Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day

In elementary school, I was taught a number of things, many concerning my country. I was taught that George "Honest George" Washington cut down a cherry tree, then felt so bad that he immediately fessed-up to his father. I was taught that Christopher "Don't Call Me Chris, Lest I Be Confused With The Director of Harry Potter I And Home Alone" Columbus not only discovered America, but discovered the earth was round. I was also taught that Benjamin "All About the Benjamins" Franklin strongly advocated that the wild turkey, not the bald eagle, should be the bird chosen to represent America.

Men of Greatness
Due to the advent of the internet and, more importantly, the Grand Repository of All Truth (read: Wikipedia), I later came to find out that the aforementioned stories—as with most things taught to me in my youth—are, well, less-than-true. Washington's integrity-affirming story was completely fabricated by his biographer. Columbus was not the discoverer of America—he had to jump in line behind the Scandinavians and the Chinese, at least—and he full-on knew that the earth was round (you know, that is why he knew that he could get east by going west). And while Franklin wrote (somewhat ironically) in a letter to his daughter of his disapproval of the bald eagle, he never campaigned for the turkey, as I am sure most of us were lead to believe.

At last, we know the truth.
And so, as you go to your various Thanksgiving Day gatherings and gorge yourselves stupid on food—because, you know, it is the best way to show... your... thanks?—and you have that *one relative who makes a wise crack about being "thankful that [they] don't have to eat bald eagle" for Thanksgiving, you have my permission to slap some sense into them.

*You know, that one.
On a closing but very related note, I am stoked, quite possibly beyond words. Why, you ask? Well, I was watching the Discovery Channel the other day and I saw mention of what I can only assume is their newest program.

For those who are having trouble reading that, here is a closer view:

That is right. Just in time for the Thanksgiving season, the Discovery Channel is apparently creating a show called "Man vs. Wild Turkey". Finally, there is amazing programming on television once again.

I hope, nay, pray it is exactly like this.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Twilight Saga, part 1

I think it would be a fair assumption on my part to say that anyone and everyone reading this—be they friends, family members, or Mike, the rosy-cheeked, dry-humored park ranger who lead the tour of Jewel Cave that my friends and I went on during an impromptu 2005 weekend sojourn to South Dakota—has heard of/seen/been introduced to, in one way or another, the phenomenon known as The Twilight Saga.

Pictured: Mike, park ranger
(Actually, now that I think about it, it would not surprise me in the least to find out that Mike is Twilight's #1 fan. In fact, it would not surprise me in the least to find out that Mike is not only the president of the Black Hills chapter of the Twilight Fan Club, but he has also written multiple volumes of fan fiction entitled "Mikelight", where he has written himself into the story as the Cullen's long-lost cousin who has become a park ranger because he too cannot bear the thought of taking human life and now must spend his days giving tours of caves so that nobody can discover his shadowy yet sparkly secret. Not saying anything bad about Mike, of course. He just seems the type.)

Pictured: Mike, superfan
If, for whatever reason, you are unfamiliar with the subject, allow me to expound for you. The Twilight Saga—named "Saga", of course, because once the fourth book came to be, they could no longer call it a "trilogy", and "quadruplogy" just sounded stupid—is your typical Boy Meets Girl story, wherein Girl moves to a new town, Girl meets Boy, Girl falls head-over-heels in like with Boy, Girl tries to get close to Boy only to have Boy push her away, Girl gets sad, Boy finally opens up to Girl, informing her that he knows of a deep, dark secret: vampires. Oh, snap.

Bolt jokes, anyone?
From there, Twilight gets weird. Like, really weird. Like, rip-open-your-uterus-with-my-vampire-fangs weird. (And no, that is not a euphemism.) But I digress; we shall discuss all in due time. Now, I am aware that it is fairly old hat to make fun of—in blog form, no less—Twilight and all that is entailed therein. The main problem with this is, of course, not that Twilight is unworthy of mockery, for that is most-certainly not the case. Rather, the problem is that those who poke fun at Twilight usually go for the easy shots; and easy shots, by their very nature, are oft times the weakest of arguments. I mean, honestly, there is a lot more to talk about than the fact that Edward glimmers in the sunlight.

Edward's sun-sparkle
That being the case, my intention over the next few posts will be not to mock; rather, I merely wish to share with you a few of my opinions regarding the saga that is in no exaggeration of the word invading our lives. And if, along the way, a snide comment or two stems forth from my mouth (or fingers, as it were), know that they are legitimate concerns that have valid points... at least, valid in the eyes of the guy who spent five (5) posts talking about how he has been wronged by the post office.

