This is a tragic tale of procrastination, of frustration, of yet another good intention
ground into the paving stones of Hell.
It is a rant meant to exorcise demons.
It is a cry in the wilderness, which yet echoes against the oppressive mountains of indifference,
in the dark gloom of an existence devoid of even the most gaseous of stars.
It is the epic story of a proud warrior, gladiator of the downtrodden,
who wishes naught to bring just a moment of joy to those who struggle with a mighty burden,
but through treachery and conceit
in the fetid depths
of a monstrous dragon’s lair of indifference.
Okay, okay, I get it, enough hyperbole, just give up the goods, eh? Fine. This is me bellyaching about my recent experience with the US Postal Service.
Before I begin my tale of woe, however, I must acknowledge that I am, without a doubt, a champion procrastinator. Oh, I do well with deadlines and rarely does anything of circumstance languish beyond a credible degree; priorities do not scare me, nor trip me up. But, if nothing really is on the line other than “wouldn’t it be nice…”, then you can pretty much guarantee that whatever it is will slip my mind on a fairly constant basis. And I readily admit that procrastination makes this whole situation my Own Damn Fault. Still doesn’t make it burn less, though.
So, sometime last summer I was getting around to my spring cleaning (I’ve established that I tend to put things off, yes?), and I decided to clear out some stacks of magazines that were out of the way but had been gathering dust for years. While I was perusing the titles, I came across one particularly intriguing Rolling Stone issue, dated June 7, 2001, with a vivid photo of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the cover, and the promise of a related article entitled “What Makes the ROCK HARD: Food Binges and Sex Talk With Hollywood’s Next Action Hero”.
Now, what I have seen of Mr. Johnson’s body of work (ahem!), he seems to be a fine, upstanding young man of various accessible, um, talents. But I also happen to know that a certain editor-in-chief (Tee Tate) of a certain beloved literary website (LitStack!) is absolutely besotted with this fine gentleman (all in good fun; she’s a happily married woman, and would never harbor lurid thoughts towards him, or even think of stalking him, or use him as the basis of a main character in a alter ego romance novel, or anything of that nature…), and I thought it would be a fun gesture to send her this magazine without prelude, just for sh*ts and giggles.
So I set the magazine aside, to get around to sending it later, when I had time to deal with it.
Fast forward half a year, to Christmastime. (Procrastinator, remember?) Being of modest means, I don’t give out frivolous gift simply for the sake of marking the holiday, but I did see, and obtain, a tiny token for my friend and editor Tee: a set of playing cards emblazoned with images of famous writers. Again, more a chuckle than a delighted peal of laughter, but still, something fun, something unexpected and without a need to reciprocate. I thought I would tuck the deck of cards inside the magazine for safekeeping during transit, and make her Yuletide a touch more gay. (Hey! I’m using the word as it was originally intended, not as some obtuse double entendre!)
Fast forward to February. (I know, I know, so sue me!) Due to the hustle and bustle of the season, and my abhorrence of wrapping gifts (although it is an unacknowledged truth, apparently, that I am the only person in my family with the physical dexterity and mental acumen to accomplish said wrappage of gifts) that tends to lead me to putting off the dreaded task until the very last minute, even as Santa is making his way down the chimney, as it were (even though we don’t have a chimney and my kids haven’t believed in Santa for well over a decade now), I ended up unable to face wrapping yet another package, even if it was a tiny, easily maneuvered card-deck-sized package. I was running out of Scotch tape, and all I had left over was big swatches of wrapping paper, and besides, the lines would be sooooo long at the post office right now… better to wait and send it out later, when Tee would not be expecting it, right?
So anyway, February. The month when A Month of Letters Challenge kicks in! What better time to finally get off my proverbial butt and finally follow through with this long-languishing chuckle? And this time, I was resolved to get it done.
Now yes, I do often put off non-essential tasks for far too long. But when I finally decide to do something about it, then neither hell nor high water will keep me from a swift and timely resolution. And so it was with the epistle of knowledge of what it was that made the ROCK HARD. The package to Tee would go out the next day, no if, ands or buts about it! I would prevail! Nothing was going to stand in my way once my mind was made up and my resolve kicked into high gear.
I wrapped that box of playing cards! I found a heavy craft envelope that had been buried in the scree of my basement for many years, but was still wondrously strong and reliable, just the right size for a Rolling Stone magazine! I wrote that short but cute little note explaining the magazine and joking with the fact that receiving a Christmas gift in February was a true testament to friendship! I addressed the envelope – in Sharpie, so it wouldn’t run if it happened to get dropped in a Minnesota snow bank or a Louisiana thunderstorm! I lovingly tucked the little gift inside the magazine and snugged the whole thing into the envelope, making sure to tape it securely at the seams and along the edges with industrial grade strapping tape, so as to keep the package viable regardless of any rough handling it may encounter (but not along the top section where the postage was to go; I had worked in a corporate mailroom for years, and knowledge of the pickiness of the postal service has been engrained into my bones for all eternity)!
