There is no actual mailbox here at Surlywood. Instead, there's a mysterious-looking brass rectangle bolted to the garage door; pull up the bottom edge, and you'll see a slot. Items pushed through the slot will land in a basket on the inside. There's a definite security advantage to this setup, since only the tiniest, narrowest hand will fit into the slot from the outside, and that hand can't possibly reach to the bottom of the basket. But all this wonderfulness is contingent upon the mail carrier shoving everything through the slot and making sure it all falls to the bottom of the basket. Alas, this is not always the case, especially if one of the mail items is the sort of flyer that normally shows up in the Sunday newspaper; there's nothing to hold those newsprint pages together, and if they fsll at precisely the wrong angle, ordinary envelopes on top of them can go sliding past the basket and onto the garage floor.

This was not a big deal back in the days when I had a measure of structural integrity. But now I'm nowhere near quick enough to grab something falling onto the floor, and if the angle is just bad enough, that something will end up two or three feet in front of the door. I can't possibly reach it without a shovel, a rake, or some other instrument of destruction. (I have learned to keep a garden rake hanging nearby.) Thursday afternoon an envelope tumbled to a place on the floor that hitherto had never been hit with mail before, and as I watched, the garage door came down and landed squarely upon it. I swore vividly, as I am wont to do, and attempted to pull the envelope out from under the door. In a rare case of the weatherstripping actually doing its job, I couldn't budge the hateful chunk of paper in any direction. I did spot a bank logo, and I figured that this was an acknowledgment of a recent credit application. Like as not, I decided, it was negative, and therefore I didn't need to put any further effort into retrieving the contents.

This is, I have to admit, an awfully facile response. But I seldom have any reason to expect anything wonderful in the mail: if it's a bill, it will probably be worse than I thought it was, and if it's not a bill, why am I getting it in the first place? Expecting the worst is something I do almost automatically. I've had pleasant surprises now and then, but they are definitely the exception, not the rule. And I have a long-standing tendency to construct unpleasant fantasies. I explained that to the shrink this way: "By the time I pick someone up for a first date, I've already rehearsed the breakup speech." I didn't mention that I hadn't had any first dates in about a quarter of a century, but I suspect I didn't have to.

And with this very thought in mind, I went back out to the garage and retrieved that pesky envelope. It was indeed from the bank, and it contained a check for two hundred dollars and change, apparently a refund for overpaying into the escrow account on the house. Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

The Vent

  1 December 2017

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