Nor Gloom of Night

When I published my first issue of The Syncopated Times, I worked to compensate for the variables and uncertainties involved in getting started. Not the least of those obstacles was my own inexperience in print journalism and layout. I entered this business knowing absolutely nothing about it. The challenge was in teaching myself everything in a hurry. Thanks to my resourcefulness and determination—and my inability to see that what I was attempting was impossible—I mailed out my first issue on February 1, 2016.

Despite my ineptitude, I had help from a number of heroic and magnificent workers in the United States Postal Service. There were incredible complications involved in transferring and rebranding the paper I’d purchased, and USPS officials in California and New York worked tirelessly to smooth out the process. It was a headache we all shared. All I could offer, at the end of the arduous untangling of red tape, was my most sincere thanks.

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The USPS has been the Gibraltar on which my rickety lemonade stand rests. Absent the reliability of their service, which predates the Constitution, a subscriber-supported periodical is unthinkable. Those who process and carry mail to its destination battle a daily emergency of backlog and glut and distribution. Not just this frivolous little jazz paper, the essentials of life are delivered to postal customers throughout the nation.

The USPS also nets society billions in state and local sales and income taxes. Without the Postal Service many Main Street storefronts, supplemented by online sales, would go dark, as would users of eBay, Etsy, and other ambitious independent sellers who rely on low cost mail to be competitive. That’s a remarkable return on investment for the little guy.

Some dismiss the necessity of regular mail delivery as they repeat the tired wheeze of being inundated by mountains of junk mail. Never mind that bulk mail helps to pay for the service—or that recycling that unwanted waste-paper is easy. Others perceive paper mail as an affront to a green sensibility, and that all communication can be effected through texts, emails, and online publications.

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It’s true that the electronic versions of their paper analogs offer the advantages of speed and convenience, as well as the capacity for multi-media presentation (for example, our own website, syncopatedtimes.com, offers embedded audio and video). What I don’t concede is that pixels are more aesthetically pleasing. In due course, the internet begins to feel like a carnival sideshow—with flashing lights, blandishments, barkers and hucksters, and many an opportunity for a fool and his money to be parted. There’s free content—but keep your hand on your wallet and don’t click on anything. After I spend a few hours online, the printed page is a balm to my nerves—and my retinas.

Pony Express Air Mail
The Pony Express meets the new Airmail service. (Photo: www.antiqueairfield.com)

It’s obvious also that even the digital relies on the analog for its existence. A few weeks ago I needed to replace the power supply on my office computer. I finally ordered the correct part, and awaited its delivery via Priority Mail so that I could proceed with layout. In fact, I waited about four days longer than I was accustomed to. That wait had nothing to do with the rank and file at the USPS.

Let it also be said that when I sent out my August issue of this paper, the copy that I sent myself did not arrive immediately. Subscribers noted a similar delay. This, again, was not the fault of those processing and delivering mail. They are doing the best they can.

Within the past month it has become apparent that my Gibraltar is being dynamited. The United States Postal Service is being systematically destroyed—and the mail intentionally slowed down—by the newly-appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy. This is not “fake news,” nor is it a conspiracy theory. It’s a conspiracy fact. The DeJoy appointment—and the destruction of USPS sorting machinery and removal of mailboxes—is borne of cynical political expediency.

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The current administration is fixated on the idea that mail-in balloting—made necessary by the pandemic—will lead inevitably to its defeat. Thus, the decision has been made to throw out all the babies with all the bathwater. In gumming up the electoral process, they’ve ensured that more than jazz newspapers and computer parts will arrive late—they’ve also prevented life-saving medication from reaching those who need it, guaranteed that mailed food will rot in transit, and seen to it that baby chicks will die en route to farmers.

Lest the partisan reader accuse me of sympathies, I admit to none. On the other hand, just because I agree with you doesn’t mean we’re on the same side. I sit in no particular section of the bleachers and would prefer to avoid the game altogether. If I saw someone trying to burn down my house, I wouldn’t ask his political affiliation. I’d want him arrested so that he would do no one any more harm.

After several months of crisis and quarantine, and now with hurricanes threatening the Gulf Coast and hundreds of fires raging in California, the deliberate ruination of the USPS adds yet more grief. I approach publication of this issue of my lighthearted jazz paper with a levity deficiency. This must be what they meant by “gloom of night.” I’ve got all the lights on here, and it’s not helping.

I am devoted to the idea of print media. There have been many banana peels thrown onto my path since I began publication, and even as I slip, I persevere. I can’t stop now.

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As the captain of the Titanic said when he scraped the iceberg, “Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. Full speed ahead!”

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