Vandalism makes a rural delivery

Mailbox: A Howard Co. man, frustrated with repairing and replacing his mailbox, surrounded it in concrete. But vandals aren't deterred.

September 28, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Sam Ashai is caught in the age-old struggle between man and mailbox.

When the Clarksville resident found his box vandalized last year, he fixed it. When it was torn off and dumped into a streambed, he retrieved it. When it was damaged again, he strengthened it, replaced it and finally - two months ago - built a 3-foot-tall concrete fortress around it.

Nothing worked.

This is the wordless, faceless battle that rural folks know only too well, a "sport" called mailbox baseball because the typical weapon of choice is a bat.

Considered by police and postal employees to be an activity of bored teen-agers, it has frustrated homeowners for as long as anyone can remember. Even several companies that advertise "vandal resistant" mailboxes acknowledge that nothing is damage-proof from determined vandals.

Ashai has learned that lesson all too well. Although development has encroached in Clarksville, the town still has rural roots, and he lives on a country road that is popular with mailbox assailants.

But his experience appears to be extreme.

In the past year or so, his box has been damaged more than 15 times, despite - or perhaps because of - his attempts to protect it.

"I don't know why somebody would be so reckless and destructive," said the soft-spoken Ashai, a certified public accountant and father of three. "It is highly unusual for a mailbox to be broken so many times."

Safeguarding it "has become a full-time job," he said.

It's also attracted attention.

Kim Waterworth, a neighbor whose mailbox has been damaged at least four times in the past six years, admired his concrete structure.

"I don't know what to do," she said with frustration. "This is our second or third mailbox. Somebody did bang it, but I'm not going to buy a new one."

One passerby, noticing the perpetually damaged state of Ashai's box, told him a few weeks ago that her church congregation would offer prayers for its survival.

Alternate solution

Bill Dailey, postmaster for nearby Highland, offers advice.

"That's one box, all the time, beaten up," he said. "Very unusual. I told him: `Somebody out there must not like you.' The best thing for him to do is to cool things down by putting mail into a P.O. box, and wait six or eight months."

Many people with frequently victimized mailboxes go that route.

"We have a lot of customers who rent P.O. boxes for that reason - it's a pain in the butt keeping the boxes up," said Susan Allen, a clerk at the West Friendship Post Office.

Inconvenient

But Ashai doesn't want a post-office box. It, too, can be inconvenient. He prefers not to drive to and from the post office every day to retrieve his mail.

That - not a battle of wills - is the driving force behind his attempts to preserve his mailbox. He simply wants the service that most people take for granted.

Ashai isn't sure why his mailbox became a target. He's lived in his Clarksville home since 1990 and never had problems until last year.

Then they came with a vengeance.

The first time, his family's small black plastic mailbox was bashed in. Several times it was stolen, turning up elsewhere in the community. He put up a sturdier steel mailbox, but that, too, was injured - with a bat, a crowbar, even the bumper of a vehicle, judging from the marks.

Weary of not knowing whether he'd even have a mailbox in the morning, he built the solid fortress out of blocks and concrete.

"We kept on fixing it, fixing it, and we just got tired," Ashai explained, sitting in the study of his white gabled house.

The vandals were undeterred. They returned with a hammer last month and damaged the concrete.

Howard County police officers, who don't keep statistics on mailbox vandalism but know it's a recurring problem, told Ashai it might be time to set up a surveillance system. Cameras could catch ne'er-do-wells in the act.

Ashai admits that he's considering that.

`Seen far worse'

But Ashai speaks without frustration. He doesn't raise his voice. He says it doesn't bother him much, really.

His family is originally from Kashmir, a Himalayan territory torn by violence and genocide, so Ashai believes his mailbox problem is inconsequential.

"We've seen far worse things," he said. "This really doesn't matter."

Nowadays, Ashai's concrete structure stands with its battle scars, small holes on all sides and a broken door.

He is leaving it unfixed on purpose. He wonders if this, in the end, is the best protection.

He hopes so.

"I need to get my mail," he said.

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