Immoral, Invisible

It all started when my officemate moved out, last fall. We had shared the seventh-floor suite of offices over a liquor store, but the practice of law is as chancy as any other small business these days, and when Mike got an offer for better accommodations at a lower rent, he took it. I stayed on, putting up with the painting and moving all around me.

The United States Postal Service apparently does not handle change easily these days. It took them about three weeks to catch on to Mike’s change of address. In the meantime, his mail mostly got dropped off on the second floor of our building, where the landlord’s office is located. So did mine.

But when the USPS finally figured out that Mike was now at another address, for some reason I cannot understand, they decided I was too. Or maybe not. Some of my mail went to Mike at his new address. Some of it was returned to sender. Occasionally, I got some of it. And some of it just disappeared without a trace. No junk mail, no bills, no correspondence from court clerks and opposing counsel, and above all, no checks from my clients.

I called the Customer Service number at the downtown post office, and eventually got through to a nice lady named Joan. I explained the situation to her, and she suggested that I prevail on the landlord to number all of the offices in our suite—701, 702, and so on. I wasn’t quite sure what that would accomplish, but I talked to the landlord. I also stuck a number 701 on my office door. So far, that has accomplished nothing.

So then I started becoming Super-Customer, a guise I often adopt to redress wrongs done to my clients, my friends, and sometimes myself. When in doubt, the Super-Customer calls the head honcho, or his/her PR guy. Or dashes off a nastygram to the lowest-level miscreant first, with cc:s to everybody on up the chain of command. This is one of the things lawyers are supposed to be good at. Normally, it makes corporate moguls quake in their boots and shower me with product coupons. My track record isn’t bad.

But the Super-Customer routine works only when you actually know the chain of command, or at least the guy at the top. And several hours of online research failed to reveal the name or contact information of the Chicago postmaster. Or anybody else in his/her chain of command.

This is real transparency. A word from Mr. Wired about this term. “Transparency” is in these days. Everybody promises it, or aspires to it, or lays claim to it. It is supposed to mean honesty and openness (glasnost?) But think about it; if something is transparent, it is invisible. If you can see through something, you can’t see it. Apparently, that’s how the United States Postal Service operates, at least in Chicago. Trying to get results from a transparent organization is like trying to walk through a perfectly clean glass door. (Hence the title of this post, if you were wondering.)

I tried contacting my own congressional rep. His people were baffled. So then I looked up the House Committee list online, and discovered that another local representative (Danny Davis, from Illinois’ 7th District) is on the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia. Hot dog! Called his office, got routed to his specialist in postal problems, and actually succeeded in getting her to understand my problem. She is still working on it (with time off for the holidays), but I’m already encouraged. Maybe I will start the new year with regular mail service and my usual quantum of junk mail, and Ben Franklin will stop spinning in his grave. But the USPS is not your grandfather’s post office. For those advocates of privatizing other government agencies, give this some thought.

Red Emma

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