The Costa Rican Butterfly
Did I mention that I hate the post office? Especially my local post office? Whatever happened to, “neither rain nor sleet nor”, yada, yada, yada?
Actually, the saying was “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” and was said around 500 B.C. by the Greek, Herodotus, referring to the Persian mounted couriers during the war between the Greeks and Persians. It has nothing to do with our post office and with obvious good reason.
But I must mail a package to my mother, so here I am. Diligently I had placed the framed butterfly that my wife and I bought for her on our trip to Costa Rica back in its box after putting bubble-wrap around it. Then I bubble-wrapped that box and put it in a box that I saved when I purchased my new router for my home network. Wrapping that box in a brown paper bag cut from a grocery store bag, I had taped it tightly and with a black marker, I had clearly penned my mother’s address in large letters on the paper. Perfection.
“Would you like a tracking number?” the clerk said.
“Nah, that’s the right address”, I replied.
“But there’s no return address.”
“Why would I need one? That’s the right address. Just send it first-class.” I said.
With a shrug of his shoulders, I paid my $5.30, collected my receipt dated April 16 and bid this evil place farewell.
When I next spoke to my mother, I told her that a package was coming so she could be on the lookout for it. I gave this alert to a woman who sent her luggage via UPS rather than put it on the airplane and take a chance of it getting lost.
A week went by. Two weeks. No package.
I went to the post office to inquire as to the whereabouts of the butterfly.
“What’s the tracking number?”
“Didn’t have one.”
“How are we supposed to find it?”
“I don’t know, but I gave it to you and it was addressed properly. Where is it?”
“Well, if it isn’t delivered to the right address, it’ll come back here.”
“How will they know where to send it?”
“From the return address.”
“Didn’t have one. No need. It was sent to the correct address. I’ve been there.”
“Are you telling me that you want us to find a package without a tracking number or return address?”
“Are you telling me that I can’t trust an agency of the United States Government to deliver a package to the correct address?”
I hate Pyrrhic Victories.
I think I won, but my mother still doesn’t have her butterfly.
Thanks to the internet, I was able to find the phone number for my mother’s branch of the post office where she lives and was able to speak to a very nice man called Fred. After going through the tracking number and return address ritual again, Fred promised to reach out to the carrier on her route to see if he remembered delivering a package (with no tracking number or return address) to her address in the time frame we were discussing and call me the next day.
Now I’m the type of person who doesn’t feel the need to confirm appointments because I do what I say I will do. I said it, consider it done.
Fred turned out to be not my type of person. The next day came and went, so I called again the following day. He was honest and told me that he forgot but that he would check and call the next day.
Strangely enough, the next day also came and went without a call from Fred, so I called the following day. Fred was off that day.
A week after my first call to Fred, I called Fred again. Fred is now one, in a long line of many, to learn that “quit” is not in my vocabulary. This time he has checked and the route carrier doesn’t remember the package so I’m transferred to the Postmaster, with a capital “P”.
Guess what? After our fascinating discussion about no tracking number and return address, he suggests that we escalate this to the dead letter office. I know that’s where we’re headed because I’m told that whatever acronym he used to tell me what he was doing, meant the dead letter office. Should have written that down in case there’s a quiz.
Welcome back to my local post office. We have a new clerk now with whom we discuss the benefits of tracking numbers and return addresses. After she makes two attempts to clarify the processes involved, she rolls her eyes and walks away to find the “P”ostmaster. I’m told to wait in another area (out of the public eye) until he shows up.
He at least is understanding, being the Postmaster, and right away presents me with a form to file a loss claim. No question of how to find it arises; it’s just gone and after filing this claim (for which I can unfortunately not get a copy of one of the five carbon copies), I assume that I will get some reimbursement.
But I digress.
Flash forward to May 16.
My sister, Colleen, who moved in with my mother after my father’s death last year, celebrated her birthday on May 13. Cindy (my wife) and I usually sing the birthday song to the victim on those days, but Colleen had been camping, so we finally caught her at home the evening of May 16.
There IS a connection here — wait for it, it’s coming!
At the conclusion of the song, we’re all on the phone just catching up, Cindy, Colleen, me and my mother, Blanche.
“By the way, Mom, I’m sending you another package, so let me know when it comes. It’s a book coming from Amazon. I think you’ll love it. It’s a shame that framed butterfly never showed up.”
Colleen: “What butterfly?”
Me: “We sent Mom a framed butterfly from Costa Rica but it never got there. I’ve been reaming the post office between here and there for a month now.”
Colleen: “Uh, did it come in a router box?”
Me: “Uh … yeah.”
Colleen: “Brown paper … no return address?”
Colleen: “Oooh. When I ordered my computer from Dell, I was waiting for my router and when I opened it there was no card so — “
Me: “Wait a minute. Why did YOU open the box? Is your name Blanche?”
Colleen: “Well, I’m Blanche Colleen! I gave Mom the money in order to use her credit card, so they sent the computer to Blanche. Anyhow, when I saw what it was, I thought Dell had sent me some introductory offer to something. I didn’t want it, so I gave it to mom. It’s been on the mantle for weeks now.”
Mom: “It’s beautiful.”
Colleen: “Oh yeah … it DOES say Costa Rica on top of it.”
In my mind’s eye, I see the hammer drop imperceptibly slowly and I then hear the muted echoing of the click. The roar is deafening, followed by a flash of light, a puff of smoke and the bullet surging from the barrel. Ever so slowly, it follows its predetermined course, and nothing I can do will stop it. Dreamily, my hands rise towards my face, guided only by instinct and the knowledge that soon, even they will be powerless to intercede in the course of events set into play by powers far beyond their meager range. Searching desperately for meaning in a meaningless world, and grasping for reason, I cry out,
“Colleen! … There’s a package coming from Amazon next week. It’s for Mom!”
Oh, and Amazon sent me an e-mail telling me the book had shipped. United States Postal Service. And a tracking number.
Originally published at www.payinattention.com.