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You've got (somebody else's) mail

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In Toco Hills and LaVista Park, the U.S. Postal Service has brought people together in a way it never intended. Morris Habib, 76, has lived in a modest ranch-style house on Sheffield Drive for 41 years. He's seen the neighborhood go through a lot of changes. He remembers when there was a dairy at the corner of Sheridan Drive and LaVista Road. Now, there's an office park and apartments. One thing, however, has remained the same: the capricious nature of the area's postal delivery. Mail is regularly delivered to the wrong house or the wrong street and sometimes it isn't even delivered at all.

"It's always been this way, and part of it is the county's fault," says Habib. "They shouldn't have numbered all the houses in the neighborhood between 1200 and 1600 regardless of which street they're on. "

And, he says, they shouldn't have allowed a condominium community built close to Sheffield Drive to be named Sheffield Glen. "Like Sheffield Drive is such a great place. Why would they want to use that name?"

But they did, and consequently, people on Sheffield Drive regularly get mail for people at Sheffield Glen. But they also get mail for people at similarly numbered houses on Pinedale Drive, which, fortunately, is right around the corner. And people on Pinedale get mail for people on LaChona Court two blocks away, and vice versa. Their neighborhood is fairly chummy anyway because many of its residents attend synagogue together just up the street on LaVista Road. But even those who don't have gotten to know each other via the mail -- and they're not pen-pals.

"At first I would mark 'not at this address' on the mail, but it would come back to me. Finally I just started delivering the mail that was supposed to go to these other people," says Habib. He got to know the Stewarts at Sheffield Glen, and Mrs. Smith around the corner and Patrick Crane who moved to Pinedale Drive five years ago.

"One day, though, I was sitting there in traffic, trying to deliver the mail and having a hard time getting out of Sheffield Glen and I thought 'Why am I doing this? This isn't my job,'" says Habib, a General Motors retiree. So, he started writing notes on the mail again, sometimes even stapling lengthy directions onto the outside of mis-delivered pieces.

His neighbor, Crane, flatly blames the Postal Service for the trouble in Toco Hills. Crane, who is retired, points out that the problems go far beyond wrongful deliveries. Sometimes there's no delivery at all. On July 11, for example, Crane noted that neither he nor any neighbor he surveyed received a single bill, magazine or letter. Not even junk mail. He was upset because his daughter had sent him a late Father's Day present and they figured it should arrive that day. But his mailbox gaped mockingly, a yawning chasm of nothing.

When he asked around, his neighbors reported the same situation. After years of cheerfully printing labels to make sure his neighbors got the mail the post office seemed determined to misdirect, he'd had enough.

"I decided to call the USPS," Crane wrote in a letter he, of course, personally distributed to neighborhood residents. "That is when I learned that you cannot simply call your post office any longer."

He called the post office's all-purpose 1-800 number and doggedly listened to a ream of recordings. By virtue of a complicated method of punching in extension numbers plus a zero, he finally got a human on the line who, he says, admitted that the area's postal delivery is a mess but didn't offer to fix it.

Lita Sanford, who lives near the intersection of North Druid Hills Road and Briarcliff Road, talked with the same "very polite" but ultimately ineffectual postal worker. She'd called because her best efforts to forward a jury summons that had ar-rived for her apartment's previous occupant had failed.

"I marked it and put it back in the box and then a week later I got another one for him," she says. "That really bothered me because you can get arrested for missing jury duty."

Postal Service spokesman Michael Miles says all evidence shows that mail was delivered on July 11 and that area residents were so accustomed to getting mail that they became upset when, one day, they didn't get mail. He explains that the regular carrier for the route is on leave for health reasons and the carrier's substitute has been on the route for less than 90 days. Nonetheless, Miles, himself a former carrier, squarely shoulders the blame.

"These things should not be happening. Some of these street names aren't even similar. Someone else shouldn't be getting your mail," he says. "It may be that we have someone who needs some remedial training."

When informed of the possible causes for his mail morass, Habib ruminates then summarizes: "The damn mail carriers can't read."

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