Tuesday, March 6, 2012


It has been a long week or two here in the nation’s tender midsection.

As noted in the previous post, the issues that have further greyed my remaining hair are generally things I am not at liberty to discuss with the world at large, but they are there and they are grating, aggravating, nasty things that make me doubt the existence of decency, common sense and barbecue sauce.

But sometimes you find in the strangest of places a reminder that there is hope yet left for this tired old world. I would not have imagined that this would be the United States Postal Service.

When I went to the post office yesterday to drop off my monthly offerings to the various providers of services that fill my life with electricity, internet access and consumer credit, the guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted to buy any stamps. Perhaps it was the fact that all of my bills had Christmas stamps on them that tipped him off. “Yes,” I told him. “Actually, I would like to get some stamps.”

There was a short pause while he registered this amazing fact. I’m not sure they sell too many of those anymore, here in the internet age, and please don’t suggest that I start paying my bills online because I’ve heard all those arguments and I reject them out of hand. I like the mail. Eventually the guy recovered from his shock and showed me the different varieties of stamps that he had on hand.

It must be said that the Post Office has made amazing strides in stamp design in the last couple of decades.

When I was younger my dad got me into stamp collecting for a while. It was something of a natural extension of our joint efforts at coin collecting, I suppose. He signed up for some First Day of Issue covers, and I spent many happy hours ripping the Bicentennial stamps off of the mail that came in every day. We even got a few panes of unused stamps once in a while that I still have around the place.

Those stamps were all uniformly drab.

Oh, they had a few colors here and there, and once in a while you’d get some interesting designs – the state flag series, for example. But mostly they were utilitarian things designed to be little more than receipts. “I have paid my thirteen cents to the federal government and thus I expect this letter to be delivered.” They were nicely engraved things, but about as stylish as a Soviet tractor.

Somewhere along the line the Post Office stopped requiring stamps to be engraved and simply let them be printed. This may have been around the time they stopped asking you to lick them and just made them stickers. I like stickers, even though they were somewhat complicated to explain when the girls were little (“Why can I play with these stickers and not those stickers, daddy?”). It was certainly about the time that they stopped trying to be dignified and started having a bit of fun with them.

I still have a keychain with an old stamp with a quizzical-looking cartoon cat on it. I just loved the expression on its face, which reminded me of how I spent most of my life.

Apparently this stamp was unique and valuable, as images of it are nowhere to be found on the internet. You’ll just have to imagine it, I guess. I’m glad I saved it.

Today when the guy showed me the stamp selection, there in the middle was a pane of stamps with Pixar characters on it.

Remy from Ratatouille.


Buzz Lightyear.

Carl and Dug from Up!

I love Up! In the first fourteen minutes of that movie, largely without dialogue, Pixar put together a profound story of love and loss that has no equal in modern cinema, and they did it as a prologue.

What could I do but buy a pane of them?

I don’t know if I’ll use them or frame them. I’m sure the Post Office would prefer the latter, since they already have my money and wouldn’t have to deliver any actual mail for it. Part of me wants to make them work for my money, but part of me just says they already have. They have provided me with art, art that brightened my world after a dreary couple of weeks.

And that’s got to be worth the price of a pane of stamps.


Janiece said...

Frame them. That's AWESOME.

John the Scientist said...

They were printing stamps before they went to the sticker format. I like the newer stamps, but they are highly irregularly distributed. They had a Chinese New Year stamp this year. We had about 20 cards going to various places. Two weeks before New year, I asked if our post office had them. Nope. One week? Nope. I sent out the cards without them. They didn't ahve the stamps until after Chinese New Year. If the post office goes bankrupt, it'll be their own fault - I would ahve bought 3 books - 1 to use and 2 for the kids to keep. But after that crap? Not a single stamp.

Rufus Dogg said...

My local USPS (45322) has a display case of all the stamps they have. I think they break the self-serve postal shipping station in the outer vestibule just so people have to come inside and wait in line, staring at the glass case of stamps all laid out. (we even have an employee from Rhode Island named Cliff... really, it is a cool place to be some days )


Drop me a note with a mailing address and I'll send you a note with an Owney stamp on it. :-) (email on the About page)

David said...

Janiece - I think I will. :)

John - if the Post Office goes bankrupt it will be because the Republican Congress forced it to fund 75 years of retirement for its workers out of current revenue over a vanishingly small period of time. That's not accidental, and just one more way the Teabaggers are waging war against the United States.

Rufus - thanks!

John the Scientist said...

David, that's an issue, but the retirement fund payments, if made, total around $3 billion. The post office runs a deficit of around $8 billion, and even if the benefits are worked out rationally, the other $5 billion is going to kill them.

Actually having stamps ready for a holiday before the @#$&$%& holiday is just basic business competence.

I'll give you another example. I was in the post office right before it closed. The clerk told me she had to hurry up and run my transaction - if it clocked in at even 1 minute after 5, the office got charged for 15 minutes of overtime. Other customers were turned away, having gotten there before five, but facing a line that would take them past that deadline to get served.

A business that is only open when most of its customers are at work, that has those kind of inane rules, is only open when most customers are at work, and can't even distribute stamps in a timely manner (and my town has a huge Chinese community, it's not like they don't sell the damn things) is not doing well in the absence of pension issues. I agree they don't help, but not responding to the information age is more of the issue of what's killing the Post Office, by a ratio of 5:3.

Tom said...

Ahhh, when you look at the world with the eyes of a child...

You're gonna miss all the neat adult toys they got nowadays!

And I happen to think that access to a non-commercial means of non-electronic communication is something the government should subsidise.

John the Scientist said...

Tom, for certain. Something about facilitating interstate commerce, not to mention international commerce.