Tobias's sun-sparkle

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Going Postal, part 5

V: Delivery Confirmation?
(November, 2009)

As the "part 5" would indicate, I am now reaching the close of my postal tirade. Over the past few days, we have learned a lot about geography, a lot about systems, and a lot about procedures. The posts and stories have made us have laugh, made us cry, made us ponder, and made us facepalm. Now, if I may, let me share with you the last—and, perhaps, most egregious—offense in the ongoing war between the USPS and myself.

Through my virtually daily perusal of craigslist, I recently found a chap on the other side of the country who was selling, well, in the interest of half-disclosure, let me say a certain video game accessory that is of great worth to me. I ordered one from him and a week or so later, it arrived in the mail. Overjoyed, I showed this accessory to one of my friends, who instantly wanted one. I ordered another one and a week or so later, it arrived in the mail. Another one of my friends heard about this accessory, so I ordered one and, true to form, a week or so later, it arrived in the mail. I was in functioning postal system heaven.

cartoon facepalm
In retrospect, I should have stopped at three, because as School House Rock taught me, "three is the magic number". However, another one of my friends heard of the accessory and, having assumed that the USPS had repented of its sins—as a major part of repentance is refraining from them—I ordered another one from my newfound associate. As always (though not previously mentioned), the package was sent with a tracking number. For those not in the know, this is basic tracking number theory:
  1) The package is given a number and barcode.
  2) At each stop along the package's route, the barcode is scanned and the status is updated online
  3) All this is to prevent, nay, eliminate the risk of a package getting lost.
Keep in mind, that is the theory...

polar facepalm
Naturally, when the tracking number online informed me that the package had arrived but there was no sign of it in my mailbox, I was a bit concerned. Back at home, I searched for quite literally an hour, trying to find the phone number to my local post office. However, since the USPS does not seem to believe in any form of customer service, the closest thing I was able to come up with was leaving a message with the conflict resolution center at A few days later, I got a phone call from Jill, who was pictured in the first "Going Postal" entry. That is when the fun began.

baby facepalm
Right out of the gates, Jill insisted that there was no way her postal worker could have made a mistake, as he is a "good guy". When I asked if she offered any other solution as to the whereabouts of my package, she actually had the gall to imply that I had either lost it or was trying to pull a fast one on the post office. I asked her what the process of scanning a tracking number is, to which she replied that the postal worker literally scans the package one foot away from the mailbox, and then puts it in. Upon hearing this, I put Jill on hold and called up NASA, as it appeared that a black hole had emerged, entirely localized one foot away from my mailbox. After the NASA call, I called Jill back and asked her what exactly the point of a tracking number was; she explained to me the aforementioned theory.  I then made the suggestion that while the theory of tracking numbers might work, perhaps there was a problem in the execution, as I was still packageless.  Apparently, this was something Jill did not want to hear, as she quickly told me that she had other things to do and tried to get off the phone.

presidential facepalm
Before losing her entirely, I asked her what the USPS intended to do as far as reimbursement. She asked if insurance was purchased for the package; I told her it was not, as I see something fundamentally flawed about paying someone money to do a job, and then paying them extra to assure they do it correctly. Imagine if all businesses operated this way:
  "And I'll have the lobster bisque."
  "Very good choice, sir."
  "Oh, and waiter?"
  "Here's an extra twenty to make sure you don't drop my food on the way out."
  "Thank you, sir. I shall see to it."
To this, Jill—who I assume at the time was sitting atop her throne made of crushed hopes and candy stolen from children—actually laughed and said that if I wanted, I could file a formal complaint with the post office in thirty days. When I asked her why the thirty day period, she replied (and I quote): "Just in case the package shows up." That is right: at the end of it all, apparently the USPS's contingency plan for lost items is nothing more than hoping they somehow grow limbs and walk their way to your front door.

implied facepalm

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Going Postal, part 4

IV. The Address Change
(April, 2007)

A few months before my wife and I got married, we decided, because we did not care to be slaves to the beast that is renting, that we would buy a house. We figured this was a good idea because not only would our mortgage payment be equal or less than our rental payment, but because—now hindsight is 20/20 here—at the time, the housing market in Utah was quite figuratively on fire. It got to a point where we would look at a house in the morning and there would be three or four offers on it by that night. So, after searching one end of the valley to the other, we finally found the nexus of the universe we currently call home.

No joke, our grid address is 4321 South 1234 West.
However, before that, there was a multi-week interim where the Mrs. (or Ms., as it were at the time) had moved out of her apartment, but our house had not yet closed. For the time, she followed her husband-to-be's cue in slackitude and came to live in my parents' basement. Though there were the normal (expected) cliches, it was actually a rather painless experience.

Yeah, it was kind of like that.
We closed on our house two days before we took the plunge/tied the knot/[insert wedding metaphor here]. In addition to the myriad of paperwork that needs to be filled out when getting married/buying a house—change of name, escrow papers, signing away firstborn, and the like—we realized we also had to fill out Change of Address forms, informing the USPS that we would no longer be residents of my parents' abode. And as the pattern of the past three posts still held true, that is when the trouble began.

