Bring Back the Post Office
Ricky Ginsburg

In 2013, shortly after the Post Office closed its last brick and mortar branch and handed the keys to the Internet, I moved to out to the country. If you were to cruise through the state on one of our elevated, sanitized highways, you'd blip through my little town without even realizing it. Locally produced maps pinpointed it with the smallest of their black dots and MapQuest put it in the middle of a lake, two counties west of here. However small it may have seemed to the casual traveler, it was to be the key to my salvation. Hell, with the city becoming more beehives than bird nests every day, a less crowded lifestyle was my only plausible future. Somewhere that you didn't need dinner reservations for Burger King and email didn't take three days.

The congested pipelines of the wired and wireless, ether-, intra-, and internet, was at its worst in the urban areas of the country where a twenty-word email could take half a day to go from your office on the third floor to your lawyer on the fourth. Starbucks began setting up kiosks in the stairways of the largest office buildings, secretaries wore running shoes, elevator operators and messenger services were back in vogue. If nothing else, everyone began to exercise more just to avoid the sloth waiting for email to go through, so perhaps there was something positive about the Internet after all.

During his first one hundred days in the White House, President Al Gore signed off on the "Hire the Hackers" legislation he'd promised during the lopsided campaign against the former Governor of Alaska. (She never did get that it had nothing to do with chopping up whales.) With one of the major stumbling blocks to the e-world eliminated, folks were able to lower their firewalls, shut down their spam filters, and finally have the same faith in the Internet as they did in the rest of the government-controlled programs.

Paper money and checks, outlawed in the fourth year of the Obama administration when the government confessed to bankruptcy, had been one of the last envelope stuffers handled by the old Post Office. Now, with all transactions done by credit, debit, or organ donor card, and the entire Readers Digest available online, there was nothing for the sorters, letter carriers, and ill-tempered postal clerks to do. The staff of the last branch to close pooled their severance pay and started a commuter ferry service between Miami and Havana.

In my case, I took early retirement from Sears when they moved all their online operations to Baghdad several years ago and closed their retail stores. A young fifty-nine years old, I gave some thought to working for one of their competitors, but the pension along with Social Security was too tempting to ignore.

I spent a few evenings at the community center, brushing up on the newest technology, but other than a few tool and die forums that I participated in and emails to family and friends, I no longer had much use for the Internet.

The Internet, it seems, had other plans for me.

When the Post Office was still staffed with people, a cheerful, pie-faced girl identified as "Cooper" by the badge on her uniform delivered my pension check with the first mail each month. Out of the four hundred and seventy-one dollars and change, I kept the seventy-one and change as pocket cash and deposited the rest to cover the checks I wrote and mailed. When my bank stopped issuing checks and the money disappeared, the pension funds eventually found their way from Sears' bank to mine electronically, albeit at a much slower pace. Usually by the middle of the second week of the month, I could see the deposit online; I doubt Ms. Cooper had gone to work for their bank. I set up a second account at my bank with a debit card to deal with the small transactions and transferred the loose change with a click of the mouse.

All went along smoothly for a couple of months, but then whoever ran the Internet, whatever wizard stood behind the curtain of electrons and Ethernet cables, decided the second account was unimportant, due to the small balance it held, and dumped all the cash back into my primary account instead. Thus, I was suddenly cut off from every fast food restaurant, gas station, and video rental store that I tried to patronize with my now useless debit card. Okay, I said to myself, I'll just use the credit card provided by the bank, and let the smaller account fade away.

Not so fast, murmured the Internet, that little account is overdrawn by three dollars and fifty-one cents. A pox on your credit rating, dear consumer.

And with that, my credit collapsed faster than a sand castle in a tidal wave.

How the bank managed to find a sheriff in a single day's time, when I'd been calling his office daily for over a month to complain about the kids riding four-wheelers through my backyard, is a mystery that even Google couldn't solve. Nonetheless, on the morning following the overdraft alert, two deputies, in separate cars, pulled into my driveway. I ushered them into the living room, before the snooping octogenarian couple across the street could refocus their webcam, and stood facing them with my hands stuffed into my pockets.
"Thanks for coming. One of those kids…"
"Mister dye que son?"
"It's pronounced 'Dickson'."
"Heck of a way to spell it then. D Y Q U S E N"
I shrugged. "It's Dutch."
The deputy nodded. "You from there, sir? Dutchland?"
"You mean Holland?" I did my best to hold back the smile; after all, this was the country.
"Mr. Dyqusen, we have a warrant here, ordering you to appear in County Court within seventy-two hours to answer to charges of fraud."
"Fraud?"
"Yes, sir."
"Who's making the complaint?"
He handed me the writ. "Apparently, it's your bank."

