Sunday, January 3, 2010

The letter was lost

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. – In my father’s time, during a depression, this then semi-rural community northwest of New York City one day found a ray of hope in the opening of a brand-new post office on Madison Avenue.
Its construction arranged through the political pull of Jim Farley, a Rockland County son who helped win Franklin D. Roosevelt his first term and who in turn became the postmaster general, the new edifice was so solidly built of brick and granite, its lobby of durable marble, its teller cage of shiny brass, that it seemed to my father, then a teen, that if the nation could bring something like this to a relative backwater, it could rise all the way out of the worst economic calamity the modern world had ever seen.

Dad’s optimism proved correct though a world war ended the Great Depression and a devastated Europe gave America a leg up on world manufacturing. Still, the can-do, let’s-build-it-solid motto of the American industrial empire, its work guaranteed and its profits assured by many, many hardworking people, really did the trick – for the war effort and for peacetime.

But then came growing competition – from Japan, then other parts of Asia and re-emerging Europe, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and bigger and bigger China. Instead of meeting that competition and sharing the world market through innovation, cost-cutting reduced staff, closed factories and outsourced manufacturing. Bill, the gray-haired 60-year-old, in the factory since age 20, was out. So was  Ken, 40, whom Bill taught. Their expertise and the proper line of succession were deemed not necessary.

A computer could design the product, say a mailbox, and the company could find cheap labor to build it, in a country where factory emissions were not regulated.

The Postal Service, once the Post Office, which inherited a wonderful part-steel/part-cast iron mailbox that stood outside the almost indestructible Depression building on Madison Avenue in little Spring Valley, could now replace that box with a new one, built overseas perhaps, but even if constructed in the good, old USA, put together on the cheap.

Competition, you know. Profits, you know.

Well, that double-sized stamped sheet steel mailbox that now sits on the sidewalk off Madison doesn’t look right. Doesn’t look like a mailbox ought to. Doesn’t work right, either, its bin door not properly cantilevered so as to flip back without citizen assistance.

Old Bill and Joe could have told the manufacturer that before the replacement mailbox left the factory. Only they had already left.

Not sure why the mailbox needed to be replaced anyway. The first one saw service through a Depression, World War II, Korea, peacetime, Vietnam, Watergate, the coming and going of the Ford Pinto, 2001, iffy presidencies and the stimulus. Guess I’d write a letter to ask, but don’t know to which lobbyist, and I’m not certain that I’d get it into the new mailbox.

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