We filled out the CoA forms (as those in the know call them) and moved into our new home. Sure enough, a few days later, mail started arriving in our mailbox that had been forwarded from Sandy. Notice how I said just "mail" and avoided the use of the adjective "our". This is because it was not just our mail... unless "our" refers to my parents as well. That is right: the same postal worker who did not know the difference between South Dakota and South Africa must have processed our Change of Address forms, because they transferred all the residents of my parents' house to our new address, parents' included.

I personally believe that US Americans need Change of Address forms...
After speaking with multiple postal workers and filling out multiple forms, we were able to convince the USPS that my parents indeed still lived in their house and that is where their mail should be sent. Sadly, most of the damage had already been done, as any number of junk mail databases were updated with our address as the new target. To this day, we receive junk mail addressed to my parents on a pretty-much daily basis.

Although, to be fair, I suppose that is karma, as I still give out my parents' phone number whenever any dubious source asks for my contact info.

Sorry mom and dad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Going Postal, part 3

III. Cape Town, South Dakota
(July 2002 – July 2004)

In March of 2002, I received—yes, actually received in the mail, believe it or not—a piece of paper that many people know as a "Mission Call", informing me where I would serve my two year religious/humanitarian mission. There were a number of places whose names I wanted to see on that piece of paper, from Scotland to Mongolia to Tonga. It came as no surprise, then, that the place listed was none of those, and was about as far from Sandy, Utah as one can get: Cape Town, South Africa. Over the next few months, I prepared for my 24-month sojourn, informing those I knew and giving them an address I could be reached at there. Incidentally, there was a large number of people who, upon hearing of my destination, would reply, "South Africa? Where exactly is that?"

Wait wait wait... there’s a South Africa?
After a few months of residing in ZA (because SA is Saudi Arabia, obviously), I began to notice many of the idiosyncrasies of the SAPO (South African Post Office, obviously). For example, with the exchange rate it was cheaper to send a letter from Cape Town to Sandy than it was to send one from, say, Sandy to Sandy. I noticed that there could be multiple streets with the same name and numbers—one neighborhood I was in had five Protea Roads—so writing the correct postal code was super imperative. I also noticed that the post office lacked any postage-printing machines, so if someone needed R139.57 in stamps, the unfortunate postal worker had to do an awful lot of mental math to choose the correct number and variety of stamps.

Why oh why didn't I listen to Winnie Cooper!?
The biggest issue I found, however, naturally had nothing to do with the SAPO and everything to do with the USPS. One of every ten or so letters I would receive would have two interesting features on the envelope:
  1) The words "South Africa" would be highlighted in yellow; and
  2) There was a postmark from Rapid City, South Dakota in the corner.
I quickly realized that there must have been a postal worker(s?) out there who saw the "South", saw that it had a "A" near the beginning and ended in one as well, and concluded that South Dakota was probably the letter's destination. (Interestingly enough, I never received a letter that had been mistakenly sent to South Carolina, so perhaps the formula was a bit more complex than I am giving it credit.)

Table Mount Rushmore, South Dafrica
As noted before, this was a fairly common occurrence. However, since the address the letters were sent to was a permanent address in ZA and not wherever I was staying at the time, I only received the mail about once a month and was usually not bothered by the rerouting delay. There was one offense, though, that needs be mentioned. In a letter to one of my friends, I pointed out the (somewhat amusing) error in passing, as one of his previous letters had been sent on the Great Plains detour. In an attempt to prevent any further delivery mishaps, my friend addressed his next letter to me as per postal standards, then wrote "AFRICA" in large capital letters at the bottom. To drive the nail in further, he drew a miniature outline of Africa and pointed an arrow to the bottom with the word "here". Surely there could be no confusion this time.

I chuckled when I saw the envelope. Not because of the giant letters or the humorous drawing... but because "South Africa" was highlighted in yellow and there was a "Rapid City, SD" postmark in the corner.

Ok, in their defense, it does kind of look like South Dakota.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Going Postal, part 2

II: The 4-Month Delivery
(January – April, 2002)

My freshman year at college was my first real experience of living on my own. With that experience came a slew of life lessons, oft times learned the hard way. I learned that bringing an acoustic guitar to college is a bad idea, unless you want to be "that guy", and I learned that no matter how you dress it up, ramen noodles are never a good choice when you tell a girl you will cook her dinner. I also learned that an equation made up of (one bored college student) + (the novelty of eBay) + (access to a roommate's credit card) = bad news for all parties involved.

