To accommodate my burgeoning career as an author and publisher, I’ve rented a post office box in my home town of Wynantskill for the past couple of years. It’s a precautionary measure to protect my privacy. I wouldn’t want legions of fans lurking outside my house and upsetting my dog Sirius, who takes his guard duties very seriously. Nor would I want them passing judgment on my humble abode.
Those fans haven’t yet materialized, and I’ve seldom used the P.O. box. When I check it every couple of weeks, its contents consist largely of advertisements for local car washes and restaurants, plus the weekly newsprint advertiser, all of which I dump immediately in the handy recycling bin alongside the boxes. In general, I prefer using my home address—it’s more convenient and usually more reliable.
Nevertheless, in February, when I began seeing notices that the rent for my P.O. box was due the last day of the month, I took them seriously. I like the box number—363—and it’s emblazoned on my new business cards and appears in my novels as the official address for my business, Creative Crone Press. Saturday, March 10th, was the last day of the grace period before they’d take back my box. Knowing they close at noon on Saturdays, I made it down there by 11:30, allowing ample time for a couple of changes I wanted to make.
Amazingly, the man behind the counter recognized me and greeted me as Ms. Smith. From there, our exchange went steadily downhill, as evidenced by the following dialogue. I didn’t get his name, so I’m simply calling him Guy.
Julie: Actually, I don’t use the name Smith. I wanted to talk to you about that.
Guy: But that’s what it says right on the renewal form. Julie Smith.
Julie: I know, but that’s wrong. It should be Julie Lomoe, or Julie Lomoe-Smith. I never go by just Smith.
Guy: But there’s a Robert Smith listed for the box as well. Is that correct?
Julie: Yes, that’s my husband, but we use different names. The problem is that I’ve had people send things to me as Julie Lomoe at this box number, and they’ve told me they were returned as undeliverable, addressee unknown.
Guy: Yes, well, that’s probably because they didn’t use the name Smith.
Julie: That’s why I want to change it. Could I have a new form so that I can fill it out correctly? I also want it to list Creative Crone Press and Norse Crone Press.
Guy: That won’t be necessary, I can make the changes right on the renewal form. Now, it’s Julie Smith, right?
Guy: Well, they probably printed it out that way because the label fits the space on the box better.
I’ve been known to fly into expletive-laden rants on occasions like this, but I kept admirably calm, cool and collected. The line behind me was growing, and when I glanced around, there were five men, smirking or smiling sympathetically as if they had all the time in the world. Probably they were enjoying this impromptu drama that was giving them a reprieve from their Saturday chores. Nevertheless, I decided to show them some mercy.
Julie: Never mind. Why don’t I just pay the rental fee on the box so you don’t have to close it. I can deal with the other issues next week. Who should I ask for?
Guy: The Post Master. But he’s young, and he doesn’t really know the ropes yet. Anyway, he’s on vacation.
Julie: So is there anyone else I could deal with?
Guy: Hmm, I don’t know
Julie: At the very least, I’d like to make sure they don’t return my mail as “Addressee unknown.” Also, I’ve been getting other people’s mail put in my box by mistake.
Guy: Yeah, that happens sometimes. But I can’t do anything about it—I don’t sort mail anymore. You wouldn’t believe what happens around here. . .
At this point he launched into a series of convoluted anecdotes about current and former staff—who had retired, who should retire, who was out sick. I interrupted long enough to pay my bill, then made my escape, smiling apologetically to the men in line, who smiled back. True gentlemen, every one of them.
My husband, Robb Smith, is a novelist too. He sometimes uses a pseudonym or a business name. I’d already halfway decided we should have separate post office boxes, but after Saturday’s fiasco, I’m absolutely sure of it. When we married in 1975, spouses with separate surnames were relatively uncommon, and hyphenated names even more confusing. We’ve had our share of bureaucratic hassles over the ensuing decades, but nothing even remotely as maddening as my experience with Guy.
Still, I’m proud I didn’t go postal—not even close. Maybe it’s my age, or the meds I take to manage my moods, but I rarely fly off the handle these days. Besides, there’s already a famous mystery writer named Julie Smith, and the world doesn’t need another one. Anyway, her novels are set in New Orleans, and I’ve never been there, though the city is definitely on my bucket list. I fleetingly considered sharing this information with Guy, but he was confused enough already.