I house-sit for a couple who spend most of the year in Oregon but who perpetually believe that they will spend most of the year in Massachusetts (where I live), and so they have not officially changed their mailing address. I therefore put all of their mail in the Flat Rate US Postal Service envelopes and mail it out to Oregon about once a week. The postage required changes erratically.
First, I would put the envelopes in the mailbox and they would be taken by the postman (yes, I have a postman) and would arrive in Oregon.
Then he caught me at home during the day once and told me that he's not supposed to pick them up. What with the higher terrorism alerts (boo-hiss to the Unabomber for making our lives more difficult!), we have to bring these-sized envelopes to the Post Office in person, because a postal worker has to see the person who packaged the envelope before they'll accept it. (Though how this prevents bombs is beyond me. I doubt that the workers can remember the hundreds of people who wander through every day. But it makes them feel more secure, so I'll comply.)
I contentedly brought the envelopes down to the Post Office from then on (good to get the exercise). The the next time I was home when the postal guy showed up to deliver my mail, I gave it to him in person (because he's a postal worker and he can see me) and he happily accepted it.
It arrived in my mailbox the next day with unhappy red stamps all over it.
All right; Post Office only. Got it.
I brought an envelope in one day that was stuffed but holding together just fine, and the lady was dismayed and told me that I ought to always tape it. I asked her if she could use some of her official Post Office tape on it for me. She complied. I bought a roll of packing tape and taped them from then on.
The lady who owns my house had a whole stack of envelopes in a drawer and I went through them one by one. The non-Flat-Rate envelopes are exactly the same size, have the same colorings and all the same markings except that they don't have the words "Flat Rate" printed on them in two places. Blissfully unaware, I put the Flat Rate postage on one, packed it up, and brought it in. Discovered that it costed me $8.32 to mail. (Normal Flat Rate postage at the moment is $3.85.)
Flat Rate envelopes only. Got it.
One day I brought in a package (taped, secured, addressed, Flat Rate, in person) and the lady (a different lady, I think), took one look at the envelope and seemed distraught about it. She showed it to a passing manager and asked if it could be mailed. Yes, no problem with it, the manager said. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Tape," and shrugged. "They told me to tape it," I said. She guessed that it was okay. A mystery, but the package was mailed so I was unconcerned.
During the holidays, I was standing in the long lines and one of the managers came by while I giving the postal worker my envelope and told me that in the future I could just drop it off at the end of the counter, since it could be mailed as-is. I thanked him but didn't go near that one with a ten-foot pole.
This morning I went to the Post Office with an envelope (taped, secured, addressed, in person, correct postage, made sure it said 'Flat Rate' on it), and the postal lady said, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to charge you by weight."
"But it's a Flat Rate envelope," I protested.
"It's because of the tape," she answered.
"But they told me to put tape on it."
"People shouldn't put tape on it to secure it," she explained. "It means that it can't be secured without tape, and that means that people stuffed above the weight limit into it."
"But isn't that the point of the 'Flat Rate' envelopes?" I asked. "That 'regardless of weight' (which it says quite distinctly on the envelope under 'FLAT RATE'), you can pay the Flat Rate to mail it?"
"But if you put tape on it, it means that it's over-stuffed and above the weight limit. I have to charge you by weight."
"But it was secured just fine before I put tape on it. I was told to put tape on it additionally."
"Well, whoever told you that was incorrect."
"But that's what I was told."
"There are different managers; they tell us different things."
"So if I just peel the tape off, you'll mail it for the Flat Rate?"
"If it's not going to hold without the tape, I can't mail it at the Flat Rate."
"It'll hold. Let me just pull the tape off."
"Are you sure?"
So I started peeling off the packing tape, but of course it peeled off most of the envelope's Flat Rate markings, which meant that I couldn't mail it Flat Rate anyway. The postal lady took pity on me.
"Do you want another envelope? I can just cut the stamp out and tape it on."
"Yes, that would be fine." I finished pulling the packing tape off, and true to my word, it stayed securely closed, despite the yanking of the tape. I ripped it open, transferred the contents to the new envelope, and watched her struggle with the Post Office packing tape (which she was using to tape the original stamp-on-carboard-cut-out on to the new envelope).
"We'll have to have a staff meeting and make it a consistent policy," she said. "Sorry about all this. You're the second person this morning who's done this, and the other woman left before I could tell her."
I felt sorry for her, thanked her, hoped that the rest of her day was less stressful, and assured her I wouldn't tape it in the future. I left finally having understood why these poor postal workers go, well...postal.
I must say, I do enjoy the ability to rant in an on-line journal, because you get to construct all the well-tooled, caustic observations you like, and only the people who want to suffer through listening to you rant actually do. It's like a giant group therapy thing, and maybe the readers will be mildly amused, so it's almost constructive ranting. :)