The mail is one of those things taken for granted in the changing ways people deliver messages to each other. Where parchment and a wax seal delivered by horseback/carriage were the standards when the United States was created, a message to someone in a text from our phone is the new norm.
Of course, the mail still flows, day in and day out. Even though the bills come when we don’t want them to, something like a birthday card or a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon might brighten our spirits. Even the junk that is automatically tossed was something cherished by the lead character Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins in the book “Devil in a Blue Dress” because it marked that he had a home of his own.
“It’s always a surprise in the mailbox,” said writer and comedian Nick Kupsey. “There used to be a lot of substance to it, now it’s mostly junk.”
Kupsey worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service for 15 years in Drexel Hill and took his experiences to write “Lost in the Mail,” a humorous and straightforward telling about the role of the USPS in society and the people who help run it. His book details what Kupsey went through to become a letter carrier (from civil service test to USPS “boot camp” driving school in Philadelphia) and the organization of the mail before it gets to its correct mailboxes.
It’s a noticeably different book from his first outing as an author with 2017’s “The Five People You Meet in Wawa” where he identified all of the colorful people and experiences anyone will see at any of the region's favorite convenience stores. There are some laughs in “Lost in the Mail,” but it has a serious eye on the institution and the everyday people who walk for miles, hours every day to deliver the mail (true to the motto of neither snow, rain, heat or gloom will prevent completion of their work). At one point in the book Kupsey compared letter carriers to those of police officers, other civil servants who don’t get a break from the elements to do their job.
“The book is for the middle class, an under-served demo in the media. Blue collar work is hard work, tough work and there’s been a lack of respect for the job as time goes by,” says Kupsey. “We were the backbone of information until at least a decade ago.”
An earlier draft of the book took a very critical eye about the USPS, but leaving that created extreme tonal shifts that border on Kupsey having a vendetta against his former employer. He doesn’t, he says, he loves the service and the impact the USPS has had on the working class (a total of 634,000 employees as of 2018), which is slowly losing its grip as mail circulation declines and the centuries-long monopoly on delivery is challenged by private companies like Amazon. If anything, he sounded more frustrated about the opportunities missed, a feeling that maybe the the USPS could have been saved from itself.
“It’s a ‘chronicle’ before it doesn’t last. A love letter,” said Kupsey.
He has a keen eye on the relationships formed in the buildings he worked in, going so far to say that it was the definition of inclusion and equality in the workplace before it became a political talking point. On his routes, he and other carriers became a de facto integral part of the communities, noting how the absence of the regular carrier was noticed by the customers who love their mailman. With that said, Kupsey was able to see everything going on in the local environments, good, bad and the “oh my god!” that ranged from watching families grow up together to delivering that unwanted piece of mail that meant doom for the recipient.
Kupsey’s observations aren’t as bitingly funny as what he detailed in his slice-of-life “Wawa” book because he knew the riches and struggles of what being a letter carrier entails. He harnesses his energy to relay to the public information about one of the most visible federal programs that contributes $1.9 billion in salaries and benefits every two weeks. Yet, how much have we thought about who these people are?
He considers “Lost in the Mail” a companion story to “The Five People You Meet in Wawa,” about what it means to be an everyday working class person in the country. The book's title alone provides that emphasis to think about what truly has been "lost" in the mail system: Is it the hope for better employment (Kupsey details the physical and emotional toll of the job)? The ideas that never came, or came too late, in the last 20 years to keep the USPS more sustainable? That the country's respect for postal employees has not been fully realized, hidden among all the other messages that drown our lives?
“I hope I was able to illuminate that, especially the plight of letter carriers. If readers see that, they’ll invest in the postal service and a postal product,” Kupsey said.
He continued, “It’s a beautiful way of life and it could use some hope, investment and strategy and guidance, and it deserves to live. It’s the bedrock of our country.”
“Lost in the Mail” is currently available for Amazon Kindle and will be available in print edition starting Dec. 16 on Amazon.