Going Postal At the Post Office

Posted: June 29, 2013 in The Roper Files
Tags: , , , ,

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My girlfriend has written and published a cookbook; she’s worked very hard on it putting it together from a number of family recipes. We recently ordered a proof copy, liked what we saw and she was now ready to start selling them on her website.

Well I just put the notice up  to start taking pre-orders on my site for the cookbook;  I hope somebody orders some….”

And then the orders started coming in, one by one. One from the Netherlands. One from the Philippines. One from Australia. And one by one they came from people all over the United States. Within two weeks with almost no effort she had sold hundreds of copies. Oh crap! Neither of us were prepared for this.

Then came last Saturday afternoon the Fedex truck rumbled up in front of our place and unloaded ten big heavy boxes full of books; this Tuesday Fedex once again rolled up and dropped off two more large boxes. My living room suddenly looked like an Amazon warehouse. And since we now had a substantial amount  of Other Peoples Money in the PayPal account and the PO box number was registered in my name and we had hundreds of individuals Out There waiting for their cookbooks I felt an obligation to help her get these in the mail ASAP lest I go down on Mail Fraud charges. I took three days of vacation from my menial day job so we could get this done and as it turned out it took all three days to do it.

Plastic mailing sleeves were purchased as well as a $32 package of 1000 address labels. We also had a stamp made with our return address to spare us having to write it out by hand hundreds of times. We spent two full days slipping books into plastic sleeves, writing out address labels and getting them ready to go. While at the post office checking our PO box I thought I would give the clerk behind the counter a polite “heads -up” and warn her in advance about the hundreds of parcels coming in. “We’re just a small branch; don’t you dare show up here with more than ten parcels at a time. We can’t handle that kind of volume.” Okay….

I Googled the phone number for Customer Service USPS and tried to explain to no less than three people what we were trying to do. Three people more or less told me three different ways to go about it (who the fuck trains these guys?) but the last gentleman I spoke with advised that I should purchase the postage first and put it on the packages as opposed to just showing up and expecting the clerk to apply it to hundreds of packages. Made sense to me so because all the packages were more or less the same we took a couple of samples (some people ordered two books; thus we had double packages) to two post offices and had them weigh them and give us an estimate on the postage. The grand total came to a whopping four-digit amount in stamps. We drove to the bank, pulled the money out of my savings account and went back to the post office  who only then told us they didn’t have that amount of stamps (“What do you think this is; a post office?”) so we went to the big central post office downtown.

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We walked up to the counter where a haggard Dick Miller-lookalike was working and told him how much postage we wanted. He let out a moan and muttered something about “ You know how long that’s going to take?” and “ I wish so-and-so was here; can you wait 15 minutes until she shows up?” OKAY….

It was a hundred degrees in the shade outside and not much cooler in the post office; we stood under a sign saying “Cell phone use prohibited” and surfed Facebook and Reddit on our Iphones while we waited for the second clerk to show up. Finally a older gray-haired woman shows up, clocks in and assumes the clerk position on the other side of the counter. “May I help you?

And God Bless this woman! She didn’t bat an eye when we explained to her what we were trying to do and she ever so patiently and diligently got out a calculator and with the precision of a master mathematician calculated to the penny what denominations of stamps to dole out to us for both domestic and foreign postage and even went the extra mile to put them in separate envelopes along with handwritten instructions on how the postage broke down. We repeatedly thanked her and walked out of the post office with our postage and went home.

It took us four and a half hours to fill out sixty Customs forms and apply the postage stamps to each of the hundreds of parcels; I lined up the Canadian and domestic parcels assembly-line style on my kitchen table and put each of the required four stamps on each one while my girlfriend filled out Customs forms. Finally at 3am we called it a night; the next day was going to be a busy one.

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I slept for a mere five hours, got up the next morning and began to fill the bed of my pickup truck with ten heavy boxes of parcels and put my trusty two-wheel dolly on top of the boxes. At the advice of one of the three Customer Service people I spoke with on the phone, we then headed for a post office on the opposite side of town I had never been to, but the guy on the phone said they were “much more set up for bulk mailings” and as we approached the huge multi-acre postal complex ringed with a tall razor-wired fence I almost was ready to believe him.

