By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Post Office Box 'tooth hurty'

Wick's World


The disgruntled postal patron screamed, “I’ve never heard of him!”

The poor postmaster had simply asked the recent divorcee if she knew where her ex-hubby’s letter was supposed to go, if not in her box. It was obvious to me and the other clerk she wanted nothing of her ex’s in her box any longer. She had come in for the umpteenth time returning her husband’s unwanted mail and this was evidently the last straw. We looked at each other and chuckled. The postmaster was the victim of one of those mistakes that come back to haunt you. We all seemed to have at least one problem box when it came to sorting mail. It could be due to dyslexia or something simpler, like people having similar names.

I was speaking with a friend the other day when he told me how his family would find mail addressed to Moses Lake, Washington, which was their winter home, in their Moose Lake, Minnesota, box, which was their summer home and vice-versa. Automation eventually cleared up that problem, but I explained that back in the days when mail was hand-sorted, the hand could be quicker than the eye. Although you may have read Moses Lake on the letter, the hand-eye movement automatically registered the local town of Moose Lake.

When an old friend I hadn’t seen for some years walked into the Moose Lake library, I greeted him with, “Hi P.O. Box 91. How’ve you been?”

This led to a conversation in which I was challenged to name the box numbers of several people who were milling around. Although I have been retired for well over 10 years, unfortunately my brain has kept inventory of many hundreds of patrons' old post office box numbers. One of the library clerks momentarily had me stumped, but when I remembered she got her mail with her elderly mother, I was able to immediately blurt out her number.

When I finally got approval to build Moose Lake a new post office, one of the criteria was all of the businesses and patrons who had the larger boxes and drawers would be assigned new numbers. In the old office, they were lettered from A to Z. Because automation was at hand, although I had several disgruntled customers on my hands, it was imperative everyone got assigned a new number.

Nobody was angrier than a colorful dentist who had the same letter for his post office box “for the past 40 years and by God, I’m not changing my address!”

For my office, that meant every piece of mail he received with his old address would have to be hand-sorted. That translated into using more clerk hours to sort mail and clerk hours were becoming increasingly in short supply. I needed all of my customers to jump on board as automation had been gradually been taking over the mail-sorting process. It was mandated all mail without the proper address was to be returned to sender. I returned mail for a few weeks and naturally that concept went over like a lead balloon. Bills went unpaid, appointments were missed and the disgruntled divorcee started missing her alimony checks. I eventually gave our post office box customers a full year to get their addresses corrected. I knew when I sent out the memo it was a request at best and a rule that had no teeth to it. It simply wasn’t worth the grief caused by returning people’s mail.

I still had to deal with our dentist, Doctor Colorful. Then it dawned on me. I needed to give him a number so desirable he couldn’t refuse to use it.

“Doc,” I said. “Here is your new number — P.O. Box 230. You know, like in tooth hurty.”

Soon his mail began arriving addressed:

Colorful Doc

Post Office Box 230 (tooth hurty)

Moose Lake, MN 55767-0230


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