I recently had an unnerving experience at a post office. I hasten to add that it did not occur at the Roland Park Post Office, our home branch, where we walk daily to pick up mail.
On Saturday errands, I stopped at another post office to mail some letters, a book and two small packages that I had already stamped. The book is what caused the problem.
I have used a media rate to send books for years. Books are a central part of my life. I am a writer and a reader. I have friends who are writers, whose books I often send as gifts. I put them in easy-to-seal mailing bags, write the addresses on the front and head to the post office for the books to be weighed and mailed via media rate.
I also often send books I have finished reading to out-of-town friends. One is in her mid-eighties and reads more than a book a week. She is the person to whom I was mailing "The Weird Sisters," a fat paperback, on a recent Saturday.
We had no mailing bags the right size. I put the book in a large bag, folded it in half, sealed it, and wrote my friend's name neatly on the bag. My husband taped the edges tightly, so it would not split en route to Virginia. He is a thorough taper and wrapper. When he wraps a package, it is safe. I left on errands, confident the book would arrive in good shape in a neat package.
At the post office, however, I was told that that bag would have to be opened. What?! I had never been told that before.
"The package will have to be opened," was the repeated message, sending an intimidating ring through the post office and making me feel as if I might be in another country at another time, long before the postal employee was born.
The clerk did not bother to wiggle the bag, as others have done in the past, to feel its shape and binding. I did not want the bag messed up and arriving with wads of tape around it, even though the clerk said it would be resealed properly. "Send it first class," I snapped, wanting to leave as fast as possible. The package weighed too much for first class, so off it went priority mail for more than $5.
My two small, stamped packages were then weighed. I had used more postage on them than was necessary for first class. I should have handed them over first, so the employee would have known I was honest and not trying to send something not permitted to go media rate.
No one at the Roland Park Post Office has ever questioned that I am mailing books. Ditto when I have mailed them at the downtown post office, or at the Hampden, Brooklandville, Stevenson or Lutherville-Timonium branches.
By today's standards, my husband and I use the postal service a lot. We have used about 500 "forever" stamps in the past two months. We do not send e-cards. We write notes, letters and postcards. We pay bills via the U.S. Mail, not online.
That Saturday incident started a change. I was about to write and mail 50 notes of thanks to friends who had given to a nonprofit we support at the holidays. Instead, I am sending emails, something I have never done before for these gifts. Each email is individual, but each begins: "Because of an unfortunate experience with the postal service, I am emailing to thank you for …."
It may be poor etiquette, but that is what I am doing this year, except for a few I will deliver to neighbors as I walk to the Roland Park Post Office.