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Under the broiling morning sun, I unloaded four boxes onto my dolly and wheeled them in to find a mere TWO terrified-looking clerks behind the counter looking at me like: “I hope those are a delivery and not for us to process”

And now the game of “That’s Not Our Job” and “Not Our Department” began. I was told by the clerks that the Bulk Mailing Department was on the other side of the complex and to drive through the gates of another fenced-in parking lot and look for the trucking docks. So I wheeled the four boxes I had already unloaded back outside into the broiling sunlight, put them back in the truck and we drove around the block to the other entrance. I finally saw a trucking dock, backed up the truck and found a couple of employees standing around doing nothing who assured me that Yes this was the bulk mailing dock. Okay…

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There were several stainless steel rolling carts with doors on the sides like infants cribs all over the dock; I grabbed one and wheeled it over to where I was parked, loaded it up with the ten heavy boxes and then wheeled it through the doors to another postal counter where once again I confronted a whopping TWO employees on the other side of the counter who both had the same“Oh shit!” looks on their faces as the first two. The game of Twenty Questions began just as soon as I plopped the first box on the counter. “How many parcels do you have?” “Are these all Media Mail?” “Domestic or international?” “Have you filled out your Customs Forms?”

They had questions; I had answers. “Hundreds; all media mail. Most are domestic/60 of them are international. And Yes we have filled out the Customs slips; every one of them are already stamped. Now start hopping.”

One of them bolted into the back for the Station Manager (“HELP!”) who emerged from the back, took a cursory look at the one box of parcels, then told me I had to take them back to the first counter because I didn’t have a commercial bulk shipping permit. At this point I was fighting not to go into full John Cleese/Mr Fawlty mode.

bastards

We’re not a company or a corporation; we’re just two people who happened to sell a lot of books. Excuse me for being presumptuous but does the sign out front NOT say “post office” ? These are parcels and the word “post” is in your job title; exactly WHAT is the problem here?”

I’m sorry sir but if you don’t have a bulk mailing permit ( an extra $300) you’re going to have to take them to the main counter.”

You mean the one where the employees told me I had to bring them here?”

Yes that one; the employees up there are all new and didn’t know better. Tell you what; I’ll meet you over there and we’ll get this straightened out.”

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With much muttering I pushed the heavy cart out back out to the loading dock and began to once more load up the truck. Once more we drove back to the front entrance and once more unloaded four boxes onto the dolly and wheeled them into the first entrance. I bit my tongue not to say in a Samuel Jackson voice: “Hey you motherfuckers; remember me?”

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Station Manager #1 appeared, disappeared in the back and reappeared with Station Manager #2. Station Manager #2 looks at my parcels and informs us that because these were cookbooks, they didn’t qualify as Media Mail and were going to cost us extra for postage. We were already out a hefty four-digit sum for postage; needless to say this didn’t sit well with my girlfriend, who by now was on the verge of tears.

WHAT? They’re books! They’re media! They’re stamped, they’re addressed! Is this NOT a post office? Are these NOT parcels? “ At this point I wasn’t about to be brushed off that easily; I wasn’t leaving until those damn packages were being processed. I was tired of them putting up one hoop after another for me to jump through. One bullshit excuse after another not to do their job; I could only imagine how long I would be employed if I showed up at my menial job with that kind of attitude.

Station Manager #1 comes back out with some sort of big black bound edition of the Postal Book of Common Writ, flips through the pages for a few minutes and finally figured out Station Manager #2 was full of Number Two; they had to accept the cookbooks as Media Mail. Of course neither Station Manager lifted a finger to help; instead the two clerks were put to work going through the Customs forms one by one. My girlfriend and I helped by borrowing their MEDIA MAIL stamp and stamping each one of the domestic packages one by one: she stamped and I dumped them 30 or so at a time in a stainless steel drawer that I suppose led to a hamper on the other side of the wall.

Finally three hours after this wretched ordeal began, all the domestic packages were on their way to distant points and as I wheeled my dolly back out to the truck the clerks inside were still going through the international parcels one by one. Leaving the air-conditioned post office and stepping out into the 100-degree sunlight almost felt good, having lightened our load by about 400 parcels or so. As much as a cold bottle of beer sounded good, we decided to celebrate with a big lunch at a local cafe instead.  As we sped away from the Post Office, my girlfriend looked at her cell phone. “I just got another order!”

And seeing the look on my face she quickly added: “And I’m raising the price for the international orders!”

Good girl….

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