I love mail, which means I love mailmen (mailpeople? letter carriers). These are folks - men and women - who deliver to our doors the gift of words. Sure, this was more common before mail went digital, but I still covet the perfect postcard - that ideal combination of collective image and personal thought, recto and verso as Derrida said, the Kodak-spot image we all share of the world on one side, and the scrawling, hand-written, forcibly succinct personal story on the other. Postcards are a kind of history - of a place, of a relationship, of a person. The lineage of image, caption, selection, notation, address, stamp, receipt, display, save, and rediscover can knit together a life. The Raleigh 2000 project was about this, as was the A to B work I did here in LA last year.
But there's something special about the fact that a person, a live person, hand delivers the mail to you. Oftentimes they are walking from house to house, carrying that big blue mail bag like they have since the mid-1800s. One of the few provisions in the American constitution regarding the form of the country itself requires that the government upkeep routes for the delivery of the US mail. Newspapers and correspondence via horse and stagecoach tied us together long before highways and the internet. The westward expansion is the dual story of population migration and mail delivery.
More so, mail is ritualistic. My mother writes me real letters in her beautiful handwriting. My father sends me articles with my name written at the top - a record of his reading with me and my interests in mind. My friends send me postcards when they travel, particularly postcards of roads.
But this Saturday, May 9th, all of our mail carriers take on some additional weight. For 17 years the NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers) has conducted a nationwide food drive on the second Saturday of May. Members of the 300,000-strong postal union in 10,000 cities across the country will collect non-perishable food items from us, then deliver them to food banks, pantries, and shelters in the neighborhoods where they are collected. In New York and Chicago you can take your donations directly to the post office branch near you between May 4th and May 9th.
Appropriately, Campbell’s' Soup will donate an additional 1,000 pounds of soup to a food bank chosen by each of the ten post office branches that collect the most food. Last year, letter carriers collected a record 71.3 million tons of food; this year, the need is even greater.
Rain, sleet, or snow, they bring you your mail. The bills and junk, yes, but also the surprises and treats, birthday cards, reminders, love notes, books, and memories. And only once a year they ask you for something back, and offer to be the free conduit that delivers your goodness to those who really need it. This Saturday, let's help our letter carriers fill up those big blue bags with food. For more information, go to the NALC website.
Two quick congratulations: Loveswell's opening night got rave reviews. It plays through June 7th (see last week's entry for more information), and my friend and founder of the Street Soccer USA league, Lawrence Cann, is on the front page of the NY Times Region section for his work with homeless players - check it out (and see previous blog entries on the Charlotte Street Soccer team, or see Kicking It! now on hulu).