According to the paperwork, which I read in detail after they'd left, the entire amount of my mortgage was now past due, and interest had accrued from day one; fortunately for me, a loan only fourteen months old. I started to crumple the papers in anger, but composed myself before they'd been rendered unreadable.

"One phone call and this is fixed!" I shouted at the front door, knowing the old folks across the street would have set their hearing aids to maximum.

But in this age of Internet domination, the telephone had become passé. Text messages outnumbered voice more than one thousand to one. Anytime you spoke to a real person on the other end of the line, it was usually because they'd picked up the phone to make a call and found you there waiting. So it was no surprise that the recorded announcement from the mortgage division of the bank said the hold time would be approximately three hours. I was either calling a ship on the Atlantic Ocean or a Mexican flophouse in Tijuana from the scratchy sound of indistinguishable voices in the background. The recording concluded with a threatening message to either use their online customer service system or to start cooking a turkey while I waited.

Not having that much interest in poultry at the moment, I hung up the phone and shuffled into my study.

One of my former neighbors, a teenage boy who swore his dad still owned a cassette deck, had fixed my computer when the rain through an open window shorted it out. He told me, once it's running, never shut it off, and better still - never disconnect from the Internet. The day I first powered it back up after moving, it took over nine hours for the damn thing to finish loading whatever the hell it was loading, and then two full days to connect to the Internet while the various updates I'd missed in the day and a half the computer was in a box installed themselves and continuously rebooted my computer. Yet even with the damn machine waiting breathlessly for input, it still took twenty minutes to get to the bank's website. I entered my username and password, clicked Send, and was about to go put up a pot of tea while it connected. However, the screen changed immediately to a solid white background with the words "420 Violation" in bold red letters dead center.

"What the?" I clicked the Back button and re-entered both fields.

No change; I was in violation of rule 420, whatever that meant, and I figured the only way to make amends would be to resort to the telephone.

Before I could get up from the desk, however, the electronic inbox bell rang and bingo, I've got mail.

The email manager is designed to hold off the jingly notification until all the emails have been regurgitated from the server, so with a click I had immediate access to the gaggle of missives from the ether. The first message was from a former co-worker, a guy named Gilligan, who owned a fishing boat in the in a nearby village. I'd made plans to drive down there in a few weeks. His email was to say a couple of women from the Cosmetics department at Sears would be joining us - a blonde and a redhead - and which one did I want.

It was followed by the weekly update from my sister. She and her husband were somewhere in Costa Rica and had found a wireless connection in village several miles north of another volcano. Attached to the email was a short movie the eruption; I saved it with the other six she'd previously sent.

The third email, though, was from a name I didn't recognize - Consuela Mendez - along with a pair of photographs: a small one of an obviously pregnant woman, standing barefoot in front of the Sears outlet I used to work at and a much larger one of the same woman holding a baby. The text was in all lowercase letters and it read, "this is your fault, mason."

Now, rule number one at Sears was "the customer is always right," followed closely by rule number two, "don't screw them." I hadn't a clue as to this woman's identity, other than her name, but I knew I'd never violated rule number two in all the years I'd worked there. How she'd found my email address, a new one since the move, was equally as puzzling as to why she was blaming me for the child.

I clicked Reply and sent her this: Dear Ms. Mendez - You've definitely got me confused with someone else. I don't know you, don't remember ever meeting you, and certainly never slept with you. By the way, how did you get my email address?

Satisfied that this would put an end to the woman's claim, I pushed back from my desk and was about to head for the kitchen when the email bell sounded again and a new message floated into my inbox. This one was from the finance company that once held the note on my car.

According to the text, they'd received a copy of the charges filed against me from the County Courthouse and were taking immediate action to repossess my vehicle. The email had been sent forty-five minutes ago.

"What the hell is going on here," I shouted at the screen, "I paid that loan off six months ago!"

Fearing the worst, I ran for the garage. The car had been parked in the driveway since I moved to out to the sticks, its proper parking space filled with boxes, beach chairs, a bicycle with two flat tires, and the ping-pong table the previous owner had left behind. I dragged all of it out and around to the side of the house and raced the car into the garage so fast that I dented the water heater and crushed two fishing rods. And just to err on the side of caution, I unplugged the electric garage door opener, once it had closed, before rushing back to my desk.

The vehicular rescue took at best twenty minutes; in that time, thirty-six emails had snuck into my house. Creditors were circling like vultures over roadkill, claiming monies due on every possession I owned. Appliance Depot emailed invoices for the toaster-oven, the vacuum cleaner, and my electric razor. From the online office supply center, came a bill for my desk, chair, and three rolls of Scotch tape. Even the lawn maintenance company got into the act, claiming I hadn't paid them for the current month.

