Saturday, March 19, 2011

Obscene Post

A couple of weeks ago I made one of my routine stops at the Free Library with the simple objective of giving the DVD section a quick how's-your-father, on guard for Spinal Tap, The Ron Clark Story, Mannequin 2, or some such cinematic gem. I guess I should have learned by now that, although these trips are well-meaning and intended to be ten-minute endeavors at most, they are never the in-and-out procedures I tell myself they will be. Soon, I discover my hands flirtatiously running up and down spines as I amble on down each aisle, eyeballing the titles, waiting for something to strike my fancy. Before I know it, hours have passed, the sun has set, and it's time for me and a hefty stack of books to mosey our way on home. The cream of that particular day's book grazing was an attractive hardcover titled The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, which looks a little somethin' like this...

The hero of this true story went by the name of W. Reginald Bray ("Reg" for short), and let me tell you, this guy was hilarious. At the turn of the century, the 21-year-old Reg purchased a copy of the Post Office Guide, a publication outlining regulations set by British postal authorities. In short, he studied these rules, then sent loads of mail to challenge them. This included posting a wide variety of random objects such as a turnip, a rabbit skull, starched shirts, a frying pan, a penny, seaweed (my favorite), his dog, and finally himself (thrice). He also amassed the world's largest collection of modern autographs through the mail, thus dubbing himself "The Autograph King." This was accomplished simply by posting cards to celebrities and unknowns alike, requesting them to sign the card and send it back. This system worked thousands of times, though it failed to bring back an autograph from Adolf Hitler, even after five attempts (what an asshole!). It doesn't end there. He also played with addresses, writing them in verse, illustrating them, or posting mail to no one in particular at all, just to see where the postcard might end up.
Here, Reg uses a photograph of a street in place of a written address & circles the house the postcard is to be sent to.

The Post Office didn't do too well with this riddle & declared the postcard "NOT ADDRESSED." It reads "361 Broccoli (Brockley) Road, Near LadyWell Wood, and Lewisham".
The Post Office didn't seem to find this one very funny & returned the card to Reg marking it "Insufficiently addressed".

This postcard was successfully delivered though the address had been written backwards.
"To a Resident nearest this rock." Stop the hilarity!
I believe Reg truly accomplished what he set out to do, and them some:

 Some time ago it occurred to me to venture on the post office authorities a number of letters, curious both in form and address. This course I did not enter upon without much consideration and hesitancy, for it would be most unfair, to say the least of it, to cause a lot of unnecessary trouble, merely for the sake of playing a senseless prank. My object from the beginning was to test the ingenuity of the postal authorities, and, if possible, to vindicate them of the "charges of carelessness and neglect." Should these lines come before the eyes of any official through whose hands my "trick letters" have passed, I hope he will accept this explanation as an apology for any extra trouble that I may have caused him.
~"Postal Curiosities," Royal Magazine, 1904

Now, some of you are aware of my street cred in sending my own curiosities through the mail, from envelopes stuffed with the contents of a dustpan after sweeping my entire apartment,  packages booby-trapped with mounds of glitter posted to known glitterphobes, Free Michael Jackson Campaign propaganda, an 30 day-long art school project in which I anonymously mailed suspicious items to the Tyler School of Art photo department which ultimately got me into trouble with Temple Security (it was a post 9/11 thang), postcards only large enough for a tiny printing of the address and a stamp, mailings to Jaleel White and the Wu-Tang Clan, the now famous message in a 2-liter bottle which fetched me a husband, or my more recent focus: counterfeit stamps. I've played the game Reg played for many of the same reasons Reg played it, but I never actually sat down and read the rules. So, I e-mailed the United States Post Office requesting a mailed copy of their official regulations, and promptly received this e-mail in response:


 to me

Thank you for your inquiry to Postal Explorer.  Postal Explorer, at is an online resource providing guidance when mailing through the United States Postal Service.

The United States Postal Service’s Domestic Mail Manual what you will need to find the answers to your questions.  The direct link to the DMM is

We hope this answers your questions and provides you with an available resource to make your shipping easier.  Thank you for contacting the United States Postal Service. We look forward to serving you in the future.

