Tod and the dogs and I were driving back from Colorado to Oregon (the dogs don’t drive on the highway yet because they don’t have licenses) and we had far too many books and DVDs and tapes and media items to fit in the cars. She was for some reason unkeen on my plan to rent a trailer, fill it with the books, and tow it behind my decrepit 20-year old machine. We went through alternative options – the big shipping companies (very expensive), via Greyhound bus (pickup at the Greyhound station) – and learned at the Post Office that Media Mail was the cheapest of them all. It all has to be media, of course: no letters or clothing items, just books, tapes, DVDs, and screenplays (which are one of the listed items on the USPS Media Mail web page: “play scripts and manuscripts”).
So tra-la to the Post Office in Boulder we went, and media mailed off nineteen boxes, filled with the above. I love the Post Office, wherever it can still be found. Particularly the Central Post Office in Mexico City, a vision of loveliness. I am sorry that the Post Office is under-staffed and under-budgeted and has lost its one reliable source of revenue – express mail – to “privatizing” politicians. Our old mailman, Larry, was the best postal delivery person I have ever met. We used the Post Office exclusively (spending almost $4000) doing fullfillment on BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO, with relatively few complaints from the recipients.
But this latest USPS experience was not good. One of the rules of Media Mail is that that packages “are subject to inspection by the Postal Service™.” Inspection is a condition of getting the cheaper rate that Media Mail offers. And at least five of our packages were thoroughly inspected! One label says “Rewrapped by USPS Seattle Network Center”. Another box was certified as “Postage OK” in Denver, by an inspector Ayala. At one USPS facility or another someone sliced each box from corner to corner, broke it open and extracted the contents. About three boxes’ worth of our media – mostly books – went missing. Other stuff was quite specifically damaged. Whoever did this was clearly no fan of Dennis Hopper or Stewart Stern since their original screenplay for The Last Movie had its brass fasteners removed, and was then torn apart and partially redistributed in three of the boxes. See below:
This is what remains of The Last Movie script, reimagined in the style of the movie, by the Post Office. USPS clearly has a higher opinion of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, whose English-language script (to the left of the picture) survived the same “inspection”. Worse damage was done. In one of my stoutly-wrapped packages were three rolls of microfiche files from the National Archives – purchased from the US government for $45 apiece. Two of these files went missing completely. The third one showed up in a new box, priority mail, like this (that’s a piece of screwed-up Last Movie script found next to it):
So one government agency works to render unusable media only available in an antique archival format from another government agency! The container the above files came in, originally, is shown below. Now postal inspector Ayala or his/her Seattle counterpart is supposed to check to see that genuine media are contained within the Media Mail package. To do this, the inspector can open the little blue box and see the media within. It is not necessary nor a proper inspection to totally unspool the film, Homer Simpson style, drop in on the floor, then scoop it up and stick it in a priority mail box! This is the box the microfiche came in:
If the postal inspector thought that the above is not media, the remedy was to reclassify the package as regular mail, safely reseal it, and charge the customer more. The contract between postal customer and USPS does not permit the USPS to willfully steal or trash the contents of the customer’s packages.
Worse was to come. In place of the stuff we had lost, the opened boxes now contained new stuff — books and DVDs and items that were not ours at all. The “re-wrapped in Seattle” box had lost its contents entirely and been re-packed with multiple copies of National Geographic schoolbooks. We hope the Post Office can locate their real owners.
It was a drag to lose a lot of books. And I imagine that the people who lost their school and college books to us are equally unhappy. Books and media are just stuff. But they are personal stuff, and to know that a government functionary has broken into my mail and stolen my personal belongings is even more annoying than knowing the NSA tracks my phone calls and my Internet. If this had happened in Russia or East Germany in the 1980s Amnesty International would be all over it.
The STASI-eque aspect aside, the stuff they choose to replace my stuff is so ridiculous! Take a look at this — the additional contents of just one of our boxes, inserted there by an employee of the USPS:
The stuffed animals with Tyrolean caps are bad enough — and a serious abuse of Media Mail’s rules, postal employees! But the Tosh DVD? Please. Scroll through my microfilm, steal my books, tear up my screenplays, but do not plant Tosh DVDs among my personal effects!