The collateral breeding of uncivility, stupidity

April 27, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

If you listen to Scott Wallace, it seems obvious that he was arrested for a ridiculous reason. He simply wanted his mail delivered.

That's right. Like many residents of big cities, he is unhappy with his mail delivery. But unlike others, he was tossed into jail.

It happened this way:

Last January, Wallace, 32, a theatrical casting agent, and his wife rented a big rehabbed house on Chicago's Near Northwest Side.

They had been living in an apartment about a mile away and filed their change of address with the local post office.

After they were in their house a few weeks, they noticed that they were getting very little mail.

They phoned and were told there was no mail for them. That didn't figure, because Wallace is an independent businessman and works out of his home.

A couple of weeks later, he called again and someone said: "Oh, yeah, we've got tons of mail for you."

"So I went over to the local post office," Wallace says. "I waited in line, then they told me I was in the wrong line. So I got in another line and waited about 20 minutes. Finally, I got to the counter, and there was this young clerk who looked like a gang member.

"I said: 'I'm here to pick up my mail.' At this point, I was nice and polite.

"But he told me they don't give out mail at the post office. When I asked him how I could get it, he went in the back and came out and said: 'Go home and shovel, man.'

"That's when I discovered that there is this regulation that says they won't deliver your mail if your walk isn't shoveled. Now this is in February, and my walk wasn't really shoveled. There was about 3 inches of ice on it. But it was winter. There is ice and snow in winter. Besides, I have a slipped disc and can't shovel.

"So I said: 'Oh, if I clear my walk, then I get my mail?'

"He says: 'That's right, man.'

"I got upset. So I slapped a little plastic brochure holder and I slammed the door on my way out."

By March, some mail began coming through. By April, delivery was normal, and Wallace got a card saying a package had to be picked up.

"I walk in and there is the same young guy. He goes in the back and gives me the package . . ."

"Then I walk out. That was it. But I hadn't been home more than an hour when the doorbell rang, and there was a Chicago policeman and a postal police officer.

"The postal policeman says: 'A couple of months ago, you were involved in an altercation, right?' I said no. He said: 'We have it on film. You've been charged with assault.' I asked who I assaulted. He said I assaulted the postal worker.

"He said the worker felt threatened and that postal workers are really under the gun now and they have to protect their employees.

"They took me to a police station, and 11 hours later, at 2 o'clock in the morning, they finally let my wife bail me out.

"So now I have to go to court in June and defend myself against a charge of assaulting a $6 piece of plastic. The plastic container I hit. They call it a display case."

A clear case of injustice, right? Well, not really.

First, there is Wallace the yuppie.

Why didn't Wallace clear his walk? He says he has a slipped disc so he couldn't.

Then hire someone to do it. There are plenty of low-income kids in his neighborhood who would be glad to earn a few dollars.

Or why not buy some salt and melt the ice? "No, I didn't think of that," Wallace says. "And no one suggested it to me."

No one suggested salt? As a kid, I lived about half a block from Wallace's present address. In those days, nobody had to tell the blue collar families how to get snow and ice from their walks. I guess modern yuppies are a bit slow.

As for the postal clerk, would it be asking too much for him to have politely said something like: "Sir, we have your mail, but it can't be delivered because you have dangerous ice on your walk. If you would remove this hazard, your delivery will be resumed."

I wish I could be sympathetic. But what we seem to have here is a case of bilateral discourtesy and stupidity.

In our society, these are more prevalent than the flu.

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