My postal past

Going postal once meant something we all thought was deeply sinister. We’d made it through the summer of ‘77, with blackouts, heat and riots, and the Son of Sam. The latter was a postal worker who heard voices and killed people. Around the same time others working in the U.S.P.S. had rages. Some suggested it had to do with aspects of the boring jobs at hand.

How long ago that all feels now.

I was in college at the time. The only time I went to our post office was when I was expecting small checks from my parents, which was rare. Later, moved to New York City, I worked in mail rooms and dealt a bit with P.O. back doors. Or, later, rushed to the main branch across from Penn Station on those dates when certain grant applications needed to be in the mail by midnight on a certain date.

One of the joys of moving Upstate came from the role post offices played in my new life. The one in Phoenicia, across from what was then Kirk’s Market – a place where you could meet pretty much all one’s local shopping needs – was the community’s central meeting place. In Westkill, it was a closet-sized room in a century-old building. Down in Catskill we switched from the friendly Palenville P.O., where we got our son’s first passport photos taken, to the classic old main branch on Main Street.

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I can’t understand why so many powerful people in our country think it’s a good idea to diminish these places. They’ve been eating away at the numbers and hours of rural post offices throughout this century. Now they’re pulling out street mailboxes and tossing sorting machines, cutting overtime needed to make sure one gets what one’s ordered online in a timely way, and badmouthing an agency that doesn’t cover its costs. As if government agencies are designed to do so.

I realize the days of thin-sheeted airmail letters and sultry postcards have passed. Ditto long letters and the free newspapers we made available throughout Olive and Phoenicia via its post offices. Even those times when I’d mail out our annual holiday CDs from a host of small P.O.s I knew, from experience, would have no long lines.

Going postal? Who would have ever thought the term could ever have become more dark and sinister than it was 40-plus years ago. But so moves our history … for now.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.