Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My thought is my gift - no rainchecks

They say it’s the thought that counts, and that’s lucky for me; my presentation is hideous – Christmas presents mangled up with string, cookies begrimed with runny frosting, and a signature so indecipherable, illegitimate even, I'd have to pay someone to autograph my work if I ever became famous.

But what if the thought is unshippable?

This morning I had an engagement present to send. I go to the United States Post Office to send such gifts of goodwill, because it's patriotic and philanthropic, considering the USPS deficit.

Today I hauled in bubble-wrapped wine, raspberry-habanero jam, and a few dozen plastic grocery bags to use as packing material and so free myself from their suffocating presence in my home while pawning them off on a relative. I stuffed them enthusiastically around wine and jam in a crisp, fresh box, hoping there were no dead insects to be discovered upon their arrival hundreds of miles away. I found a card that was perfect among the post office selection, and I had the cumbersome, official priority-tape dispenser on loan from a kind USPS employee.

"Take this - it's free," she said.

Free, yeah, but no instruction manual. I banged it against the counter top with a resounding crash while trying to wield it, caught my hand on its sharp cutter, and twisted the adhesive on itself, the dispenser and my fingers. Daniel, my preschooler, was yanking on the poor chained pens in an effort to free them and make Picassos of the Hold Mail cards as I tried to figure out which way the tape was supposed to face on its wheel. I taped myself, the plastic grocery bags, the table, and - with much difficulty and decidedly bad form - the box. I would have taped my son to the chained pens and their counter had he deigned to stay beside me.

Balls of discarded tape piled up on the counter. I thought, Free, my foot! They'll never let me have this tape again! Feeling self-conscious, I barely managed to repress a fit of laughter during my trials, pretending my broad, involuntary smile was provoked by my adorable, mischievous boy, but I grinned back at a middle-aged woman grinning at me as I slapped that tape on in folds and ripples across the seams of the box.

At last, a USPS employee called out, “Can I help someone?” And there was no one but me to help.

I trotted myself up there with my indecently-wrapped package. I’m surprised he didn’t say, “Well, it’s the thought that counts…” in the same wry way my son did when his birthday cupcakes wouldn’t dislodge from the pan, and I subsequently squished their crowns back on while trying to reshape their bruised bottoms.

"I have this package, and a card like this one that I put in it."

“Do you have anything liquid, breakable, perishable, and possibly hazardous in here?”

“Yes, I do,” I piped up. “Alcohol.”

“Can’t ship it,” he said, shaking his head and pursing lips.

“Really? You can’t?”

“No, I'm sorry. I could give you some shady advice, but..." He looked me over with sympathy or admiration. "Most people aren’t as honest as you are.”

“Well, I’ll pay for the box at least.” It was such a work of art, so much effort.

“The box is free, but you still owe me for the card.”

I laughed, and just then, Danny whispered urgently, “Mama, I need to go peepee!”

Of course. Well, it was truly time to bow out…gracefully, as I always do. I paid for the card, hurried home with my new found wine, and vowed to make the thought count another day - with better packaging.

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