Tuesday, July 14, 2009

P.S. : On Searching for Blue Post Boxes

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Not long ago, I read an article (I regret not recollecting where) about how those beacons of sentiments carried and errands deposited - the standard USPS blue post boxes - were disappearing en masse from the sidewalks of Los Angeles. The article regarded this exodus as tantamount to the disappearance of the honeybee - a signal of the death of correspondence and true cause for alarm. He disclosed the rationale behind the vanishing writing repositories: each must pass a serviceability test (should a box contain fewer than x articles of mail at the end of a day, away it goes) and failure of this test was surely hard evidence of our utter dereliction of cultural and linguistic duty. I remember raising my eyebrows at the author's apocalyptic pronouncements (I may have even sniffed).

And yet, when I walked the half block to my designated beacon of blue (on busy La Cienega Boulevard) and found only discolored sidewalk and discarded bolts where it once nobly stood, I couldn't have been more flustered. In the vein of the author's fervency, this was commensurate with the death of something familiar and I grieved quickly and accordingly. "But I mailed that card here a week ago!" I sputtered (denial). "This is just wrong!" (anger). "If only they'd bring it back, I'd single-handedly meet their quota each day!" (bargaining). "Wherever will I do my mailing now?" (despair) and finally "Well... there is always that post box over on Rosewood and Westbourne" (acceptance).

Except that upon further examination, that mail vessel too had been uprooted and dispatched elsewhere. Thus began my daily search for the blue post box and the subsequent commitment to sustained patronage of said keepers of the mail. Granted, more often than not, a crimson DVD-filled envelope or post-marked-at-the-last-possible-minute parking ticket is my offering, but eschewing e-transcription in any form has to help the old school delivery effort, however small. With correspondence couturiers closing up shop everywhere, one cannot be too careful when it comes to matters of the mail.

Which got me to thinking about letters. My favorite letters - namely the ones Jane Austen's heroes and heroines relied upon. In Pride and Prejudice for example, I'd argue the letter is a star character, as essential to the plot line as Mr. Darcy or Lizzy Bennet. For all my new-fangled sniffing at the handwringing over the lost art of the letter, that old Jane Austen-loving mailbox hunter within prevailed and this is why. Had disappearing postal methods descended upon Jane Austen's characters,we'd have seen the casualty of untold beloved romances. Where would modern literature be without Darcy's methodical explanation of Wickham's character, without Lydia's selfish requests for approval and cash, or Jane's eager expression of her budding love affair with Bingley? So central are these letters to the development of love and loss, worry and relief, so often are the mentions of the anxious wait for a letter upon which the state of the characters' lives depend. Further, where would we be without Ms. Austen's personal letters, erudite banter bandied about between friends and fellow authors, clarifying her works and her perception thereof? ("The greatest blunder in printing is in p. 220, v. 3, where two sentences are made into one" she said of a publishing error in the first edition.)

Somehow, the brevity of email and text communiques doesn't quite compete with the sight of loopy script on a tangible page. Somehow, the lightning fast exchanges with those you love "xoxo", "vry xcited to c u tonite" don't compare with the purity of sentiment in Mr. Darcy's entreatment for Elizabeth's understanding:
"I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten: and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared had not my character required it to be written and read. You must therefore pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice."
- Pride & Prejudice (1813)
There are certainly all of the perks of living in a digital age (being able to "publish" a blog is clearly one of them). It seems, however, that the power of the post still oughtn't be underestimated. Maybe it should even be preserved.

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