The shoes.

I had a mission. It seemed simple. My task was to acquire and ship a pair of shoes to mendel.

Acquisition was easy; about five clicks of ecommerce.

Then I discovered that shipping a pair of shoes to a friend in Canada is… fraught. It’s not expensive. Nor is it physically difficult. However, the bureaucracy involved is nearly Slavic.

First I tried to do this via FedEx. They had a reasonably priced shipping option, and their website promised a step-by-step process for getting the customs declarations and shipping labels right.

The actual process resembled a “choose your own adventure” script in which failure might result in international arrest warrants for fraud, smuggling, failure to comply, cavalier attitude towards generally accepted procedures of international commerce, and yeggery. Deep in the middle of Adventure #3 I found myself faced with a screen in which I had to choose whether the shoes were “ornamental” in some way or “shoes, leather sole, fabric upper, pointed, ballet, en pointe, intended for legitimate artistic purposes.” I imagined a bad click resulting in poor mendel forced to pirouette on a pair of city walking boots under pain of permanent fugitive status on an Interpol warrant.

I gave up on FedEx. Their process “concluded” without any ability to schedule a pickup. Apparently I hadn’t finished, but there was no clue why.

The United States Postal Service was more promising. In fact, their procedure was honestly step-by-step, and the rates again very reasonable! I happily clicked through a few screens, entered my information, and was presented with a PDF which I printed. No joy. The PDF printed without addresses and strangely truncated. I had mistakenly clicked “okay!” and charged my credit card before I saw that the printout was very much not okay. Oh God! What to do now? Once you’ve printed out the damned thing you can’t do so again without doubling the charge, which then becomes less than reasonable.

Fortunately the EZ-Print-O-Matic system had dropped a turd on my desktop which turned out to be the PDF itself. I opened it with Adobe Reader instead of the Mac’s “Preview” program and it printed out just fine. Whew! I now had the five required copies of the label/customs declaration, prepaid postage, the package itself, and a false sense of confidence.

eyeteeth and I arrived at the post office today and found it nearly empty! no line, friendly staff. Hopes were high. Unfortunately, I had failed to throw out the first, bad printout of the label and had brought it with me instead of the second, good printout. The postal lady couldn’t do a thing with the first printout because it was so badly truncated that there wasn’t enough information for her to fill out a real one. She sadly told me I’d have to bring the real one or she couldn’t ship.

Ordinarily I would have cursed God and died, rushed home, found the proper paperwork, and gone back to the Post Office. But I had to feed the eyeteeth and myself, and had to get her to the airport. This was no time to admit defeat. Off we went to Cafe Zinc to eat well, and from there to the airport.

Problem: the mailing date on the forms was fixed at today. What will happen? Tomorrow I will try to contact “customer” “service” at the USPS and find out if I have completely failed and missed my “window” in which case I’ll start over. With luck this will be no problem. Then I will be able to mail the package.

As Art Spiegelman titled his story of Maus after the war, and now my troubles began. Or rather mendel‘s troubles. If or when I ship the package, will he receive it? Will the broker (Canadian for “bandito”) give him the shoes? Will the shoes arrive? Will they be approved by Canadian Customs, or rejected as somehow dangerous or economically rapacious or otherwise un-Canadian? Will mendel be forced to dance a sequence from Swan Lake for Mounties to avoid transportation to the Baffin Bay Correctional Work Institute?

You my readers will be the first to know. Pray for us.

Things I don’t understand: where’s my mailbox?

Neither the USPS nor anyone else can locate my nearest mail collection box.

How can this be hard? There are official USPS mail drop off boxes in fixed locations. They rarely move. They know where these are because they pick up from them every day. The location of the nearest one should not be lore handed down from generation to generation, it should be a searchable database.

The USPS has all its post offices in a locator, but not the boxes. Google Local has all the private companies from the phone listings that do mail stuff, but not the boxes. But everyone needs to know where the mail boxes are, not least businesses in the area. Every place I’ve worked there has been some mail every day that someone drops off in a mail box on the way home.

I am confused.