CONTRARY TO what you may have heard, I don't enjoy kicking people when they're down.
The U.S. Postal Service is down — in employees, post offices, revenue and first-class mail it moves — but I'm not kicking here. I'm reporting on the minority of USPS employees who don't seem able to put on a hat without instructions.
Most people I asked (through Facebook and personal conversations) are satisfied with the post office, and some say they have warm relations with their letter carriers.
As a kid, I looked forward to seeing Pete, the mustached, genial letter carrier. He didn't even think of suing us when he got a shard of glass in his eye after my dog busted through a glass pane on the door. She was trying to get at the mail, which she hated, perhaps because it reminded her that she was illiterate.
Fortunately, no damage was done to Pete's eye.
When I lived in South Philly, my letter carrier (no names; he might still be on the job) was so customer-friendly, he delivered a note to me from a little girl living nearby who put it in an envelope and drew a stamp on it. Delivering that was probably "wrong," but "nice." More Mayberry than Marconi Plaza. He was protective of his route and his customers, and once called PGW when he smelled a gas leak and may have prevented a tragedy. Why? Because he cared.
I balance that with the employee who returned to me as "undeliverable" a birthday card I sent to a friend in Old City who's been at his address for more than a decade. The name and address were correct and everything was legible. Even better, someone got back a letter she sent me at the Daily News, and I've been here more than a decade. Several, in fact. Why do things like that happen?
A few weeks ago, while trying to balance my checkbook, I discovered that I never received the February bank statement. The bank tells me that other depositors had the same problem. Why? The bank manager told me that as she was leaving her home one morning, the letter carrier (a sub) asked her where she could find a local street, two blocks away. Wow.
Last year, I paid American Express a late fee because I missed a payment. I missed the payment because USPS failed to deliver the statement. Are these all isolated incidents or part of a tapestry?
Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times had a story about a postcard mailed from Chicago reaching its destination a staggering 54 years late.
Where has that card been since 1958?
Late last month, the Senate voted to give USPS an $11 billion cash infusion, delaying controversial plans to close post offices and end Saturday delivery. USPS: Is giving less service the way to go? These are sad days for a Ben Franklin-created service once known for always coming through, despite the obstacles.
I know the post office works in a hostile environment. So do I. You're still expected to perform.
In the Philadelphia postal district — including Philly, Bucks, Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties and parts of Northampton — complaints for October, November and December in fiscal year 2012 rose 14 percent over the same months in fiscal 2011, from 11,491 to 13,137. Local USPS spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky could not specify why complaints are up.
Complaints, she says, are divided into several categories — business, buying, receiving mail, customer service and sending mail — but are not defined any further. The most complaints involve receiving mail, but that's so broad as to be almost useless.
It can't be a good thing when the number of complaints goes up while the number of customers goes down.
Few people write letters anymore. Even birthday, anniversary and special-occasion cards are being replaced by emails, which to me are as "personal" as spam. Generation gap, I guess.
USPS tells me that it wants to know if it fails you. Yarosky suggests making the complaint immediately and offering specifics to help USPS run it down. Having the envelope would be great.
If you want to bay at the moon, an independent website, usps.pissedconsumer.com, publishes complaints from around the nation. Some may be worse than yours.
To report problems to USPS directly, do so online at usps.com or call Consumer Affairs at 215-863-6060.
Give them my regards.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: philly.com/Byko.