Sometimes life sneaks up on you and blindsides you in little frustrating and absurd ways that test your patience and civility. Recently, I almost went postal over the Post Office.
It started simply enough at a yard sale where I bought an artsy looking piece of glass, covered in dust, for fifty cents. I took it home, cleaned it up, looked it up and found it was made in Poland and was worth about fifty times what I paid for it. So I put it on ebay and sold it. So far, so good. A few more bucks in paypal.
A piece of art glass is fragile, and I didn’t want it to get broken in transit, so I packed it with lots of padding in a box that had held a case of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. No, I didn’t drink the rum.
So I’m in line at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. The post office is one of the places where you still have to stand in line and wait because the clerks are still filling our forms by hand, just like they did in the 1800s, and some transactions take about as long as a home mortgage.
But finally, I crawl to the front of the line and heft the package onto the counter in front of the middle-aged woman clerk. She stares at the package for a while, with the same face she’d make if I’d have heaved a live poisonous snake in front of her.
She tapped her nails on the counter and says. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we can’t accept this package because it’s packed in a liquor box.”
Rules. Especially stupid rules. Why did the post office care if I used a box I’d gotten at the liquor store? I quickly assured the clerk that I wasn’t actually shipping liquor, just art glass.
“We can’t accept packages that have liquor logos. Sorry.” She shoved the package toward me. I walked back to the car irritated. What the hell? Was the post office worried I was going to corrupt their sober employees? It just seemed ridiculous, officious and prudish.
But I still had to get the damn thing shipped somehow, so I went home and took typing paper and pasted it over every liquor reference on the box. I sanitized it, de-boozled it, abolitioned it.
So after another fun wait in line, I’m back face-to-face with the very same woman clerk at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. I proudly display my handiwork, my extensive pasting of white paper on every side of that box.
“You did a good job,” said the clerk. “But I can still tell it’s a liquor box. I still can’t take it. Sorry.” The first time, I was irritated. Now I’m getting a little pissed. I felt like saying, of course you can tell it’s a liquor box, because you know it’s a liquor box from my first visit. Then I repeated to myself all the reasons this whole thing was so stupid. I felt like going and getting a bottle of rum and drinking until I passed out. But I didn’t, because when it comes to duels with unreasonable idiots, the only thing that matters is that you find a way to outwit them.
But I still had to get the damn thing shipped. It was obvious to me that the faintest hint or whiff of the devil’s brew would just get me sent home again with my tail between my legs. So I took a big old piece of brown butcher paper and wrapped up the whole box. I didn’t go back to the clerk in Rogers, Arkansas, because I could just imagine her saying she could tell it was a liquor box because of its shape or because she had X-ray vision, or that she suspected I was a serial pervert shipper.
No, I took the wrapped package to the post office in Farmington, Arkansas, where a woman who could have been the sister of the woman in Rogers actually accepted the package for shipment. I paid her, trying hard not to smirk. Apparently she lacked the psychic ability of her sister. I walked out to the car with the same kind of pride and swagger George Bush must have had when he landed that plane on the aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished.
But the post office wasn’t quite done with me yet. I received an email from the buyer a few days later. The package had arrived postage due, and he’d had to pay the post office to get it, even though he’d paid me in advance for shipping. He asked for a refund. I sent it to him, but I went back to the post office to try to find out what the hell had happened.
A third woman clerk, younger but still a Stepford clerk, told me it shouldn’t have happened. I knew that. Can you pull up the transaction and see why it happened, I asked. No way to do that, she said, and I don’t know much about computers. Yes, she actually said that. You see, the post office is like the Special Olympics. They don’t have a clue, but they always win, every time.
After four trips to the post office, I was ready to spontaneously combust over the absurdity of human existence. But I didn’t. I drove to the liquor store, bought a big bottle of rum and tried to forget the whole thing. Yo, ho, ho.