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Why is it so hard to open a PO box?

Apparently, opening a PO box is harder than being born
Apparently, opening a PO box is harder than being born

I have lived and worked in East Stroudsburg, PA, for nearly seven years and I love it. It's a quiet, peaceful, yet bustling little town that retains a quasi-rural charm, despite being about 75 miles away from my hometown, Brooklyn, NY.

For those seven years I've lived in a private home, but, recently my living arrangements have changed and I've rented a nice, clean, safe room in a private house near Main Street. So far, it's been wonderful, with all the comforts of home.

But, getting my mail is a problem. It seems that the house owners don't want to be responsible for getting mail for their tenants, and I perfectly understand that. After all, most of the single men who've rented rooms here in the past few years have been somewhat transient.

That doesn't necessarily mean a bad thing. This kind of arrangement is perfect for tenants who need a private room in the interim before moving into a proper apartment or even a house. I get it.

So, my landlord kindly advised it may be best for me to open a Post Office box.

I've never had a PO box before and the idea of paying to have my mail delivered is a bit strange. But, since I'm not sure how long I will actually rent this room, the suggestion seemed perfectly reasonable.

So, I cheerfully went to my local Post Office thinking I would be in and out in no time.

That's when I ran up against "Homeland Security."

When my turn at the counter came, I asked to open a PO box and immediately, before handing me any forms or asking further questions, the clerk asked me if I had 2 forms of valid, acceptable identification.

Sure. I always carry ID and have had no problems getting bank accounts, credit cards and a driver's license using what I keep tucked away in my wallet.

You know, a Social Security card, a drivers license and, as an ultimate backup, a copy of my original birth certificate issued by NY State and carrying an official, suitably impressive raised seal. No problem right?


To my dismay, the clerk (who was perfectly courteous and helpful, by the way) informed me that, while my drivers license was acceptable, the other forms were not.


Pointing to a tattered, well-thumbed Post Office memo prominently displayed right next to the window (apparently, this Postal clerk knows the drill) he showed me just what the Post Office considers to be acceptable, valid forms of identification.

Apparently, to prove you are who you claim to be, you need to own a car, a house and be a registered voter. Or, an immigrant.

I don't own a car at the moment. Public transportation in East Stroudsburg is reliable, clean and environmentally friendly. (By the way, aren't we all supposed to take the bus or train when at all possible? Isn't that "Green"???)

And, as I've explained, I don't own a home. And, I've never been an immigrant. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

After a speechless moment (which seems to be the usual reaction, based on what I was reading in my friendly mailman's eyes) I started digging through my wallet to find that pesky Voter's Registration card foisted upon me when I went to renew my drivers license last year. Somehow, I must have misplaced it. No matter, I gave up voting years ago.

But I did have my Veteran's Universal ID card (with a picture on it) issued to me several years back when I was exploring what kind of benefits might be available to a 10 year, honorably discharged veteran of TWO separate branches of the Military.

No good, I was told. It didn't show my current address and it wasn't issued by a government agency. (By the way, since when is the Department of Veterans Affairs not part of the government? It has an official looking American Eagle logo and everything...)

Trying to maintain my composure, I began to dig in my heels a little, asking all the usual questions, like, "why is it so hard to open a PO box?" and "are only immigrant, car-driving homeowners considered real, live, flesh-and-blood human beings in the eyes of the government?"

My kindly postal clerk, bless his heart, has obviously been there, done that before.

He patiently explained that "Homeland Security is the department setting the rules when establishing legal identity..." blah, blah, blah. Both our eyes glazed over and, if it hadn't been such a serious affront to my loyal, law-abiding citizenship, the whole thing might just have been hilarious.

But, not getting my mail is no laughing matter. This was going to be a problem.

"What about a passport?" the clerk helpfully asked? A passport? I never intend to leave the borders of America again. What do I need a passport for? And, what kind of ID would I have to show to get THAT???

Returning to what I'd assumed would be perfectly valid forms of ID, I asked about my birth certificate. After all, it's the VERY FIRST form of identification issued, usually on the same day you become a US citizen. You know, by being BORN here.

As the screenshot above clearly shows, "Social Security cards, credit cards, and birth certificates are not acceptable forms of ID."

What the what? Are babies the new terrorists? Are there newborn criminal masterminds out there, eroding our liberties by faking their own birth certificates and trying to rent out PO boxes for some, as yet, undefined nefarious, illegal purposes? What kind of madness is this when even innocent babies are under suspicion of identity theft?

Obviously, it's those who've destroyed the credibility of state issued birth certificates who are the real problem behind this sweeping, all-entangling mess when it comes to proving I'm an American citizen. But, seriously, since when does opening a post office box rise to the level of flying a jetliner into a skyscraper?

After a few more minutes of bandying with my patient and even humorous postal employee (he seemed to get the irony) I inevitably uttered the dreaded words:

"I need to speak to your supervisor."

That sentence has come to embody just about the lowest level of interpersonal, interactive customer service these days. Whereas once it was a last resort, today it's just all too common.

As it turned out, the supervisor at this post office was not only friendly, kind and helpful, he too was a veteran of the Air Force (but not the Coast Guard) who occasionally needed a little medical treatment. He had his own Veteran's ID card in his wallet, which he cheerfully produced.

After a few moments of asking questions like, "where were you stationed?" and the like, the Postal supervisor at this branch saw the folly of "Homeland Security" policies and, measuring me up and down for a moment, decided that my Veteran's ID card was a perfectly acceptable form of secondary ID.

Within a moment I heard the satisfying click of the USPS time/date stamp as it was pressed into the lower right portion of my application.

But, it was a close thing.

And, without the benefit of friendly, reasonable, hardworking people like the staff at my local Post Office, who knows what kind of hoops I would still be jumping through just to get my mail.

I've tried to wrap my mind around this staggering stupidity. Is a post office box more dangerous than an automobile? Who is using PO boxes as the underpinning, evil plot point for America's overthrow by US mail? And, would I have been better off showing my Death Certificate instead of my Birth Certificate?

Hopefully, I'll never get the chance to find out about that last one, but, for now, I've gotta go.

I just found out that PayPal won't mail my new card to a PO box.

Suddenly, a passport doesn't seem like such a bad idea...

What do you think? Have you had a similar experience dealing with seemingly insane government policies?

Please leave a comment below.

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