By Geo Ong
I loved the idea. It seems that most people enjoy receiving personal, handwritten mail, yet it’s a dying art. So why, gosh darnit, should I do nothing to keep this source of happiness from extinction? I’ve expressed my fascination with letters before, as well as my disquiet in the absurd possibility of someone publishing Reply All: The E-Mails of Geo Ong. The day after receiving my friend’s letter, I parked my caboose in a coffee shop near work and began the first of what I hoped would be many letters.
Despite having to stop often because my hand hurt, I felt good about finally writing a real letter. But, oh, rats! I have to go to work in five minutes. No worries, I told myself. I will resume where I left off.
Two weeks later, I remembered that I had an unfinished letter in my notebook. How did that happen? It was like my life were a train, and the letter missed it. Or something. Regardless, I was determined to finish the letter I started, not only for my dear friend but also for dear me and the future of letter-writing for this entire planet. Again, I occupied another coffee shop and this time didn’t leave until it was finished (lest we risk another missed train). After the signature, I held the letter up triumphantly in my hands, laughing a manly echo. The barista asked me to leave, and I said, ‘Gladly! Because I’m going to the post office! Good day!’
I wasn’t really going to the post office right then and there. It’s the post office. You need to psyche yourself up for that kind of intensity. Well, to be honest, I spent a good three days trying to brainstorm a way to mail the letter without going to the post office. I tried to buy a stamp off a friend, but none of my friends had any. I considered giving it to a wanderer who was on his way to California anyway, but I didn’t meet a single one I felt I completely trusted. I contemplated turning a New York City pigeon into a messenger bird. I even saved an empty wine bottle to hurl into the Atlantic (which would inevitably pass through the Panama Canal and make its way up the coast, you know, because of the currents and the tectonic plates). Alas, there was no other way. I had to go to the post office.
I’ve been to pleasant post offices before. This was my first visit to a Brooklyn post office. I knew what to expect. What an incredibly tense atmosphere the post office is! The harsh lighting, no music, everyone ready to be supremely pissed off. The queue seemed to be made up of two different kinds of people: the very confused, and those who’ve mailed nearly every type of package and thus know how everything works.
Like a ballet, the two groups play off each other rather well. It’s quite beautiful at times. A confused person, overwhelmed by the multiple windows, all the unhelpful signage on the walls, and the fact that there were two different lines, would just shout in exasperation, ‘I just want to be a flat-rate box!’ The seasoned veteran, standing in the queue, sighs and grunts but offers her help: ‘They’re right over there.’ The confused person would thank her profusely and then walk in the wrong direction, repeating her act. But at least she’s out of our way. Meanwhile, not wanting to give away my inexperience and downright fear, I turn to the veteran and shake my head with a smirk, which in so many words translates to ‘Can you believe it?’
Finally I got to the window and offer my letter, a month old now, its contents probably severely outdated, and told the teller that I’d like to send it to California. ‘Just a stamp?’ she asked. ‘Yes.’ ‘You didn’t need to wait in line,’ she said. ‘You could’ve used the self-service system by the door.’ What I wanted to say to her was that I wasn’t gonna deal with any robots in this environment, but instead I just said, ‘I’ll do that next time.’ She stuck a stamp on the letter and dropped it in a hole. I turned and muttered under my breath, ‘If there is a next time.’
To my friend, who I think still reads the site: Consider this my apology for my letter’s tardiness, although I hope it was still entertaining to read. Furthermore, if you have the patience, we can keep trying. I think I just need a bit more practice.
Which reminds me: I have another friend whom I promised a letter. I better write and send her one before her lease runs out.