Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Going Postal for the Holidays

If you shop on the internet, or have friends or family who live far away, the holiday season includes some sort of postal service.  Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL (they still exist!), or the good ol' USPS all play a role in just how stressful the holidays will be for you.  When the system works, as it generally does, it's great.  Hooray, your stuff arrived intact.  But when it doesn't, oh man.  Sometimes, there is no time for plan B.  

Before anything is shipped, you must first deal with the post office itself.  When I lived in Toluca Lake, California, their tiny post office always had a line streaming out the back door during the holiday season.  I've been in that line many times, and can testify that it was not so much the quantity of people trying to send packages as it was the single jolly employee at the counter, a roley-poley man with a white beard who reveled in his resemblance to Santa.  It was the one time a year he got lots of attention from the ladies, and he made the best of it, chatting them up like a great benevolent Father Christmas.

After once waiting an hour in this line holding a large box, jolly St. Nick got a stern look on his face and said, "That box is too big."

"You're kidding me."

He dug into his beard and pulled out a tape measure. By USPS rules, my box was ONE INCH over the size they found acceptable. And this Santa couldn't make it right.

Having gifts arrive intact is just half the fun.  I then have to ship the gifts I get back home.  In one case, a custom framed picture I was given was shipped via UPS.  I found it on my doorstep, with a  2 inch greasy hole punched clean through the box,  Shards of glass protruded through the hole.  Shaking the box, you would think it was full of maracas.  Yet, the UPS deliverer saw fit to leave the package at my step, as if someone deliberately sent a  box with a large greasy hole and glass shards poking through it.

Possibly the worst example of bad shipping happened to my friend Dr. Barry Hummel.  As he tells it:

"I forget what year it was, but it was one of the many years when we shipped all of our family gifts back to New Jersey via the good old US Postal Service prior to our flight from Los Angeles.

Even before we arrived back east, we got word that the box was "a mess". That really didn't do it justice. What we found was a misshapen pile of torn cardboard stuffed with gifts. The problem was, several of our gifts were missing (I distinctly remember a very pricey Bruce Springsteen CD Box set that didn't make the trip), and there were several new additions that did not belong to us. There was also a weird piece of artificial greenery, like a single limb from an artificial tree, with a gold plastic ornament attached. I am guessing that a stack of boxes fell over and busted open somewhere in transit, and the solution was to start shoving gifts into boxes until the mess was cleaned up.

On Christmas Day, we gave the strange gifts to the people whose original gifts were missing. For example, my brother-in-law Irv, who was supposed to get the Springsteen box set, ended up with a photo of an unknown Asian child... at least until we could get out to the mall and replace the missing gifts.

By the way, the gold ornament still hangs on our Christmas tree each and every year."

Was it a postal accident, or remnants of a postal Christmas party?   Let your conspiratorial minds decide.  But if you get a framed photo of a stranger for Christmas, or a box with a greasy hole filled with broken glass, be sure to thank your postal carrier.


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