The Postman Doesn’t Have to Ring
This piece was written for Rob Walker’s Narrative Strategies for Objects project as part of the 2019 Design Writing and Research Summer Intensive, and published in Overlooked/Underappreciated, an examination of the minutiae of quotidian life.
Like most New Yorkers, I don’t live in a doorman building. Whether I’m expecting a package or not, I answer my door buzzer, and if I hear “Amazon” or “FedEx” or “UPS” I buzz them in. By the end of every day there are at least four or five packages sitting in the downstairs hallway or at the bottom of the stairs. Our building is a seven floor walk-up and delivery guys rarely carry packages upstairs.
Regular post office deliveries—letters, magazines, junk mail, small packages—are put in the mailboxes in the small entryway, right inside the front door. There are two rows of seven compartments set into the wall on either side. Our postal carrier, Andy, delivers in the afternoon, but I’m not sure exactly when. I’ve never heard him ring the doorbell. He has to get in, though, through the locked front door to reach the mailboxes. How does he get in? I’ve occasionally wondered about that, so I take a closer look the next time I go out.
I figured there would be a little door or something at the intercom where a key could be stored. All I see is a flat panel with apartment number buttons and a hole. I reach in with my finger but there’s nothing there. On the door itself there’s only a heavy door handle and cylinder deadbolt. I go looking at the intercom panels on the buildings on my block. There are so many varieties, I begin to wonder how Andy manages at each address. I catch up with him one day when he’s stuffing our mailboxes and, not wanting to disturb him at work, I wait until he’s finished and follow him out.
“Hey, Wall,” he says, when he sees me. “You got mail today.”
I ask if I can interview him about the getting-in-the-door thing. He says sure, but doesn’t want to be recorded. I scribble notes while trying to follow his quick explanation. After he walks off with his rolling cart, I record myself repeating what he just told me.
“So the lock that’s inside, the top lock, that I use to open the whole row of boxes, has an electronic buzzer. Here on the outside I can reach in here to set off the lock release.” He shows me a flat key, which is different from the one that pops open the mailboxes.
“But this one,” pointing to the intercom, “doesn’t have a working button in it. So the other way I would do it, sometimes there’s a separate box for the button. But what I actually do, that I’m not supposed to, is I have keys to all the buildings. I go down the Avenue on this side from 12th Street to 6th and then back up across the street.”
He showed me a whole ring of front door keys. Which he’s not supposed to have.