His bottle of bubbly took scenic route for 24 years
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On Jan. 5, Frank Digorio was leaving his Los Angeles home for his afternoon shift at a local corporation managing e-mail, when he noticed a package in his mailbox.
After wrestling with the packaging and several layers of plastic foam, he opened it to discover a bottle of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante from his father, Frank Sr., of Brookline -- a nice gift, if a bit late, since Mr. Digorio's 55th birthday was Nov. 17.
No, make that really, really late: Mr. Digorio Sr. sent the package on Nov. 15, 1985.
"I opened up the birthday card and read, 'to Frankie from Dad, Judy and Dan,' Mr. Digorio said. "Now, Judy was my father's second wife, and Dan was her son. But Judy died in 1992. For a second I wondered if my dad was flipping out."
No, the elder Mr. Digorio hadn't taken leave of his senses -- indeed, for the past few weeks he and his son have been wracking their brains trying to figure out: how the bottle of bubbly got lost to begin with, how it languished in "dead letter" limbo for so many years, and how, finally, it found its way to the younger Mr. Digorio's home, the third place he's lived since 1985.
Fast with the quips ("I used to be a bank robber," the 79-year-old former musician and ecclesiastical assistant says when asked his occupation), Mr. Digorio the elder said he'd bought the bottle for his son because "he's single, and I thought it might come in handy."
"After I sent it [back in 1985] I talked to Frankie on his birthday and I thought it was kind of unusual he didn't say, 'Thanks, Dad,' " he added. "A bit later I talked to him again and asked him if he'd gotten the champagne and he said he never did. I thought, oh, well, there are probably lots of reasons for that, and then I completely forgot about the whole thing."
Then, a month or so ago, Mr. Digorio got a call from his son.
"'Thanks,' he told me. 'For what?' I said. 'I got the champagne,' he said. So I told him he'd have to wait another 25 years before I send him anything."
More than 45 million Americans change their addresses every year, and stories abound of heroic efforts by the post office to get mislabeled letters to their proper destination, but not always in timely fashion. A woman's postcard bearing greetings from Montana arrived last year in Hudson, Ohio -- 47 years later. A postcard from Australia landed in Aberdeen, Scotland, 114 years late. And recently a scandal erupted in Northern Ireland when it was discovered that the Royal Mail was delivering letters 20 years after they were sent.
Mail that never makes its way to its destination ends up in what used to be called "dead letter" offices -- as in rock band R.E.M.'s song of the same name and Herman Melville's short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener," where the silent protagonist spends his days burning letters that have no place to go.
These days, they are known more prosaically as mail recovery centers -- two of them, Atlanta and St. Paul, Minn. -- where about 4.7 million packages and 93 million dead letters now known as "undeliverable-as-addressed items" end up, to be scrutinized by postal workers, even opened, if necessary, to find clues to the right address.
If the owners can't be identified, the correspondence is destroyed to protect customer privacy, said Richard Maher, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in California.
But Mr. Maher was dumbfounded about the bottle of champagne finally arriving at Mr. Digorio's home, given that he's moved twice since 1985, and the post office does not keep records of old addresses.
It's not clear from the package whether it was properly addressed to his home in Harbor City, where he lived for about a year and a half in the mid-1980s. So how did it make it to Mr. Digorio's current home in an L.A. neighborhood known as Stevenson's Ranch?
Anything is possible, Mr. Maher said. It could have ended up in a dead letter pile, he said. Or, it might have fallen down into an empty bin or behind a shelf, only to be found when the post office moved to other quarters, which has been happening in recent years as the Postal Service has consolidated services.
Whatever the case, Mr. Digorio forgives the post office, "which has a monstrous job of trying to process mail. It's not like they were sending me a mortgage document, or anything."
As for the sparkling wine, "It was a nice gesture, kind of touching. Of course, did my dad tell you I'm still single?" he added with a laugh.
Asked if he might consider sharing the bottle with his father, Mr. Digorio paused.
"That's actually a great idea -- although I don't know how I'd get it past airport security. Plus, isn't it illegal to send liquor through the mail? I'd need to figure out how to get it past the Pennsylvania border guards."
No matter, his father said, noting he's no man of champagne tastes, even though he spent part of his career playing saxophone for a number of musical acts, and was once asked to travel to Las Vegas to be part of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis-esque comedy act.
"I don't need to put on the dog for anyone. I tend to veer more toward a fried baloney sandwich," he said.
First Published February 11, 2010 12:00 am