Your Mailbox Needs Attention

But, alas, straightening up "Old Tippy" makes it easier for the hooligans. *** Our mailman here in Thornton recently sent me a letter. Well, it wasn't really a letter - it was more like a speeding ticket - without the calamity of a fine. My mailbox is apparently out of compliance. "Your Mailbox Needs Attention" the notice begins. Below this is a drawing of an abused box - a real shambles - slipping down off its rotten post into the weeds, apparently dead. So my mailbox needs an overhaul. As with a speeding ticket, there's a guilt-inducing checklist of possible violations - mailbox miseries I never knew existed. Your box is too high; your box is too low. Your box is in the woods. Your box seems to be made of cardboard or paper. Your box is sometimes on fire. I cannot find your box, where is it? The specific problem with my mailbox is that the post is tipped back a couple of degrees. Rather grandly, I think. Rather honorably - eyes on the prize, thinking of the future, of some special delivery - chocolate, for example. Or fine, backcountry steaks, as I understand these can now be tucked among the letters. But as far as the postman is concerned, however, the noble lean of my post abuses the traditional length of his arm. I have seen him, oomphing and scooching out of his pickup, trying to flip my mail up and into the distant box. I thought it must be normal, this sort of carnival game exertion. But I guess he's had enough of Old Tippy. None of this is to suggest that he is wrong to submit his form. Only that straightening the post will result in a different particular suffering - in that my mailbox will almost instantly be smashed by the local baseball bat wielding teenage boys. All the boxes in our gaggle have been crushed and battered. Except mine. For years the mild angle has kept it safely outside the strike zone. As there can be no supreme court as far as the perpendicularity of a post, I will have to comply with this mandate - or something will surely happen to my mail. Nothing criminal or permanent. Just a kind of bureaucratic mischief - a sort of Post Office toss-around - the kind of moody provisional consequence of not following the "direct advice" of a federally employed stranger. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, between a rock and a hard place. Either I keep my mailbox and lose my mail, or I keep my mail and lose my mailbox. Either way I lose my mind, and both ways I shoot myself in the foot twice. I took a spade up the rocky road and set the shovel at the base of the post and then shushed it into the grassy sand and began to dig. And ruminate. It would probably happen this evening. A high-velocity blow to the stern. A giddy young boy probing out a car window, nasty braces whistling in the wind. Swing and smash!! And then tomorrow, after the postman fails to shoehorn my mail into the wreckage, a fresh penalty notice will be issued, an all-new violation checked: "Your box has been frame-crumpled by the hooligans." An hour or so later, as the bugs and darkness began to tangle, the job was done. The post's pitch was fixed, and now a new sort of pitch. Slow and easy, right down the middle. It's the charming trouble of the world that the fixing of one thing leads to the breaking of another. I set the shovel on my shoulder and headed home, one step forward, two steps back. NH Sherwin Sleeves makes his idiosyncratic observations from his home in Thornton. His Web site,, contains links to his life, thoughts and works.


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