(Regarding the previous sentence, let it be said that I always paid back any and all expenditures, lest I be esteemed a villain.) During one of my (what quickly became daily) scrolls through the online auction house, a particular item caught my eye—a Braille edition of a book, which was certainly a collector's item. Being overcome with giddiness, I purchased the book and was surprised that shipping was only an additional $12, as Braille books are usually rather large and have to be broken up into multiple volumes. The seller was quite prompt in shipping the book, being told that, due to its size, it would arrive "within eight to twelve business days".

When the eighth business day passed, I started anxiously checking the mail. When the twelfth business day passed, I was a bit miffed. When the twentieth business day passed, I asked the mailman what the deal was, to which he replied that since there was no tracking number, I would just have to "wait until it show[ed] up". When the thirtieth business day passed, I began keeping a watchful eye on the news to make sure I-80 had not been blocked by some sort of natural disaster or, as I feared, a wizard.

You shall not pass!
As the business days turned into business weeks and then into business months, I began to give up all hope regarding my long-lost book. It was just as I was considering buying another book (that had popped up on my eBaydar) when I came home from class one day to discover, much to my surprise, a large box waiting by my door. Upon opening it, I discovered that my book had finally arrived! With 106 calendar days on its belt, I hoped to find foreign postage, burn marks, and other such things one would expect from such a far traveler; after all, it is more-or-less a straight-shot down I-80 from Des Moines to Provo. However, the box was in perfect condition—ruling out falling from a truck or being taken in a hostage crisis—and the postmark was marked on the day when the seller said he sent it—ruling out any tomfoolery on his part. There was only one viable solution left: the USPS, doing its job as per expectations.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
After exhausting multiple avenues—I quickly learned that if you have a problem with the postal system, it is quite difficult to actually speak with someone regarding the problem—I had a conversation with Kevin, manager of the Provo post office. When I asked him what could have possibly happened to make a package be delivered more than four times longer than me actually walking to Iowa, picking it up, and walking back, he simply replied that "sometimes, these things happen". Though I kept silent at the time, I realize now I should have taken a cue from Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera: "Si! These things do happen! Well, until you stop these things happening, this thing does not happen!"

Broadway jokes, anyone?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Going Postal, part 1

Recently, I had a rather unpleasant altercation with my local post office over, well, what I view as their inability to do their job correctly. This conversation between myself and Jill—the postal manager who not only could not be brought to an understanding that perhaps one of her workers could have made a mistake, but who also implied that it somehow must have been my fault, though I obviously never touched/saw the package—left me more-than-a-little irked and left the package more-than-a-little lost.

Jill (artist's rendition)
Now, I am aware that it is a mite bit cliche to talk about how ineffective, unprofessional, and at times worthless the United States Postal Service is. However, after a quick jog through my mind, I was able to come up with five examples (including this most recent incident) from my own life of the USPS's ineptitude, poor customer service, and general incompetence.

I: The Dollar Stamp
(April, 1999)

Being a young and spry teenager who had access to the relatively new innovation that was "Free Electronic Mail", I had little use for the postal system growing up. In fact, virtually every piece of mail I received when I was younger could be filed in one of two categories:
  1) Birthday/holiday cards from grandparents and the like, which were always fun as they allowed me to figure out how much my relatives loved me, down to the exact dollar amount; and
  2) Credit card offers from solicitors who not only somehow got hold of my personal information, but who also somehow failed to realize I was barely old enough to have a checking account, much less a Visa Platinum with no preset spending limit. Although, in retrospect, perhaps they did realize that, and they were trying to start me young.

During this time, one day I found myself in need of a stamp to mail a letter. Not finding one around the house, I took a quick walk to the post office. As always, the line was inexplicably long; but as fortune would have it, there was a machine off to the side of the lobby which sold stamps. I approached the machine and inserted a dollar bill, with the intent of buying three $.33 stamps and getting a penny for my change. However, the machine quickly laughed in my face, informed me that it was out of said stamps, and suggested I make another selection. I obviously could not afford a book of stamps, so I pressed the change return button. The machine ignored my request and again suggested I make another selection. Again I pressed the button, and again I got no response.

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
After pressing the change return button a score of times and getting no response, I realized I would have to do as the machine suggested and make another selection. A quick browse through the options showed me that the only stamp within my price range was the $.01 American Kestrel Stamp. I selected the stamp (with a quantity of one) and was asked if I wanted anything else. When I informed the machine I did not, it then and only then told me that exact change was required and that I would not be given any change back. And since I had already said I did not want anything else, I lost any chance I had at recouping my loss. The machine must have been able to see my shock at the time, because it then kicked me while I was down by telling me to "Have a nice day."

Before / After
Defeated, I hung my head and returned home. I never saw the machine again after that fateful day, but I assume it is still out there somewhere, scamming another person out of their hard-earned cash.

Find the Queen, get the green, fellas!