Went to the post office the other day, because someone had sent me a package with no stamps and no return address. Wanted to ask the clerk if we could plunge it into a bucket of water first; they would have obliged. It's a full-service place.

I love my local post office. It's a tidy piece of '60s modernism, like an embassy from the era of JFK. Every time the post office releases a list of locations they're going to close -- 177 in Minnesota, that's the next sweep of the reaper's scythe -- I get a small chill: Don't take mine. Yes, yes, it's the Internet age, and no one mails anything anymore. E-mail is good and bad. Good: instant communication anywhere. Bad: a dear close relative sends you e-mail with subject lines like Re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re SCARY! and it's something about her least-favorite politician running an Amway-based sex-cult. The long discursive letter is passing from the scene; the mailman brings only circulars and catalogs; the CLANK of a mailbox lid no longer fills a child's heart with hope that the item for which he sent away six to eight weeks ago is here. (The whump of the FedEx door closing has replaced that sound.) So people sneer: post offices? Yeah, if I want to mail a buggywhip.

Ha ha. Well, big cities can stand to lose neighborhood POs; there's always another, and there's our butter-hued Moderne PO downtown, a golden version of the Emerald City. (Whenever I go there I feel like I should be mailing a letter to FDR to ask him do something about Dillinger.) But take away a PO from a small town, and you've kicked it in the knee. No more postmarks from a hamlet hanging from a county highway; no more postmarks from the town where Grampa did his weekend shopping. The name vanishes from the paper river that flows through the nation. Letters tell you where people are at. E-mails tell you where they're @.

Our PO survived the cut. This time. While I was in line, someone asked for the LOVE stamps. Did they come in the FOREVER variety? They did not. You can have LOVE, or you can have FOREVER, but -- as fans of the humble neighborhood post office know -- you can't have them both.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858