I Have A Post Office Box / 3 July 2002

I have a post office box that I check on the first of each month. I always run into this repairman hunched over the stamp machine, its innards exposed. “You must be a regular,” he said one time. And, later: “Just like clockwork, a man with regular mailing needs.” Took six or seven months for me to figure out that he, too, only showed up on the first of the month but he assumed that I was always around since he saw me each time. The burning question is why I didn’t think the same thing. What does this say about my reasoning skills, diary. What does this say about my approach to extrapolation.

I only give out the P.O. address to interesting correspondents. I have lost three friends this way. “Just send it to Rudman,” I said. “I only check the P.O. box once a month.” But they knew of my policy (how many ways have search engines ruined my life?), they were not fooled.

Those friends were dispensable, and I smile grimly at their loss when I open the wee door and watch the world tumble to the air-conditioned floor. Hand-stapled catalogs translated into shorthand, hawking waterproofed wooden boxes of scotch and lingonberry rye, astronaut food, white infants crippled by polio. Empty envelopes, no return address — but the stamps, ornate and obscene, the latest chapter in an ongoing story that I’m piecing together in a decaying showcase book. And secret messages written in lemon juice that turn a swollen purple when heated — only ten more days, says one, or: you going to get whats coming to you mr allen. Unidentified seeds in slim paper packets, a dozen letters written by third graders as part of some assignment (We lost the game but it was close and I know that next time I wont be as scared and will look Big Ray right in the eyes*). Water and sand in a small glass vial, stoppered, sealed, wrapped in brown paper and twine. An illustrated book called The Adventures of Captain Kill Devil, the plate reading Ex Libris Famke Allen. A handwritten story about knights stalking something called a Night Dragon. Twenty credit card applications. A love letter intended for a woman at Box 622, a love letter that I later edit and re-use. Real estate photographs, the windows closed off with black paper and aluminum foil. A postcard from Arizona, a postcard from Barcelona, three postcards from Portland, Maine — people passing through the town in which I live and opting to send a card rather than drop by. An audiocassette of field recordings, birds and wind and radios. A tiny bottle of shampoo and conditioner in one. Anthrax that turned out to be the dust from candy hearts stuffed into Valentines. Twenty identical birthday cards — For all the years I missed, xo Grammy.

My hands smell foreign for the rest of the day. And it’s tiring, sometimes — all this proof of people outside, living lives, documenting lives, tearing off a small piece and handing it over to the U. S. Government. Why can’t they be silent and inert when I’m not looking? Still, diary, it’s comforting to know that if it won’t fit in the box, it won’t get to me. It’s nice to have a well-defined filter.

Joshua Green Allen

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