My Mailman Wears Earphones


A few days ago, I happened to open the front door just as my mailman was approaching. I smiled and said hello, but he didn’t respond. That’s when I realized he was wearing earphones. I was in one world, and he was in another, even though we were occupying the same physical space.

When I was a little girl, my mailman didn’t wear earphones. He was Mr. Novak, and he had gone to school with my mother. He knew my aunts and uncles, and he knew me. If I happened to be walking home from school when he was delivering mail on our street, he would call to me, “You walk like your mother.” (I do.)

I don’t expect my mailman today to know that my daughter walks like me (she does), but I must admit, I do expect him to be in the same world I’m in. I guess that’s expecting a lot, considering how high tech some people’s worlds have become. But I want social exchange with the people who cross my path, and my mailman crosses my path regardless of wind, or rain, or hail . . . you know what I mean.

James Collins knows what I mean. He wrote a recent New York Times article about doormen, in which he said, “they provide an extra layer of face-to-face social connection that is not strictly ‘necessary,’ but is tremendously gratifying nonetheless.” That’s what I want from my mailman. Do I need the mailman to say hello to me? No, but a hello is a good thing. It’s a little extra insurance against depersonalization, and I want all the insurance I can get.

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10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Angela said,

    I feel the same way. When we first moved to this house we had a mail carrier that had been working the same neighborhood for years, if not decades. He frequently filled me in on the goings ons of the block — not in an overly nosy way, in a friendly way.

    Then he retired. Now we have several different carriers — I can’t really keep their schedule straight — all of them fairly young, and all of them constantly plugged in. I can barely get one woman to make eye contact with me, much less expect that she will hear what I’m saying or, worse, that one of my children has said both “Hello” and “Thank You.”

    It makes me sad. I love music and podcasts … but I can’t imagine going through my day blocking out any chance for interaction.

  2. 3

    Angela said,

    Also, my uncle was a mail carrier in a rural area. I loved hearing the stories that he would often open a mailbox to find a letter with a few coins taped to the front. When he got back to the post office, he’d buy the nec. postage, affix the stamp and send the mail on it’s way. If the customer was owed change, he’d leave it in the box the next day. Can you imagine?!?

  3. 5

    Laura Weldon said,

    Agree totally.

    My mother knew our mailman (admittedly, back in the 70’s) well enough that when he got cancer she took up a collection (okay, she made us kids go door-to-door) to help out his family.

    Technology may connect us to wonders, it also disconnects us from the wonders right in front of us. Leaves changing on trees, a friendly wave, the way the sky looks at this very moment.

  4. 7

    Mary B. said,

    Husband and I were in DC last Friday evening, I noticed the same thing…crowded streets, people walking about, most (if not all) wearing headphones, eyes to the ground, or on a far point on the horizon. I couldn’t help but think of the missed opportunities that come from spontaneous conversations with strangers while waiting for a light, or a smile exchanged in passing. What are they trying to tune out?

    • 8

      sgaissert said,

      I don’t know what they’re trying to tune out; maybe just trying to tune in to their own customized world, which I find sad. Thanks for commenting, Mary.

  5. 9

    D said,

    I’m not going give you my real name as I do work for the postal service as a clerk but I will let you know to contact your station and let them know of this incident carriers are not supposed to be wearing earphones and neither are clerks if they are helping a customer.

    We are not supposed to ignore people instead interact with the community I hope this hasn’t ruined the USPS for you and hope you continue being a customer


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