December 20, 2000: On the Campus

Slow and slower

Campus mail’s so far behind, you can’t even call it snail

by Annie Ruderman

Snail-mail has gotten even slower at Princeton this fall. So slow, in fact, that it doesn’t legitimately qualify as snail-mail anymore. Snails, after all, move. In search of a better term, I asked James Gould, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, what the slowest-moving organism is. He told me that sloths rank pretty high on the list, moving so slowly that moss and fungus can grow on them as they crawl along. This sounds about right. So the new and “improved” centralized mail system for upperclassmen at the new Frist Campus Center has introduced the Princeton campus to sloth-mail.

Last summer, the newly appointed sloth-mail gods sent out a letter informing all upperclass students of the mail-delivery change. This said that regardless of the address you just listed on your two billion med-school applications, your mail should now be sent to a special 4-digit unit lockbox number in Frist.

Most students didn’t bother opening this letter. Me, for one.

Somehow, the new system is supposed to “simplify” and (eventually) speed up the mail-sorting process. How, I don’t know. I suspect that the people who designed it don’t really know either.

A letter that my mother mailed from Chicago on September 22 didn’t wind up in my 4-digit Frist box until October 15. That doesn’t just make the Pony Express look good. If my mother had started walking from Chicago toward New Jersey, letter in hand, she would have arrived sometime around the 6th of October (walking four miles an hour for 850 miles and sleeping eight hours a night). Instead, she dropped her letter in a post-office box, and I received it 22 days later. Now that’s sloth-mail.

But my mother and her letter are the least of the sloth-mail horror stories: There are the reminders to attend the departmental meeting that happened a week ago; the eyeglasses that came a month late; the prescriptions that arrived after they expired. And I don’t even want to imagine what sloth-mail will do to my library fines.

That your mail doesn’t get to you in the same semester it was sent, however, doesn’t matter, because the “improved” system has also bestowed upon each student an impossible-to-open mailbox. These come fully equipped with an extraordinarily temperamental combination lock. My combination is 48-39-31. If you figure out how to open my mailbox, please let me know.

Whenever I hike over to Frist to get my mail, I always hope for two things: 1) that I don’t have any mail or 2) that if I do, I have left my mailbox unlocked from last time. If both of these fail, I give myself five tries to open the box and then hunt around for an honest-looking, combination-lock-savvy classmate to help me out. These are hard to find, and not because Princetonians aren’t some of the most honest folks I’ve met. It’s just that no one can open the locks.

As a result, upperclass students have taken to checking their mail on a monthly basis. So the letter that takes from Thanksgiving until Christmas to arrive probably won’t get a look until Valentine’s Day. Sloth-mail for sure.

So what does this mean? Basically, if you would like to send me “fan mail” in response to this column, opt for the e-mail listed at the bottom of the page. (Mom, just hit the “reply” button on the last e-mail I sent.) If, however, you would like to criticize this article, the address is 1764 Frist.

Annie Ruderman (ruderman@princeton) writes: My roommates have alerted me to the fact that Firestone grants “senior thesis” library loans, which extend until June 15. This, they are worried, will ruin my pages-written vs. fines-accrued contest. But I have a particular genius for accumulating library fines, so let’s just say I’m not too concerned. (The pages column, now, that’s another matter.) Current score: Pages completed 0, Fines accrued $31.25.


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