I had entertained the idea of removing only the pages with Mr. “The Rock” Johnson’s applicable bits (!!!), to save on postage and packaging. But the idea of folding those pages to fit into a smaller envelope, of putting undue creases in that lovely … meritorious photography… was anathema to me. Besides, I did not want to rob Tee of the tactile pleasure of thumbing through the pages in search of the promise of “continued on page 172”, or assume that her eye would not be caught by some other long passed pop culture memory (2001, yo! A lot has happened since then!) to bring a sweet golden wave of nostalgia to a sentimental heart, which I know for a fact she possesses, to her great credit.
So the next morning, proud package in hand, I drove to the Post Office (which was barely a mile from my house) after taking the Mighty Belle to her morning romp at the dog park. The timing was precise: a half an hour after the Post Office had opened, so as not to be caught in the “first in line” push, and on a Tuesday, so as to miss all those who had labored over the weekend, and not on the first of the month, just because that kind of timely delineation had to mean something for someone needing something from the Postal Service. I had 40 minutes to complete my task (we only have one car and my husband needed to be on the road), but that should have been plenty of time in the middle of morning in the middle of the week in the middle of the month at a small urban station in a nice Midwestern town, right?
I walked in to the station, and saw that the line to speak to a teller was backed up from the actual service area to the small lobby where all the PO Boxes were lined up. I was the 14th person in line. “Okay, don’t panic,” I told myself. “Just because every single other time you’ve been here in the last few years it seems like every person in line has exhibited some kind of strange, convoluted, barely comprehensible problem for the postal teller to piece together, solve, or explain multiple times to someone either unable to easily speak the language or unwilling to accept the outcome, doesn’t mean that everyone in line is going to follow suit. Maybe they all just want the new Star Trek stamps?” Besides, there was no way that the single, solitary woman manning the counter was the only person working up front, not when there were three other stations without “this line closed” signs, and with a line of customers that long. I’d still be able to make it. No problem.
Fifteen minutes later, when the one teller (still only one!) was yet working with the same customer she had been helping when I walked in (she kept disappearing into the back, while other employees – obviously not of the appropriate rank or station to be at the counter – would wander in, stare at those us of waiting with eyes devoid of caring or concern, and then wander back out again), and the line had grown from 14 to 19, and the poor toddler of the downtrodden young woman fifth in line was squalling his head off (I feel for ya, buddy!), I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it to the front of the line in the now 25 minutes allotted to me. But! I resolved, this is America! There has to be another option! There are always options! Always pragmatic solutions to any problem that may arise! Believe in American ingenuity! Believe in yourself to overcome obstacles! So I headed back home, buoyed by the certainty that all would still work out in the end.
I was sure via the magic of Google, I could find the correct postal rate for my envelope if I could only figure out its precise weight. Knowing we had no such delicate of a scale here at the house, I debated taking the envelope over to the local butcher’s shop (yes, we have an actual butcher’s shop less than a block away from my house – be jealous y’all) and have them weigh it along with a pound of chuck or some meaty dog bones, but then my husband pointed out that the theatre he was currently working at (he is a freelance lighting designer) had a postal scale in their 3rd floor administrative offices that would be at his disposal. He very graciously took the package with him. I knew this would delay delivery for a day, but that seemed a small price to pay for getting the job done right with no hassles. After all, I had two full books of stamps at home left over from a couple of years worth of Christmas cards that never got written or sent (hush, you!). Undoubtedly that would be enough to cover appropriate postage. Once I had an exacting weight, I knew I could get this puppy on its way.
~ . ~ . ~
One pound, two ounces. That’s how much Mr. The Rock and his literary mates weighed. The $8.00+ postage meant a lot of stamps in that upper right hand corner, but I thought they made the envelope look downright jaunty, festive, with its mixture of snow scenes and American flags. I made sure the stamps were not overlapping (that corporate mailroom experience kicking in again), and that they had been affixed securely, and I even added one stamp extra, just in case (I thought of it as a kind of “tip” for services rendered).
Since I was planning on driving my daughter to a doctor’s appointment the next day, I took the envelope with me, as I knew there was a postal collection box across the street from there. I didn’t want the oversized envelope hanging out of my residential mail box, and besides, it didn’t seem fair to make our regular postal carrier lug it around while he was delivering the mail. He had enough to worry about with all the catalogs and junk mail flyers that me and my neighbors are constantly receiving! So while Josie was seeing the doctor, I walked over and slipped the beautiful envelope into the collection bin. It made such a satisfying “thump!” when it fell in! I had almost a visceral sense of accomplishment hearing that sound and knowing that I had accomplished my goal; now the only thing left was to hear from Tee once she had received the package. I could only imagine the chuckle that would tumble out of her throat once she had read my note, and lifted it to see her imaginary paramour grinning out at her from that magazine cover!
