I got an intriguing letter the other day. It was interesting in part because it was from me--but mostly it was interesting because of all the places the letter might have traveled. God alone knows where.
About two months ago I was paying bills and sent a check to the Archer County Tax Collector for $3.31. I would hate to describe the miserable lil' piss-ant chunk of land that has an annual property tax of only $3.31--but let's just say that if I retire to the Texas ranch, I'll have the only working hamster spread in the state. Come branding time, I use a bent paperclip in the shape of a question mark. You may not like it, but trust me, it impresses the stock.
The Tax Collector at Archer County sends me my tax bill on a postcard. Personally, I resent people sending me bills that don't enclose a return envelope--subconsciously, they are telling me they want to be paid last. I wrote the check, grabbed a blank envelope, shoved it in the laser printer and printed the address.
Now, do you use Microsoft Word? If you do, you know that when you use the program to address envelopes, Word searches through your open document for an address to use. If you don't like the auto-selected address, you can write over it. When I made the envelope for the Archer County Tax Collector, I must have forgotten that last step.
At the time, I was working on a lecture about Mexico, so Microsoft Word did its very best, and addressed the envelope to:
Viceroy Juan O'Donaju
San Juan de Alua
For those of you who aren't enrolled in my class, O'Donaju was the last Viceroy of Mexico, and San Juan de Alua is a fortress in the town of what is now known as Veracruz. You can understand why the post office had a little trouble delivering the letter--the recipient has been dead for almost two centuries. Undoubtedly, I now possess the man's last piece of correspondence. I'll put it on Ebay.
The Post Office had the letter for almost two months--I wonder where it went. Do you suppose it actually made it to Mexico? There are are very few marks on the envelope, so there's no hint what the itinerary was. And that got me thinking. What happens to our mail? Where does it go? How many stops? How is it handled?
Naturally, I have an idea. Action sports cameras are all the rage now: you can mount one on your helmet and document exactly how you came to be in traction. Everyone from skydivers to skiers are using them. Why not put one in a box, aim it out a hole in the side of the box, and mail it somewhere? Set the camera on time-lapse and let it film the entire trip until it is delivered. Since the camera is tough, it should survive the journey (but just in case, I suppose you could insure the package).
I'd like to see such a film, but I'm willing to bet that the whole idea is against some law. It seems like everything is illegal these days (especially in New York). Or fattening.
If we could watch such a film, I'm sure we would discover that the Post Office does its very best to deliver the mail promptly and accurately. Sadly, this is not the general impression that most people have about the Post Office--people have a bad impression about the mail service.
There is an old story about a postal employee who was sorting the mail one day and came across an envelope hand-addressed in a barely legible scrawl, "To God". Intrigued, he opened the envelope and read the letter inside.
Dear God, please, please help me. My purse was snatched this morning and the thief stole my last $100. I can't pay my gas bill or buy groceries for the rest of this month. I'm afraid I will starve to death in the cold. Please help.
Our hero was touched by the story and passed the hat among the rest of the mailmen and ponied up their lunch money for a total of $90. With the return address on the envelope, the cash was promptly delivered by special delivery to the woman.
A few days later the Good Samaritan was sorting mail when he spotted another letter addressed to God in the same handwriting. He opened the letter and read:
Dear God. Thank you for the $100. Without your divine intervention, I don't know how I would have survived the month. I really appreciate your help.
P.S. The envelope only had $90 in it, the missing sawbuck was probably stole by those thieving bastards in the Post Office.