Monday 12 January 2015


When I worked for a living, I needed a pen to write on envelopes and for people to use so that they could sign for their registered letters. Now the letter carriers use some kind of digital PDA and the customers scratch their names on a square of gorilla glass. When the PDA is uploaded back at the depot, the customer who sent the letter can see that the parcel was delivered and also see the signature of the recipient. Crazy technology!

Many years before PDA’s were a glimmer in some geek’s eyes, we used paper and carbon paper to do the same job. Part of our morning ritual was the writing up of the days personal contact items (PCI’s) in the order they would be delivered. This had to be done in pen for legal reasons and later on it had to be done only with black ink because the cheap scanners the Post Office used wouldn’t read blue ink. I always thought that was bullshit, and I still do, but they were quite insistent about it.

In a perfect world, I would walk along the street and when I came to a house that had one of those PCI’s, I would knock on the door, the customer would answer the door, sign beside the X on the line and I would say thank you with a smile and walk away whistling. The reality of the situation was that I would have walked past the house because I was listening to CBC radio and forgot the registered letter, so I would have to walk back. No one ever wanted to walk back, it ate into your time and unless it was important, another day more or less didn’t matter. PCI’s were important!

Some times when I got to the house I wouldn’t have the pen that I left the depot with an hour earlier. Either the last customer kept it and I didn’t notice, or it may have dropped out of my pocket. Of course I wouldn’t discover this until I knocked on the door and I would have to ask the customer if he/she had a pen. “Sorry, it has to be a black pen; you can’t sign for it in blue ink.”

“Then shouldn’t you supply a pen that has black ink?”

“Yes, I should, but my black ink pen is back at the last customers house or on the street between here and there.” The customer would disappear for a few minutes looking for a black pen, mumbling about incompetent jerks and eventually come back with another blue pen. I’d get them to sign and then when I got back to the depot I would go over their signature in black ink. Keep in mind that this was before computers and no one at all would ever see the signature. In fact, I bet that there is some room in some dusty postal warehouse that has cartons and cartons of sheets with little black signatures.

My favourite was the customer that said he didn’t have a pen. “You don’t have a pen anywhere in the house?”
“Do you have kids?”
“Maybe there is a pen in their room.”
“No, they take it to school with them.”
“Okay, tell you what I can do. I will bring it back tomorrow and I’ll make sure I have a pen.”
“Could you leave a card so I can pick it up at the sub Post Office?”
“I could if I had a pen, but I don’t have a pen.”
“Let me have another look.”

Eventually, he would come back with a pencil or a crayon and I would just give him the letter. After a few years of these kinds of situations, I took to carrying three or four pens just in case. I always made sure they were ugly pens that no one would keep.

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