Eight years ago, I moved to Carroll Gardens when my [then] girlfriend broke up with me after a six-year relationship and booted me from our studio apartment in Alphabet City. The lease was in her name. I'd only visited Brooklyn a handful of times and my new apartment came with a busted mailbox. Having only ever scored part-time work so as to keep focused on manifesting a career drawing comix, I decided to get a PO Box for a secure place to receive my packages, letters, checks, etc.
Bernard was a monster of a man with a thick MAGNUM P.I. mustache and muscles who owned Postal Press on Court Street and he lifted weights in the back office. He was red from high blood pressure, had a handy towel to wipe perpetual sweat from his brow, ran bad jokes into the ground, and wore a scary smile. We got along. He was a community driven man who cared about the neighborhood. Bernard once told me that I should make my ladies eat oranges before we had sex so that they would taste like oranges. Something about the power of citrus. Whenever I walked in with a gal, Bernard would wink at me and say, "Hey man, are fresh oranges on the menu tonight?" I'd crack half a smirk, tell him to "cut it out," and check my mailbox. 4 or 5 years went by like this until, one day, the staff took over the shoppe. Bernard was gone. I got friendly with one guy and he told me Bernard was having troubles at home. A few months later, I picked up a local newspaper and there was Bernard's face plastered across half a page. Turns out he'd put a hit on his wife and got busted. Bernard had solicited a 16-year old employee to murder his wife for $10,000 and the young guy turned him in. Bernard's been in prison ever since. To tell you the truth, I wasn't surprised. The store changed hands and I still had my PO Box.
The new owner, I think his name was Bob, was short and stocky with a mustache and sweet as could be. He changed the store's name to Postal Plus and updated the Xerox machines. I continued my relationship with the shoppe, the new staff, especially with a guy named Joe, and things were okay for a year or so. Then, Bob disappeared into thin air and Joe took over by default. I scratched my head and read the newspaper but no reports about Bob and hit men. A month later, I noticed my mail began to dwindle. First it was my magazine subscriptions, and then online purchases never showed up. Finally, checks and packages were forever lost. I started to freak out. Within a week, the store downsized more than half its staff and would close early or never open with no rhyme or reason. I started to complain about the lack of consistency and lost mail. What happened to Bob? Where was my mail? Finally, Joe confided that Bob had gone to jail for tax evasion and swore that mail was coming in and I should be patient. I wondered if I'd been targeted? I became paranoid.
See, my first couple of months living in Brooklyn, I had a massive fight with my local mail carrier because rainy days meant wet mail and I wasn't going to have any of that. Never had I received wet mail when I lived in my native Manhattan. I had a bone to pick with this shifty mailman and I let him have it. We almost came to blows when I got in his face about not covering the mailbag with the canvas flap one rainy day. He refused to comply and I got ugly. I screamed "My mother could've mailed me her hand-written last will and testament and then died and your lazy behavior could've destroyed it!" I don't even know where I pulled that one, from. But, he, being an old school Italian in a Mafia neighborhood, could give a shit. Besides, the mailman had my number. Like the police department's "blue code of silence," his kind stuck together and I was up a creek. My suspicions were later confirmed when I befriended an Italian neighbor on my floor who suggested it was highly unlikely the mail man would go through the trouble to fuck with my mail on purpose, but it wasn't impossible. The neighborhood was "like that."
Anyhow, it was 5-6 years later and I started to wonder if that Italian rascal had put the screws to me? I started to test waters by writing postcards to my PO Box and to my home address. I'd get test postcards delivered to my home address but none ever arrived to my PO Box. I kept my eye out for that belligerent mailman and placed official complaints to the main post office about my missing mail and it sparked a case. Eventually, my mail stopped coming to Postal Plus, altogether. An investigation was launched by the United States Post Office. It wasn't just me that was missing mail; it was most of the customers at Postal Plus. I couldn't figure out the conspiracy? I was beside myself. Even though I had a year left on my PO Box rental, push came to shove and I emailed all my contacts with my home address and switched all my subscriptions, etc. I put in a request to forward my mail to my home address. Later, I would sometimes walk into Postal Plus and sneer at Joe and his only other employee, wanting to take a chunk out of the both of them. The air was thick with machismo.
A few months ago the store changed hands, again. Only, they kept Joe on to manage the store while the new owner set up a cell phone section and hired new staff. Whatever goodwill Postal Plus lost with the neighborhood was being given a second chance. I couldn't forgive the lost mail, but I could give the new owner a shot. Especially because I still had a PO Box that had time left paid for. Rather than switch my mailing address back to the PO Box, I basically quit the service but was curious if I still got mail. Once every two weeks I'd pop in and, sure enough, I'd get invites to parties or flyers from institutions that I forgot to alert my change of address. So, mail was flowing again, only it didn't really matter to me anymore. My relationship with Postal Plus was moot.
Another month goes by and I pop in once or twice to check for random mail. More party invites and scrap. Nothing of consequence. I felt it safe to declare my PO Box dead. Then, I noticed Joe was gone. Perhaps fired?
The other day, I get a nagging feeling and I walk into Postal Plus to make one final check of my PO Box. There's a yellow slip of paper with a message from management asking for proper identification for their records. They needed to update their file on me. Haw! So, I humor a nice young Latin lady, whom I'd never seen before, while she made a Xerox of my passport and thanked me for my cooperation. I wondered how much rental time I had left on my PO Box and she looked up the information. Turns out I had less than 30 days left. Eight long years had come to an end. I asked her about Joe's whereabouts. She searched the premises for rubberneckers, leaned in and got candid. Turns out, Joe was a drug addict and was stealing people's mail. He was throwing out anything that didn't have any resale value in the garbage. Whenever anybody would come in to ship a package, Joe would smile and take their order. Once the customer left, he'd steal whatever he wanted from the proposed package, toss the rest in the garbage, and pocket the money. This could only last a few months before an intensive investigation could inevitably be launched against the store and bust him. Joe was now on the run from the law for drug abuse and mail fraud. If they caught him, he would serve serious jail time. She made a joke about how much bad history the store had and giggled while looking up at a newly installed security camera above our heads. Then, without skipping a beat, she looked me straight in my eyes and asked "So, would you like to renew your PO Box for one year or two?"