Sunday, January 31, 2016

Going postal not

"And when some lonesome wind has hemmed you in, don't you believe that sound
You will surely rise above these tides, to higher ground."

I was going to start writing about important things for a change. Broader issues. Thought-provoking reminiscences. I was all teed up to write about my mom, who I've been thinking about lately.

But then the post office lost eight of my parcels and a small first-world issue became a nagging irritant that wouldn't go away.

This is on top of the three parcels that were lost in the burgary at the Old Sugar Land post office on January 3. Ironically, one of the eight missing parcels was a remake of a set lost in the burglary. So yes, I got to remake that set, pay postage again, and then give the customer a refund. Bugger.

The whole clusterfuck came to my attention when one of my parcels was returned. Ironically, again, it was a remake of one of the burgled sets plus additional beads the buyer had purchased. It was returned for insufficient postage in the handwritten amount of what looked like $10.35, but since that was too farfetched to contemplate, I jumped to a different conclusion. I'd printed the label on Saturday, January 16, the night before postal rates increased, but I hadn't mailed it until Tuesday, January 19 because Monday was MLK Day and the post office was closed until then.

After the burglary incident, I didn't want to drop anything in a drive-up box unless the post office was open and it was before the pickup time. So I took the parcel to the First Colony post office, where they have counter space designated for leaving packages with prepaid labels.

I'm reluctant to drop my bubble mailers in the lobby drop box because I always imagine someome coming behind me with 70 lbs. of lead in a large flat rate box that would crush my packages. Glass beads are surprisingly durable, and I pack mine in tissue paper inside a bubble bag inside a Kraft #2 bubble mailer, but you never know. My beads are, after all, made of glass.

Anyway, I made the assumption that the post office wanted the additional 40-some cents that the package would have cost to mail under the new rates. I stuck a Forever stamp on it and took it to the post office, along with three new parcels. It was a Friday and Neil was off and for some reason I asked him to take them into the post office. He returned with the parcels still in hand. A postal clerk had stopped him and told him that parcels with fragile stickers now incurred a $10.35 surcharge. I could pay it or I could remove the labels.

I've been using fragile stickers for years.

Bemused, we peeled off all the stickers: Fragile, Glass, Handle with Care, even Do not Fold. What can I say? I like stickers. I use them as extra security for the half-sheet self-sticking labels I slap on my packages and as extra security for the seal of my self-sticking bubble mailers. And also I suppose because my packages are somewhat fragile, not that I expected special treatment. I know people who think fragile labels are an invitation for postal workers to drop-kick those parcels. Rumor has it there is YouTube footage of just that scenario, but I give people, including postal workers, more credit than that. Videos can be staged.

So we went about our day, and after we got home Neil picked up our mail from our box at the end of our street. When he got back, his first words were, "you're not gonna like this." And yes, you guessed it, two more parcels had been returned, with a note saying that packages marked "fragile" cost an additional $10.35 to mail.

The next day, Saturday, I took those two parcels to the post office. I stood in line to speak to a "supervisor" who said he could not show me anything to substantiate the new charge, but he was adamant about the policy. I'd brought a box of stickers with me to find out just which ones I could use. He rejected all of them except Do not Fold, so I stuck those over the Fragile and Glass and Handle with Care labels and $10.35 postage due notations, and handed them to him. I was shaking mad, but I had no bullets. He held all the power.

When I was still working in Korporate Amerika I got dinged on an appraisal because I "did not get along with" a certain coworker. I was dumbfounded. This particular coworker and I had no issues, there was no tension between us, we even went to lunch together a few times a month. But no matter how much I protested, my boss just said that I was in denial. I even asked Kim privately if she thought we had a problem. I aked her to be honest and told her I'd hear whatever she had to say without defensiveness. She was as confounded as I was. And there was nothing I could do. My boss essentially said that if I refused to accept the criticism and "change" it would further damage my rating.

I hate hate hate being right and yet utterly powerless.

