The Art of Number Management


So, I went to the Post Office. I should probably note, I have post office phobias. I don’t know why. I hate going to the post office. Hate it. Avoid it. Don’t send out essays to publications if they need to be snail mailed. I will spend the extra money to have things UPS-ed. I can’t explain it. It just is.

But I went to the post office, as my mail carrier had suggested to talk to his boss, Steve. The Post Master, Steve, doesn’t come in until 10 – even though the office opens at 8:30. By 10, most folks are busy at their jobs and can’t harass him. He’s a smart man. There were two other people in the post office looking for Steve while I was there. They were ranting at desk clerks. Dissatisfied customers. Neither of them asked for who ever was the boss-of-the-moment.

When it was my turn, I asked for Steve; knowing full well he was not available—I’d heard the clerks. So, I asked for whoever was in charge, the boss of the moment. The clerk gladly obliged. My fifteen minutes in line had shown me they were having a tough day at the front desk. The customer at the next window was slamming his fist on the counter. He had been promised that his package would be delivered in two or three days. And damn-it he’d mailed it on Tuesday. The frightened looking clerk replied meekly, yes, that makes today the third day.

Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to, Lady? I want my money back for the package! It needed to be there yesterday.

I can’t give you your money back – the package is on the mail truck now, it will be delivered today. She was nicer than I would have been. I’d have told him, if you wanted it there yesterday, ya should-a mailed it earlier, dude.

I want a complaint form.

You have to call the 800-number and file a complaint. There is nothing to mail. Her calm was impressive. I did ponder the counter-productiveness of the post office doing away with things to be mailed. The change of address form had to be completed online. I’ll get that number for you. I’m sure someone will call you back.

It went on and on. Fist slamming, cussing, Rude, arrogant behavior. Like it was this poor young woman’s fault that his package would be delivered in three days, instead of two. She had hidden it in the back room and mailed it later just to screw up his Thursday. My clerk paged Mark.

An affable young man, Mark, came to the counter. He looked weary, like he had faced lots of disgruntled customers. He was sort of resigned to his fate, second in command, the man surely to be shat upon daily, because his boss wisely didn’t come in until 10.

I felt for him. I told him my story…

You have to add our address to your database, the county said the address is 1117 – see? Here’s my Permit of Occupancy. Our building permits were held up for weeks because of our street address. The county went round-and-round with the real estate folks and the contractors. Our address is not 1107. This should be easy to fix, just update your database.

Mark stared blankly at me for a moment then said, The County gives us the addresses to put in our database, we don’t make them up. Your address is whatever the county told us it is for that building.

Ok, but the space has been empty for a long time – the number has changed.

No, this is what’s in our database; this is your address. 1107, not 1117.

Yes, I know this is what’s in your database, but as you can see on the occupancy permit, issued by the county not two weeks ago, the new address is 1117. My empathy was wearing thin.

Mark, sensing my rising frustration, said he would copy the occupancy permit (that he obviously thought the county screwed up on) and have Steve call me.

No need to copy it! I made this copy for you before I came, you can give this to Steve. I’ve dealt with bureaucracies before.

Mark took the permit and promised Steve would call before 1pm.

Onward to work. A couple of hours later, Steve called.

Ms. Jones? I’m sorry about your problem.

The your part of that statement made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It seemed to me, this was Steve’s problem. I mean, the county and I, after several weeks of wrangling, were in agreement. Our move had been delayed by almost a month while the real estate agent, contractor, my boss the attorney, and the county had worked out exactly what the street address was. Clearly, in my mind, this was Steve’s problem.

Steve didn’t see it that way.

Ok, Steve, so how do we resolve this? The county is telling me one thing and the postal service is telling me another. In the meantime, my June/July marketing has all gone out with the 1117 address.

I’m sorry, says Steve. Your address is 1107. I changed your change of address forms yesterday and your mail will be forwarded to 1107 and not 1117.

Really? Like you can just change my change of address form without discussing it with me? So, anyone in the post office can decide my mail can go anywhere they want it to? So if you piss off the postman, he can have your mail sent to Alcatraz? Or Tasmania? This is bad. I didn’t say any of this… But I thought it. I said, You can do that?

Yes, Ms. Jones. The address you used on the change of address form doesn’t exist.

Did you see the permit of occupancy? Who decides street addresses, the county or the post office?

The county.

Oh good, I thought, now I’m getting somewhere.

But I called the county, and talked to The Office of Number Management, and corrected their error. The person formerly in charge of Number Management was fired. He randomly changed the street addresses for several businesses. They fired him. I’ve fixed it with the county; your address is 1107.

The minute he said The Office of Number Management, I knew I was sunk. I knew all of my advertising had the officially wrong address. Somewhere in Chesterfield County there is a little office entitled Number Management. And someone works there forty-hours a week. Tax dollars wisely spent. I wondered what sort of qualifications were required for such a position? Number recognition is a kindergarten skill. So you had to have completed kindergarten? I suppose with a kindergarten education, counting to 1107 is a lot of work and it might take forty hours. But someone had done the job of assigning street numbers so poorly that they had been fired. I tried to reconcile it in my head, but couldn’t.

This is not a world that my years of college, more than a decade, had prepared me for in any way. I repeated it slowly, The. Office. Of. Number. Management?

Yes, but don’t worry, I fixed it. Your address is 1107.

That that’s not what the county told us, or what was on our lease didn’t matter to Steve. My permit of occupancy was wrong. That all of my advertising now had the wrong address on it didn’t matter either. That I didn’t feel like anything at all had been fixed seemed irrelevant to him. He changed one digit on my change of address information, but refused to change one digit in the database. I hate the post office. Hate it.

Shortly after I hung up the phone, the UPS man arrived at my office. We explained to him that there was a problem with the street number to which he replied, Yeah, I knew that already, I know where you are, it’s ok. You’ll get all of your deliveries. Thank God for UPS!

After Steve, I had to call Comcast. The nice man there, Paul, told me that there was nothing wrong with my system – except that is stopped working in the middle of a conference call. But it’s working now! he said cheerfully.

Yes, yes, it is. But, Paul, this is a business; I cannot have my phone line fading in and out. I cannot be talking to clients and have the line die. It’s bad enough that they are going to be challenged to find me – I have 2 different addresses for the same building!

Paul, like Steve before him, assured me that this wasn’t a problem, that he had it all under control.

I remain dubious on both counts.

Word Count: 1445

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