Thursday, February 16, 2017

There Used to Be a Mailbox

Neighborhood mailboxes have been targeted the past few years. Not booby-trapped or filled with mysterious powders, but victimized. The post office even posted warnings on certain mailboxes that were fished of their contents. Thieves in the cloak of darkness opened mailbox levers with their unique fishing tackle at-the-ready: a plastic bottle or something comparable smothered in a glue-like substance and connected to a string.

Dangling bottles and such into mailbox booty was their modus operandi. Envelopes readily stuck to the bait. What the rogues would do with their ill-gotten gains varied. It depended on the particulars of their catch. Checks mailed to utility, cable, and credit card companies were altered—a hundred dollar check made out to the phone company converted, for instance, to a one thousand dollar check made out to Freddy Felon or Rosie Reprobate. In other cases, invaluable personal information—like credit card and bank account information—was gleaned.

Nothing is sacred anymore. I remember learning at a tender age that it’s a federal crime to tamper with the mail. The United States Post Office response to this unsettling crime spree was to change the mail levers on the mailboxes to modest slots—a good idea under the circumstances. They also removed many of the boxes altogether—a not so good idea.

While out with a letter in hand a couple of days ago, I figured I’d mail it in a box I’ve utilized many times before—one directly across the entrance to the local police precinct. It’s a mailbox that happily had not been previously fished and, too, a survivor of the purge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to it because it was surrounded by snow and ice. No problem, I thought, another mailbox was nearby, in the direction of my errand run. However, what I discovered was that it—like so many others before—had been unceremoniously taken away.

I walked around for a bit, recalling where I believed mailboxes once stood for decades—but none were found. And this mission of mine occurred in the Bronx in the vicinity of busy Broadway and the noisy El. The bottom line: Lots and lots of people with fewer and fewer mailboxes. The local post office’s advice to neighbors one and all: Mail letters in the safety of the post office itself. Of course, walking a half-mile in the dead of winter or heat of summer to mail a birthday card isn’t always feasible for everyone.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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