By Don De Grazia
I was lonely. There’s no dodging that. I was lonely for Katherine. I sat in the dark in my Lakeview coachhouse apartment and seethed. I was sitting in the dark because my electricity had been cut off. Outraged, I called the electric company, who informed me that they had sent a final notice a few weeks ago. It never arrived. Much of my mail never arrived. Chicago mailmen, at that time, had been caught doing things like emptying their mailbags under viaducts and burning truckloads of mail rather than delivering it.
I went to the window and pulled the curtain back to let some glow from the alley streetlight in so I could write my mailman a letter. It read as follows:
Dear Mailperson (s):
My mail service is terrible. In fact, it couldn’t be worse. I have received phone calls from across the country informing me that mail sent to this address is being returned with a note saying that I no longer live here. Why? Why is this happening to me? This kind of thing has been going on for years. Every spring, when the snow melts, I find letters addressed to me strewn around the yard. This is starting to hurt me professionally and financially. I’ve called your supervisor dozens of times, and it was very educational—I got a real feeling for what life must have been like in Eastern Germany before the wall fell. I’m not blaming you! I know this is my fault. I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong. Am I supposed to tip you? Buy you a 40? Did someone with an Italian name beat you up when you were a kid? Please let me know what I can do to make it up to you.
I was very pleased with this letter. I read it over a few times, chuckling to myself, then grabbed a roll of scotch tape and walked out to the main house in front, where my mailbox hung on a wooden porch rail. I taped the letter across the mail slot so it would be impossible to ignore, and went back into my darkened house feeling good. Once inside, though—alone in the dark again—that good feeling began to fade. I was becoming a villainous weirdo. What would my new neighbors think? I had never met them, but I’d caught enough glimpses to know they were part of the tidal wave of young, yuppie meatheads who were taking over my neighborhood. If “my” neighborhood sounds a bit proprietary, well, my grandpa went to Lakeview High School, followed by my mother, and I was now a freshly tenured teacher in Lakeview’s English Department. For me, the local terrain was a landscape of anecdotes. For instance, my apartment was only half a block away from the corner of Henderson and Ashland, where my mother’s greaser boyfriend made the news back in the 1950s when he mugged Chicago’s most beloved weatherman, Harry Volkman. I wasn’t opposed to this invasion of yuppies. I saw a lot of good in it, in fact. But it did make the shadows in my dark apartment fall more heavily as I imagined my neighbors reading my note. What kind of depraved prick picks on the mailman? That’s right up there with goosing a nun. Never mind that Chicago has some of the most diabolically evil mailmen in the Western world. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told you about them burning bags of mail under viaducts. Chicago mailmen are capable of anything. My neighbors would no doubt consider me some kind of crazy jagoff, but the truth of the matter was that all too often mailmen are very, very bad people, and someone needed to say it.