But back to the USPS. I have an online friend (hi Lauren) who works for the postal service in another state. She told me there is a "Special Handling" sticker you can purchase for $10.35, but that was not the same as using a commercial fragile sticker. She (and others) reminded me that the post office usually asks if you are shipping anything, perishable, hazardous, fragile, etc. and if you say it is fragile, they stamp the package "fragile" for you.

I found this on the USPS website. (Scroll down to Special Handling)
Special Handling & Fragile Items

The USPS® Special Handling service is required for unusual items that are not sent by normal mail such as live poultry and bees and can be only be arranged at a Post Office™ location. USPS Special Handling service takes extra care in shipping treatment, transportation, and delivery, but it is not the same as insurance.

Special Handling Details

Ordinary items that are breakable or fragile do not need special handling if they are packed with the right cushioning and marked clearly with the word, “FRAGILE.” You may add Registered Mail™ to your delivery to further protect valuable or irreplaceable items.

Clearly, there should be no $10.35 charge for using a commercially purchased "fragile" sticker.

Clearly the First Colony post office can't find its rear end with both hands.

I filed two claims with the USPS, one to find my missing parcels, one to resolve the situation with the fragile stickers.

The USPS was unable to locate my parcels. I did not get a response about the fragile sticker issue.

And really, it's not worth the candle to fight about the stickers. I ordered some blank "high-visibility" labels and made my own. I wanted to print "Fuck the USPS" on them, but Neil thought that would be a bad idea, so I printed them with "Thank You!" I may order some more, in a different color, and print them with "Elizabeth Beads."

I'm still using my Do not Fold labels on the back of the bubble mailer, over the seal.

Just to add insult to injury, I went another round with the First Colony clowns. I purchased a Click-and-Ship label for $9.50 online, for a parcel to Canada. The First Colony post office refused to accept it because they said I had not paid the postage. I showed them confirmation of purchase on my phone, but they still charged me an additional $9.50 to accept the parcel. Tossers.

I paid it because it was going to one of my customers with a missing parcel and I wanted to at least get her new beads on the way. I filed for a refund on the online label, which I should see around the second week of February.

Last night I contacted all the customers with missing parcels who hadn't yet contacted me. I've given two refunds so far. Two customers wanted to give it a little more time. Two customers chose replacment beads. I haven't heard back from one customer yet. And amazingly, one customer said she had received her bead! Even though the tracking info shows nothing but pre-shipment info - no acceptance, no movement, no delivery scan - I have to take her word for it.

And in the end I do believe that all the parcels (save the burgled ones) will rematerialize, either back here or at their destinations. I mean, they are somewhere. They were all mailed at various times between January 12 and January 18. It's too unlikely that they coincidentally were all stolen, destroyed, whatever. They all were mailed before I stopped using fragile stickers. My suspicion is that they were pulled for that reason and are all sitting in a USPS room somewhere, awaiting some unknown fate.

OK, that's it. I can't tell you the hours I've wasted on this, hours I could have spent writing something momentous and meaningful in this space, which I still intend to do.

I'll be mailing the two sets of replacement beads tomorrow. I'm so over it. Time to chuck it in the fuck-it bucket and move on.

And hey, at least you didn't have to listen to me wail about slow sales and stiffled creativity and bead fails. Not that all that isn't happening, it's just that for some reason I don't care. Maybe I'm ready to chuck all that too.

Some believe that nothing leaves our lives unless it is to make room for something better. I'm not sure about that, but it's worth considering.

"I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

And what's that someone said
Of a closed and open door?
Brighter days ahead
Look that way while you're
Holding on

And when some lonesome wind
Has hemmed you in
Don't you believe that sound
You will surely rise
Above these tides
To higher ground

With the past not far behind
And the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time
We'll be howling at the moon
And holding on

But I won't let you fall
Hear me loud and clear
I will not let go
I will be right here
Holding on

Holding on, holding on."

(Cheryl Wheeler)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz