Enter Stage Left

Remembrance of things ordinary

Where have all the mailboxes gone? (photo: michaelgoodin / flickr)

At first, I thought I was seeing things. Or rather, not seeing things.

When we first moved here, I walked out of our Lombard Street building to mail a stack of cards telling people of our new location, and found no mailbox on my corner. This surprised me, because in NYC there’s a postal box on every corner (sometimes several), and now here I was, going on an uphill search to mail my cards. Not used to doing that, I wiped the sweat off my brow with a Kleenex, but when I looked for a place to toss it, I couldn’t find a trash can to put it in! What planet had I landed on?

Where were all the mailboxes and trash cans? Had the madcap bar crawlers of Polk Street taken them as part of a neighborhood escapade? Did some urban scavenger hunt include public conveniences on its shopping list?

It was like a weird sort of desert.

Even weirder: If there were no corner trash cans, why were sidewalks so clean? Where was everyone putting their Kleenexes? Not to mention their banana peels and old newspapers. In NYC, the ubiquitous trash cans are always overflowing. Could S.F.ers be this good? Spoiled New Yorkers toss, while San Franciscans wait for the right receptacle? Were litterbugs an East Coast thing? One morning, I saw a schoolboy pick up a crumpled candy wrapper he had dropped, and then he stuffed it in his pocket!

Had I died and gone to heaven?

As for my mail, eventually I discovered the postal drop in my building, emptied every day by our rail-thin mail carrier, Charlie, and I was so grateful I made Charlie cookies at Christmas – both to show my appreciation and to fatten him up.

But then I moved to Page Street, where there is no Charlie. And the one mailbox I did unearth looks as if nothing’s been dropped in it since the Summer of Love. I was advised not to use it; it was slated for the mailbox graveyard.

So that’s where they all are!

I now plan my daily errands and dog walks around the postal box at the corner of Golden Gate and Gough because it’s easy to double park there. I walk Sally and Cyrano on a particular stretch by the Bay because I know there’s a dog-friendly trash receptacle en route. Life is so much easier when I plan my daily errands where I know I can mail or dispose. Better that than carrying smelly bags and neglected mail around with me for hours. If you hear a middle-aged woman yelling “Eureka!” and leaping out of her car to mail a letter or deposit something undesirable into a friendly trashcan, it’s probably me.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered a place that makes up for what’s lacking on my street corners: the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. This brilliant recycling of an old military depot is now the home of over 40 organizations working for a “healthy environment and a just society.” So not only do they provide an answer to certain trash problems, they believe in treating everyone nicely while doing it. There you will find bins into which you may recycle practically anything: packing Styrofoam; old cell phones and accessories; large and small empty toner cartridges; regular and fluorescent light bulbs; worn-out batteries; something they call “techno trash”; brown and white cardboard; paper of every description; plastic, glass, old silverware, keys, and a special box for old eyeglasses. You can even dispose of your hunger because there’s a nice cafe right down athe hall.

I think I recall seeing a mailbox in the lobby, too.

Evalyn Baron is an actress, director and teacher who worked on Broadway and in theaters across the country. Here in San Francisco, she’s finally getting some writing done. E-mail:
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