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Stu Bykofsky: Franklin would be ashamed of the post office

News Item: The U.S. Postal Service, forecasting a $7 billion loss in 2011, wants a 2-cent increase in first-class postage and may end Saturday delivery.

News Item: The U.S. Postal Service, forecasting a $7 billion loss in 2011, wants a 2-cent increase in first-class postage and may end Saturday delivery.

DO YOU KNOW the phone number of your place of employment? At the post office, somebody doesn't know hers.

Benjamin Franklin, who created America's first mail service in 1775, would be ashamed by what his mail child has become. While the U.S. Postal Service is no longer funded by the federal government, it's so shot-through with uninterested drones you'd think it was.

My complaint is minor. Everyone's complaint is minor, and at least one Web site catalogs them: Individually minor, but representing yet another thing America doesn't do well any more.

It's not merely that I had to wait in line for 30 minutes to buy 200 44-cent U.S. flag stamps. I'm sadly used to long lines and slow-motion clerks.

"The goal is a waiting time of five minutes or less," USPS spokesman Mark Saunders told me over the phone. My goal is a Pulitzer. We're both falling short.

I learned when I got home that one of the two rolls put in an envelope for me by the clerk turned out to be 28-cent polar-bear stamps. When I returned the next business day to exchange them I was told I had to speak to the manager, who would come right out. After 17 minutes of waiting (yes, I timed it) I learned that the manager wasn't actually there. I asked for a phone number so I could call to make an appointment, like with a doctor.

When I dialed the number the clerk gave me, it was a nonworking number. That's fitting, I guess. I got the right number, left a message for the supervisor, Lucille. No one called back.

So I went for a third time to the subterranean Penn Center post office under the Clothespin. I waited 13 minutes before being told that Lucille doesn't come in until noon. (She supervises three offices, Philadelphia Postmaster Joe Kinney later told me.)

However . . . one staffer - maybe noticing the smoke coming out of my ears - asked about my problem, I told her and she said I didn't need a supervisor to get a refund. It took a few more minutes and some paperwork, but I got my money, thanks to Ms. Moore, who provided the service that's part of USPS' name.

Are my experiences aberrations? I asked around for post-office stories. Getting them wasn't as hard as cracking walnuts.

I received complaints about long lines and surly clerks, which I expected. Then there was the unexpected. (I have changed some names.)

* Grace, who lives in the Chestnut Hill Village Apartments, said that when management removed individual names from mailboxes in the lobby, the letter-carrier refused to deliver the mail, claiming that it was a violation of some sort. Postmaster Kinney told me it is not.

Grace was out of town for a week and when she went to the post office for her mail, she said, the supervisor told her "there was too much mail to sort through to get my mail." Too much mail for the post office to sort?

* Apparently so, said Dana, who lived in a five-unit building in Northern Liberties for five years. Her letter-carrier, she said, would "often leave all of our mail on top of the mailboxes, not even sorted."

After a complaint to the post office, things improved for a while, but then the carrier occasionally would shove all the building's mail through the one door with a mail slot.

"One time, the tenant was traveling for a month, which meant none of the rest of us could get our mail until he came home," Dana said. Just imagine: magazines, personal letters, bills, all delayed a month.

Dana moved to Fishtown and changed her address through the USPS Web site, but her mail was not forwarded. Her old landlord told her the mail is in her now-vacated mailbox, so stuffed it cannot be closed.

* Randy and a pal drove in from the suburbs at 11 p.m. to the 30th Street post office to mail a contest entry that had to be postmarked before midnight, "waited in line 10-15 minutes, finally went up to the window, where we were told that this package could not be postmarked tonight." Randy asked, "How's that for customer service?"

USPS spokesman Saunders said the department has some 590,000 employees, down about 200,000 from a decade ago. I know that has to hurt. The Daily News has been severely downsized in recent years, but we still have pride in the mission. I'm not sure the same is true for USPS.

(If you have a problem, call Regina Foster Carter, manager of the consumer-affairs department: 215-863-5360.)

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