On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

2018 Roadkill Calendar Cover web

I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

Calendar September 2018 web

I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

IMG_2778 2

Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

Calendar July 2018 web

…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

Calendar November 2018 web

But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

Calendar April 2018 web

She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

Calendar January 2018 web

This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

Calendar May 2018 web

I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

Calendar June 2018 web

The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

Calendar February 2018 web

She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”

“Fine.”

Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

Calendar December 2018 web

Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”

“Worse.”

“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.

THIS IS NOT A FUN KIND OF MAD!!!!!”

He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

Calendar August 2018 web

She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.

RIGHT OVER MY ADDRESS.

“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

Calendar March 2018 web

“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

Calendar October 2018 web

Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.


* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.

A Tale of Two Muses.

I tend to be a dichotomous person. I sometimes exhibit characteristics that seem diametrically opposed, such as having purple hair and being a homeschool mom. And writing extensively on the internet but never mentioning politics (in a serious manner, anyway.)

Opposites make me extraordinarily balanced. Right?

Because of that extreme personality balance, I take photos of sunsets and seek out the most beautiful vistas, and I take photos of roadkill (after giving them props of course, because roadkill-only pictures would just be downright lazy.)

I appreciate the beauty in both – the most lovely of scenery and the most deranged of humor.

And this year, you, too, can remember whichever one you want – all year long. Because I have them BOTH available in calendar form.

Calendar 2018 Choices[4]

It’s kind of like a personality test. Which calendar brings you happiness? A reminder that the beauties of fall will come again,

2018 Calendar October161114c-Playing-by-the-River[15]

or inspiring quotes to remind you that New Year’s Resolutions will kill you?

Calendar January 2018 web[10]
Which do want to gaze listlessly at during a stressful work day? A glittering view of Birmingham during ice skating and the holidays,

2018 Calendar December161202-Ice-Skating-at-Railroad-Park[13]

or a possum reminding you that the right oils can cure anything?

Calendar November 2018 web[9]

Do you need more poetic views in your life,

2018 Calendar April170602 Sunset at Railroad Park _MG_9334 s[16]

Or an uptick in poetic mice?

Calendar February 2018 web[9]

Both calendars support great causes – 100% of the profits of the Roadkill calendars are donated to The WellHouse (who rescues and cares for victims of human trafficking), and all of the profits of the Birmingham calendar are split between The WellHouse and Mission Birmingham (who works with local businesses and government to support the transformation of Birmingham and caring for its resident’s needs.)

So whether you find your most joyful place from Cahaba Lilies in a rushing river,

2018 Calendar May170429 Cahaba Lily_MG_8544_2405[16]

or from a chipmunk reimagined as a massive terror,

Calendar October 2018 web[8]

you will be helping others.

They’re both five dollars off through the end of the week, and either are perfect for wedding presents, Dirty Santa gifts, and baby showers. Or even in lieu of flowers at funerals, depending on the personality of the deceased. Or maybe not funerals.

The Death of a Grasshopper.

“Hey Mom! There’s a hurt Grasshopper out here!”

Noah had gone to the front porch to feed the neighborhood cat that is known at our address as Thomas.

(Thomas has many names – many more than we probably even know. He works the feline benefits system well, just as his predecessor Fred, ingratiating himself to (or guilting handily) all of the neighborhood in order to eat as many meals as possible.)

“Is he dead?”, I asked Noah.

(Back to the grasshopper here – not Thomas. Follow my train of thought, people!)

“No – he’s just hurt. He’s still wiggling.”

Based on where Noah was standing – right in front of the door – I knew the grasshopper had to have been a special delivery from Thomas himself. A thoughtful gift for us in exchange for our feeding efforts.

But we were doing school and I had no time to inspect my gift at that moment.

We found ourselves on the porch later in the day, doing our read-aloud and other subjects that we do as a group. Somehow I’d missed, yet again, properly appreciating this gift, so Noah picked him up on a leaf and brought him to me to inspect.

It was pitiful.

The lovely Grasshopper was confined to his side, clearly having lost one of his jumping legs and bleeding a brownish liquid from his Thorax.

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He looked at me imploringly, while focusing on his labored, slow breaths. It was almost as if I could hear his thoughts.

My dear lady, I apologize for the predicament in which I find myself. It appears your cat has made the attempt to make a gift of me. I hope you find me a worthy gift, but it is rather inconvenient that I am mortally wounded.

It was just terrible. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it’s not even my cat.

I am personally not nearly offended enough by Thomas’ outright-dead gifts – in fact, I have memorialized more than one:

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The-Beast

But there was something about this nearly dead gift that broke my heart. I just wasn’t sure what to do. Maybe he would recover somewhat, and slink away to heal – or maybe not.

Ah, my lady, I would love nothing more than to ease your discomfort by dragging my damaged exoskeleton into the bushes and die in peace, but alas, my limbs do not appear to be useful at the present time. Perhaps you could –

But we had school to do.

I do hope that Mr. Grassy enjoyed the reading of a chapter of “The Incorrigibles of Ashton Place”, and then a chapter in our Chemistry and Physics textbook. I ruminated over the possibility that at least, in his last moments of life, he could increase his knowledge and understanding of the cruel world that had murdered him.

Fascinating, So the electrons revolve around the nucleus? Who knew?

But…he didn’t die.

By the end of the reading, his breathing was even more painful to watch. More labored, more heaving. You could nearly hear him gasping and groaning. And he now lay in a small pool of his own bodily fluids.

It is most unfortunate, madam, that due to the physics of your cat, my personal chemistry is leaking onto your porch. I am most embarrassed. Perhaps now might be a good time to –

So I texted Chris for moral guidance.

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Chris has always been a freeze-er. Anytime he finds large spiders, he captures them carefully in my Tupperware and puts them in my freezer. Something about the violent crunching of stepping on a living being is more than he can handle.

(Obviously I draw the line at cockroaches entering my freezer. So he’s a flush-er of those.)

I am not a freeze-er. I find this somehow more cruel. Or at least me thinking about that gasping Grasshopper becoming colder and colder in his last moments was too much for me.

I wanted him to go out with his new education, not wishing he had a scarf.

Oh, thank you. I do hate to impose, but it would be most helpful if you could end this unfortunate situation.

So I folded him up in a piece of paper, added two leaves in for a further wall between him and my foot, took him out to the sidewalk (as Noah tailed me, asking if Grasshoppers go to heaven and how do I KNOW they don’t have souls?!?), and I stepped on him.

I picked up the paper and peeked in.

HE WAS STILL MOVING.

MADAM, this is most unhelpful. I am trying to maintain my dignity and composure, but this is quite unpleasant. Could you PLEASE try again?

This was the worst execution I’d ever been a part of. I felt sick, evil, and an all around persecutor of grasshoppers.

I quickly sat down the paper and thoroughly ensured his death.

The next time I fed Thomas I made sure to tell him to please be sure and leave only completely dead things in the future.

Well, if I was really your cat, you might get better gifts. Kiss my tail.