Opinion

Jennifer Graham

Mail fowl

If you want to save the Postal Service from bankruptcy, consider chicken

RACHEL HARRIS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The US Postal Service cannot be described as “on the brink” of insolvency; it sailed over that cliff in 2006, when Congress decreed it must fund employee pensions and benefits 75 years in advance.

But despite losing $3.2 billion in the first quarter of the year, the Postal Service will not make the hard decision to close 3,700 branches, making the creeping behemoth that is the Catholic Church seem nimble and bold. When its books bleed, the church shutters buildings like a Buddhist monk, serenely indifferent to fury.

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Not so the Postal Service, which caved last week on Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s necessarily severe plan to save $6.5 billion a year. Instead of accepting the sensible but politically inexpedient course Donahoe believes would make his agency solvent by 2017, the Senate came up with its own plan: a quick-fix infusion of $11 billion to delay bankruptcy for a couple of years. Why give the postmaster general the opportunity to perform the budget-balancing equivalent of walking on water, when we can just throw cash at a problem? Greece is the word.

But we can shave this multi-billion problem to a nub by employing Occam’s razor. The simplest solution is to ignore the howling, close the outlier branches, and install self-service kiosks in every Starbucks. The Postal Service is the second largest employer of civilians (between Walmart and McDonald’s), but no one need be out of work if they can learn to make a Mocha Coconut Frappuccino; the coffee shops always seem to be hiring.

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But whether you prefer the Starbucks plan or the Senate’s, the Pony-Up Express must be saved. It may be losing $25 million a day and becoming rapidly obsolete in the face of e-mail, but how else are we going to mail chickens?

Yes, you can mail a chicken, as it is not liquid, fragile or potentially hazardous. It is, however, perishable, and thus requires priority or next-day shipping. You may mail ducks, pheasants, swans, bees, fish, worms, and land tortoises. Also scorpions, if used for medical research. Delivery of small live animals is among the many unsung benefits of having a government-run mail delivery service. The rates start at $5.20 for Priority and go up from there. And as long as the Postal Service is charging more than it costs to transport these creatures, everyone who mails a chicken is doing more than Congress is to help the agency balance its books.

I learned about this option only recently, after hearing a persistent cheeping while waiting in line at the Ashland Post Office. I assumed some wayward pigeon had flown in and built a nest in the stock room, but I was told it was just business as usual. Who knew? Instead of asking me if I’d like to rent a post-office box, the woman selling me my “forever” stamps (still the best value to be had in the nation) should be asking if I have any small vertebrates I need to relocate.

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This would go a long way toward improving service, and thus enticing more customers to postal counters. This, and free coffee.

We are customers, after all, albeit customers without any choice for standard-size greeting cards. Recently, a Postal Service employee said, at the conclusion of my transaction, “Thank you for your business,” which was more shocking than the mailability of chickens. I’d never heard those words uttered at a post office before. I wanted to kiss her ring, like the Pope’s.

The Postal Service is unique among government institutions in that it is self-supporting, or at least used to be, before implementation of the coffer-draining Postal Accountability Enhancement Act. It is also unique in that most people like it, and want to maintain it for nostalgia’s sake, even as we wait in increasingly long lines.

We like our mailboxes, and we like getting stuff in them; we like our mail carriers, especially the ones who, like mine, carry treats for our dogs. In fact, we like the Post Office much more than we like Congress, which is why senators should take the hint and defer to the guy who’s actually in charge. If his plan works, sign me up for the Committee to Elect Patrick Donahoe in 2016.

Meanwhile, save the Post Office, mail a chicken. Preferably to the senator of your choice.

Jennifer Graham is a writer in Hopkinton
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