(to the tune of ‘The Old Grey Mare’)
by Ken Perkins

“The new data-rich environment is a significant step forward in the tracking of letter mail and will help improve both service and efficiency.”

So says a 2007 document issued by the US Postal Service explaining how their increasing use of automation will help mail delivery. Maybe so, but this  bedraggled envelope missed the benefit train.



Supplied by the Eye Surgery Center of San Francisco, where I recently had cataract surgery, the envelope was rejected 3 times by the USPS. We mailed it from our home in mid-May. Despite the correct address being printed on the envelope by the Eye Surgery Center, the USPS’s yellow Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS) label shows the letter was sent to the ‘Nixie’ section, presumably in San Francisco.

Nixie‘ is the postal service name for a piece of undeliverable mail, and the Nixie Clerk was a postal service employee whose job was to find the destination of undeliverable mail. The word ‘Nixie‘ itself comes from the English slang ‘nix‘, which was in turn derived from the German ‘nichts‘, meaning ‘nothing’.

And sure enough, in this case, nothing is exactly what was accomplished. The envelope was returned to us a few days after we mailed it.

We wrote the street address number more clearly along with an admonition to ‘Try again…’ and re-mailed it. And back it came again, with a new San Francisco postmark and bar code. We took it to my eye doctor’s office on my next visit, thinking that since the doctor was a partner in the Eye Surgery Center, they might have somebody going there who could take it with them. But no, this is the 21st Century; nobody actually carries documents from one place to another, so they just put it in their outgoing mail. So here is, back home again, with three San Francisco postmarks.

I know where the Eye Surgery Center is, but I’ve run out of eyes to operate on, so I am not going to hand-deliver the envelope. The Center knows where they are.

Google Maps knows where they are. But the Postal Service cannot seem to find them. Maybe the Postal Service needs eye surgery…?

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