It wasn’t until I had closed the lid on the postal collection box that I saw the small notice stickered at its lip: “This receptacle can only accept mail weighing 15 oz or less. Any mail 16 oz or more must be taken to a postal station and handed to a postal employee.” (Or something in that vein – all I remember precisely was that my now-deposited 18 oz package was over the limit.)
Well, damn. I couldn’t reach in and retrieve the package. Not only was it physically impossible, anyone who has watched American sitcoms knows that anything deposited in a USPS collection box becomes the property of the US government, and retrieving it is completely and absolutely illegal. So I did what any red-blooded American middle-aged woman would do: I shrugged and walked away. I couldn’t fix it now, all I could do was wait for whatever would happen, to happen. After all, it wasn’t a sure thing that they wouldn’t take the package. Maybe the postal employee emptying that box would actually possess a heart, would see the care put into ensuring that everything had been done right, but not done so expertly as to not to draw attention to itself (a red flag, don’tcha know), and simply drop it into the appropriate pipeline. No need to think negatively, no need to give up. I mean, it could happen, couldn’t it?
~ . ~. ~
Nope. It couldn’t.
The next day I was in the middle of fixing that day’s dinner to go into the crockpot when the doorbell rang. It was my regular mail carrier, and in his hands was my envelope, a little dirty, and little rough around the (carefully reinforced) edges.
(I will take a break here to say that I have absolutely no complaints about any of the men and women who have been my regular mail carriers over the years. They have been wonderful – and in some cases, delightfully idiosyncratic – people whose dedication, commitment and downright perseverance in the face of all kinds of weather and other challenges has been nothing short of amazing, and highly, highly appreciated. I try to ensure they know this, but I wanted to make it clear to you, the reader, as well.)
He was apologetic as he handed the package back to me. A yellow sticker emblazoned with “1 pound, 2 ounces” was affixed to the front, and one of those rubber stamped fingers pointed to a “return to sender” message, reiterating that this piece of mail would have to be taken to a postal station for processing. I vented about my experience at the post office earlier in the week, and he commiserated with me (I think there’s a good reason why these folks like being out and about), but his hands were tied. In my mind, I was already steeling myself for a long wait in line.
But then he said something that completely took the fight right out of me. “And you can’t use stamps on something over a pound. It has to be metered mail. Because of security.”
I’m sure he saw my jaw literally drop. “You mean I just wasted $8.00 in postage, and will have to pay another $8.00 again for a meter strip?”
“Well, they may give you credit for the stamps. I’m not sure, but it may not cost you more. I just don’t know.”
He did his best. He tried to throw me a line, to give me some hope. But we both knew that it was futile. After he had gone, and I was sitting in my chair, staring at the errant envelope, it occurred to me that even if there was a way of recouping my financial loss, there was no way a meter strip would be able to be put over postage stamps, canceled or pristine. I would still have to find another envelope, destroy the one I had been using, and start over.
I will admit it – I gave in. I conceded defeat. I’m not a warrior. I’m not a champion. I’m not a crusader, especially in the face of ambivalent government bureaucracy. Not for $8.00.
I let the envelope sit for the rest of that day. Then that night, I tore it open, removed the wrapped deck of cards, and – with a lump in my throat – tore the pages with article the on Mr. The Rock out of the Rolling Stone magazine, recycling the rest of the issue like some bloated carcass.
The next day, Friday, I went to the drug store to pick up some prescriptions, and saw a display with padded envelopes of varying sizes. Buying the smallest one I thought would work (I didn’t want to be tripped up by unknown size regulations; at this point I was seeing conspiracy everywhere), I took it home and dejectedly folded the article and the glorious cover of Mr. The Rock once, then again, and slipped it and the cards back into this diminished plastic-tainted envelope. My husband once again had it weighed, and I used the last of my stamps to cover the cost of sending 6 ounces of mail from Minnesota to Louisiana. No way was I going back to the Lake Street postal station. Ain’t nobody got time for that, unless they have no other option.
~ . ~ . ~
I heard back from Tee. She loved the playing cards, and the Mr. The Rock article. She was effusive and gracious in her thanks. For all the hassles, and all the frustrations, I was glad I had done it.
And I hope that bureaucratic setbacks never keep me from doing kind things, or see me lashing out when I find myself in frustrating circumstances, or blaming someone for situations that are out of their control. Despite the hassles of that well-intentioned package, it was a success. A mitigated success, but a success all the same. To be honest, it was my expectations that suffered the most, and those certainly need to be taken with a grain of salt – and a pinch of cayenne, or a slug of Southern Comfort if you have it.
After all, it was The Rolling Stones who once sang, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you’ll find, you get what you need.”
Okay, so The Rolling Stones is not Rolling Stone. And my little rant here is really full of the sound and fury, and it truly signifies virtually nothing. And a few creases in Mr. The Rock does not truly diminish his beauty.
And Tee did smile. So it’s good. It’s all good.
But I’m never going to put foot in that post office again, if I can help it. Just so you know, in case you’re keeping score.
~ Sharon Browning