Postal Explorer

Visit Postal Explorer at

My initial reaction was to feel saddened & dismayed to find I could not have a hard copy of the rule book mailed to me. Who wants to read this kind of material off a computer screen? I'm pretty sure when the Postal Service began opting for e-mail over snail mail, that was a sign of the impending apocalypse. But, if there's one thing l've learned in my 27 years on this planet, it's this-when dealing with the U.S. government, take what you can get. So, I clicked on the link and began browsing.
I started with Section 601: Mailability, Subsection 8.0: Nonmailable and Restricted Articles and Substances Generally. I feel maybe this is where ol' Reggie Boy would've begun. Allow me to sum up my findings for you... 
Sometimes it's okay to mail "live scorpions, switchblade knives, and poisonous drugs", but it is never okay to mail "disease germs or scabs, turtles, radioactive materials, or articled emitting obnoxious odors." Hmmm, interesting start. So, I guess if the live scorpion you are mailing to your arch nemesis smells like a stinky butt, then it's a no go. They're also really big on not mailing things that explode. I guess Ted Kaczynski didn't get the memo.
Moving onto Subsection 9.0: Perishables: 9.3: Live Animals. So, here I discovered that animals intended for fighting and betting (i.e. cocks and pitbulls) are a no-no, and pretty much all "warm blooded animals (e.g., hamsters, mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, squirrels, parakeets, and canaries)" are a no-no too. So, just when I was thinking what a party pooper the USPS is, what with their puritanical "No mailing hamsters" policy, my eyes beheld these glorious lines:

Small, harmless, cold-blooded animals (except snakes and turtles) that do not require food or water or attention during handling in the mail and that do not create sanitary problems or obnoxious odors are mailable (e.g., baby alligators and caimans not more than 20 inches long, bloodworms, earthworms, mealworms, salamanders, leeches, lizards, snails, and tadpoles).

Alligators and leeches?! YES!! This is the stuff mail dreams are made of. And wait, that's not all! Live bees are okay too! And the "dead bodies of wild animals (or parts thereof)"!!! 
'Member way back when I beseeched all of you, my loyal readers, for some friendly penpalship? Well, I think I'm ripe for some new penpals. I'm willing to bet I can get my paws on any of the above animals in at least a half-dead state for under 5 bucks in Chinatown. Piece of cake. In addition to mailing hungry snakes to you, I seek partners in testing this restriction:

13.5.4 Lewd or Filthy Matter

Obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy publications or writings, or mail containing information on where, how, or from whom such matter may be obtained, and matter that is otherwise mailable but that has on its wrapper or envelope any indecent, lewd, lascivious, or obscene writing or printing, and any mail containing any filthy, vile, or indecent thing is nonmailable (18 USC 1461, 1463).

This paragraph reminded me of an instance, years ago, in which I mailed a photograph of a naked woman cut out from a porno magzine as a picture postcard. It made it to its recipient without any trouble at all, so I tried it several more times with different cut-outs of women in various positions, performing rather disturbing (though sometimes admittedly humorous) sexual acts. They all made it through the mail just fine. This left me with two possible conclusions:
A) The particular postal workers who came into contact with this mail did not find the images to be indecent, lewd, lascivious or obscene.
B) No one noticed the images amongst the heaps of other mailings on those days.
If Conclusion A holds any truth, then what does that say about those people and the culture that helped form them? defines the word "obsene" as follows:


offensive to morality or decency; indecent; depraved:obscene language.
causing uncontrolled sexual desire.
abominable; disgusting; repulsive.

Hmmmm. This only raises more questions...How does the USPS define "obscene" if not the same way as the dictionary? Were those
images of those naked women simply not causing uncontrolled sexual desire in the postal workers that handled them? Yeah, that must
be the answer. The nudie pictures needed to be way sexier to be given the red flag. I wonder what else we can send through the mail to
test the Post Office's definition of these words. My own definition of "obscene" marks a picture of a McDonald's Filet-o-Fish or those
gross-out hairlipped baby charity ads as such, but would the USPS agree?
Reg tested the Post Office's ingenuity. I say let's take it a step further and test their morality.This is your mission, if you choose to
accept it. Write to me, and make sure it's disgusting, depraved, or causes uncontrollable sexual desire (bonus points for all three).
For your efforts, ye shall receive live bloodworms in your box, in honor of ol' Reg.
Now get to it, posthaste!