Christ! Three dollars and fifty-one cents bought a lot of nightmares.

I printed each one of them, figuring at some point after midnight, when the Internet traffic was a bit slower, I'd try to access each vendor's website to dispute their claims. I was around three-quarters the way through the messages when the next one came from Consuela Mendez.

"Mason - My lawyer said you would deny it. So I've copied him in on this reply. Your memory of the New Year's party is not as good as mine. Mason Jr. is your son. We can do this in or out of the court, but I want two thousand dollars a month and a bank account to pay for his college."
"And I'd like my freakin' hair to grow back." I shook my head and clicked Reply All.
"Dear Consuela and whoever's reading this at Hookem & Crookem, Esq. - Sears never threw a Christmas party in all the years I worked there. I don't know who you are, but this sort of crap is illegal."
I hit Send and finished the last few emails from vendors; all this craziness and it wasn't even lunchtime.

I've never been proficient in the kitchen, my size 28 jeans will bear testament to that, but I've collected teas from restaurants, health food stores, and several Internet shops that were probably getting ready to sue me along with everyone else. So when the water spurted, dribbled, and then stopped before the teapot was half-full, I'd lost access to one of my primary food groups.

I tried the sink in the laundry room to no avail and knew that each toilet would allow only one flush, but even in desperation, I wasn't going to drink from the bowls and I could always pee out back. With the forecast for hot and sunny and just a ten percent chance of a passing shower, it would be useless to stand outside with a bar of soap. The water company had shoved in the plug without a word of warning. No need to send a worker, a truck, a supervisor, and a backhoe, they can turn off your water electronically now. I was less surprised that it had happened than I should have been; at least they didn't throw a brick through the window with a bill attached to it. I pulled a can of Diet Pepsi from the refrigerator and reluctantly marched back to my office.

I tried the bank's website again, and for my efforts got another "420 Violation" screen. So it was back to the inbox and its line of beggars. As I suspected, the water company was the lead message, however it wasn't a past due notice they'd sent. Rather, I'd gone over my allocation of water for the next ten years. Apparently, in the last thirty days - according to their new electronic meters - I'd drained the equivalent of a small ocean for personal use. Well, at least they hadn't billed me for it...

...until I scrolled down to the next message.

The water bill had so many digits that it ran off the page. I considered printing it to add to the pile, but shrugged and clicked Delete instead; let 'em come and take the excess water back.

The next message was from the Sears Pension Department and interestingly it wasn't addressed to me but to a Mrs. Mason Dyqusen. It began, "Dear Mrs. Mason Dyqusen, we are sorry for your loss…" I shoved the chair back from the desk and ran for the bathroom, nearly pissing in my pants from laughter. It worth wasting a flush.

Demetrius Crookem, attorney-at-law, was waiting in the inbox when I returned, although I think the text of his message was some boilerplate crap. However, rather than a demand for payment, his was a response to a custody action. He'd copied his client, the alleged mother of my child, so I replied to both of them that I had no interest in custody, Consuela could keep the little brat, and I wouldn't charge her a dime.

Of course, Consuela forwarded her copy of the original email as well, but she added, "This is going to cost you big time, you dickhead."

I laughed at the screen, shaking my head, "Get in line behind the water company, sweetheart." The final email was from the power company - I had thirty days to bring my account current or blah, blah, blah. Thank God, someone didn't operate at the speed of light. I printed a copy of their 30-day electrical fatwa and went out for a walk.

It's impossible to describe what it feels like suddenly to have nothing, in spades, because, in my case, it was all still there; only the Internet thought it had gone. I'd done nothing wrong, except perhaps power up the computer, but somewhere in a dimly lit room, a group of disenfranchised hackers was getting paid to carve holes in my life. Convincing those demonic children that they were wrong would take something like...

...dying!

I ran back to the house, stopping to wave at my elderly snoops, and stumbled over to my desk. Kicking the chair back from me, I got down on my knees to be face to screen with my nemesis. Each vendor who'd sent me some dunning correspondence received a forwarded copy of the sad news from the Sears Pension Department, starting with the water company. By the time I'd sent the message three times to Appliance Depot, the last one on the list, I could hear the water running in the kitchen from the tap I'd left open.

I was dead and couldn't be happier, but there was one more email to send.

It went to my life insurance company, a forward of the grim news from Sears with instructions to wire the proceeds to my bank account, with the exception of three dollars and fifty-one cents. That was to be transferred to the law offices of Hookem & Crookem, Esq. and held in escrow for the college education of Mason Jr. Mendez.

The rest of Ricky's website.