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Fear the Brown

Remember those halcyon days of childhood, when you would while away your sixth-grade recess quietly reading on the corner of the playground, and then three 12 year-olds so overdeveloped that they were eligible to vote would materialize and say "Hey Matt bald one. What's it like to be bald, Matt bald one?" and grab your copy of Encyclopedia Brown Cracks The Case and start tossing it from person to person while you leapt to your feet and ineffectually flailed your yarn-like arms around for a bit before breaking down into tears and running away? Boy, I'm sure remembering those days, as several agencies have conspired to play this childhood classic on me right now.

I will come as no surprise that Malfeasant #1 in this modern-day game of Keep Away is UPS. I mean, come on: just look at those guys. Yes yes, I too have seen the commercials where the huge, strapping UPS men go from house to house, playing with children and giving insulin shots to hypoglycemic puppies. But let's face facts: six years ago most of these "Men in Brown" spent their days delivering shipment after shipment of wedgies to playgrounds around the nation. So when I tracked my package on the UPS website and found it listed as "delivered," I should have realized that "delivered" was a Secret Bully Code Word meaning "Oh man, are we ever gonna make you unhappy, Matt bald one".

That evening I searched in all the places where UPS typically leaves packages -- on the front doorstep, on the back doorstep, at the neighbors, in the culvert -- with a dawning awareness of my chumphood. Needless to say, it was nowhere to be found. The following morning I called the UPS office, and the guy on the other end of the line explained that they shipped my package to my old address, an apartment that I haven't lived in for four months. "Was it addressed to that address?" I asked. No, Guy On the Phone replied, it was addressed to my current address. Most people, having stated "we were clearly told to do X but we then did Y" would then go on to
explain why this happened. But Guy On The Phone, apparently worried that he had already revealed too many details of the Secret Society of Incorporated Bullies, left it at that. When pressed on the point -- "Why, when the package was addressed to my new address, would you send it to my old?" -- Guy On The Phone said, and I'm quoting verbatim here, "Mummr mrrm computer wrhhmw mmumblrh printer, invoice hrrm." He then went on to helpfully point out that since somebody at my old building had signed for the package, there was nothing they could do. "Could you at least tell me who signed for it?" I asked. Sure, he replied: it was received by "Other". When I asked him to please burst into flames he was, alas, less accommodating.

And so the game was afoot. I drove to my old building, a 45 minute commute from my current residence, and asked my ex-neighbors if anyone had accepted a delivery. I finally got the lady in #103 to admit that she had signed for it. So you have it? No, she said, I gave it to the guy in your old apartment, #102. Okay, that doesn't make a whit of sense, but at least I know that the guy in #102 has it now! No, she said, he was planning to give it to the landlady. Okay, that doesn't make a whit of sense either, but at least I'm terribly frustrated now!

I knocked on #102 but there was no answer. I then decided to leave him a note. Did the lady in #103 know his name? No, of course she did not. Why on Earth would she know the name of the man she handed my $200 package to?

I called the landlady. "Please landlady," I said, "do you have my package?" She knew not of what I spoke. "A package?" I explained, "From UPS? It's probably cubic or rectilinear in shape? And cardboardy in color?" Oh that package. She shipped that package back to UPS. Yes. Yes, of course she did.

I called UPS again. "You know that package you just told me you don't have?" I asked. "You wouldn't happen to have it, would you?" Why, of course they have it, it's right there. "Great! Where are you, I'd like to come pick it up." Oh. Well, it turns out that when UPS says they have your package "right here" they mean it is "not here". Specifically, they mean it is "way the hell out at a UPS 'convenience center' located in small town exclusively populated by UPS employees and errant packages, 40 minutes from the nearest freeway and only open during Lent."

This is where I gave up and resorted to Plan B: breaking out into tears and running away.

Not that I care! I didn't want that stupid package anyway! You bullies can keep it, you big dumbheaded dumbheads! That said, I would like to finish that Encyclopedia Brown book at some point. So, Danny Hamilton, if you're reading this, could you maybe send that back to me someday? Please use the Post Office, thanks.

Posted on September 19, 2002 to Storytelling