The first year it happened, I was living in the suburbs. After procrastinating as usual until April 15th, I had missed the postman's pickup, then the mailbox pickup, and finally ran to the local post office, only to find it closed. On the late news I saw that the downtown Springfield post office was going to stay open until midnight. I woke the kids, who were too little to leave home alone, threw them in the van in their pajamas, and rushed downtown.
I wasn't prepared for what I found. The area around the main post office looked like Times Square on New Year's Eve. A live band was playing; news cameras were everywhere. Traffic was bottlenecked; it was impossible to get near a box. And anyway, I wanted my tax forms postmarked while I watched.
I circled the area, panicking. Finally, I threw the envelopes back to my preteen daughter and ordered her to run over to the building, find her way inside, and hand the envelopes to a clerk. Come back after she'd witnessed them being stamped, and not before.
She was mortified, but I was adamant. The poor girl ran out in her pj's, worried no doubt she'd end up on TV, and eventually came back, mission accomplished. No big deal; nothing six or eight years of therapy wouldn't fix.
So now I knew the last-ditch technique. The next year, I learned that the USPS would be doing it again, and again took advantage. By the third year, it had become a habit.
I moved out of town, but before long, I was back. The first job I got was night shift at the General Mail Facility, where the mail is processed for Springfield and surrounding towns. Tax night, as you can imagine, is a wild and crazy night there.
I handled plenty of tax forms with insufficient postage during my tenure at the GMF. It broke my heart to see those envelopes with a last-year's stamp, a penny short. Or only one stamp on an envelope so heavy, it needed two. I pictured an angry husband slapping around the wife who'd made the mistake, when the letter came back marked "postage due" and a late penalty was incurred as a result. So I bought whole rolls of stamps and bumped up the postage on as many such forms as I spotted.
When I moved downtown a couple of years ago, I realized I'd be able to walk over to the post office on Tax Night. Last year, I strolled by near midnight with my dog. I was impressed at the improvements that had been made. Barrels had been set up in the middle of the road, marked "refund" and "tax due," effectively establishing a drive-through. Postal volunteers manned the barrels and even handed out extra stamps. A radio station was broadcasting from the parking lot. Dunkin' Donuts was handing out coffee and doughnuts; another local chain had just run out of wings, but Taz found plenty of scraps.
This year Tax Night fell on the 18th. The 15th was a Saturday, followed by Easter, followed by Patriot's Day for us Massacusetts folks. I went a bit early--ten or so. The building was dark; the entrance deserted except for a newswoman and a cameraman. The woman was looking into the camera and saying, "Tonight, hundreds of people came downtown for last-minute posting of their tax forms, only to find the door..."--and here she rattled the handle--"...locked. This year, the post office closed at eight o'clock. People are dropping their forms in the box outside, hoping that they will be picked up and postmarked before midnight."
I wasn't taking any chances. I walked back home with the dog, jumped into the car, and off we went to the GMF. I parked and went as far inside as I could go without a badge. I held out my envelope to the first woman who passed me. "Could you take this in to the manual cases?" I asked, in my pleadingest voice. She glanced at the address, then at me. "Sure," she said. "I'll walk it over and wait till it's postmarked."
I raced back out to the car and zipped back home. It was a beautiful, balmy night. Taz stuck her head out the window, and I blasted ZZ Top. Safe for one more year! The USPS might be instituting some dumb cost-cutting measures, but there were still a few good postal workers out there. One of them--a woman after my own heart--had taken my place at the GMF.