Post haste

Parquet Courts delivered. Sadly, the Post Office didn't.

Parquet Courts delivered. Sadly, the Post Office didn’t.

Represent is about the painting life. It says so up there on the banner. As of today, it’s also about shipping, which is a crucial part of the painting life (if you care to show your work to other people in a public way.) Mostly, over the past two years, I’ve been writing about the painting part, and not much about the life. So I’m going to correct that with a lesson on how not to attempt something absolutely essential to this pursuit: frugality. It’s always a good idea, in any field, to spend as little as possible, but especially as an artist. With that in mind, it would seem a no-brainer that I shouldn’t vacation in, say, Palm Springs. Or play golf. (Or visit New York City for that matter. You know how much parking costs in Manhattan? I don’t have the heart to tell you.) But if both your kids live and work in L.A., and you get to see them once a year when they come home for Christmas, going to L.A. for a week in the summer is the best option. This is because it’s exceedingly hot in the desert in July, when rounds of golf and rental homes are as inexpensive as they ever get there. During July, it would cost more to golf at many public courses here in Rochester.

So we save up my wife’s earnings from teaching second grade, and we spend a week with our kids in Palm Springs (much less expensive, actually, than staying virtually anywhere closer to L.A. itself), during one of the hottest weeks of the year. A round of 18 holes at Indian Canyons Golf, where my son Matthew and my son-in-law, John Bridge, and I will be playing every morning during our annual week in Palm Springs, costs $45 for eighteen holes, per player, unless you buy a summer discount card for a one-time fee of $65, which lowers the greens fees to $30 per person, every day, for the six days we play. A couple hundred dollars of savings! Beautiful. I’m a painter so, as you know, I can find the beauty in many things,  including a vacation where the daily high will be 115.

Which brings me to the subject of the U.S. Postal Service. I know, that’s a pretty bumpy transition, but it will make sense if you stay with me. Every year I ship my clubs to L.A. ahead of my trip, to save several hundred dollars it would cost if I rented a set while I’m there. So, as an attempt to save money, yet again, well in advance of our arrival, I mailed my clubs to Matthew, at his workplace, Seismic Productions, where he creates film trailers in West Hollywood. Yes, mailed. I didn’t ship them. A bold move, yet I’ve done it before and it’s worked out. I avoided UPS this year, which I rely on faithfully to send all my paintings to shows because this spring UPS charged me around $350 to deliver a semi-large still life to the Butler Institute of Art, where it’s currently on exhibit. I didn’t want to find out what it would cost to ship the clubs that way, and standard mail cost me only $44 to deliver the clubs in a week. Brilliant! In the process, I discovered that everything you send, at any speed, at a USPS facility comes with a tracking number now. Nice! This would allow me to go on-line, type in my label number and track my clubs to confirm that they reached their destination a week later—which should have been last Friday.

This is where things . . . pivot, as they say now. Trusting the U.S. government as much as I trust every large bureaucratic organization in the world and having just sent a quarterly income tax check to the U.S. Treasury to help keep the whole operation running smoothly, I crossed my fingers that my clubs were in good hands. On Monday, my son said, “That little box you sent arrived.” That other, minor shipment reminded me that I hadn’t heard from him on Friday about the clubs. “Have the clubs gotten there yet?” No. No sign of them. Hm.

So, on June 23, I went online and looked at my tracking information. Here’s what I found:

June 14, 10:53 a.m. Acceptance

June 14, 1:48 p.m. Dispatched to sort facility

June 20, 8:32 a.m. Arrival at Post Office, Los Angeles

June 20, 8:50 a.m. Sorting Complete

June 20, 9:00 a.m. Out for delivery

June 20, 11 p.m. Delivery status not updated. Expected delivery: June 21

I found it interesting that they continued to expect my clubs to be delivered on the 21st when the 23rd had already arrived. And thus the trail went cold. They had been loaded onto a truck and then seem to have disappeared. No updates were added on Friday. Nothing like, “Don’t sweat it, we’re slapping a new and bigger address on the side just to make sure our driver who delivers to Seismic every day of the week will remember to unload the clubs when he drops off the rest of the mail there.” I forget things all the time. I’m sympathetic. I’m forgiving. But, yet again, no status update on Monday morning. So I called the 800 number and reached someone pleasant who said, “Apparently the zip code was wrong.” That’s all. So I said, “So it will be delivered today or tomorrow?” She said. “Yes, today or tomorrow.” I said, “As long as it’s sometime this week.” She laughed. I didn’t. I smiled nervously and hung up.

Tuesday morning arrived. Still no word from Matthew that the clubs had arrived. No updates on the tracking page. I go back to the USPS home page and find a field for submitting problems, with a promise that the Postal Service will get back to me in 24 hours. I type in all the information including the label # and trust that I will hear back a day later. Meanwhile, I start making phone calls. I call the 800-number again and get an equally pleasant employee who works hard to figure out what’s happened. She goes away from the phone and comes back, and says she’ll have to get back to me. I say, “Can you give me an idea what facility the clubs arrived at in L.A.?” At first she tells me it’s the Sunset station, which is a third of a mile away from Matthew’s office. No, wait. It’s the one on Wilcox, about a mile away. “There was some confusion about whether the zip ended with 28 or 38, and the Wilcox station delivers to both codes, so it’s there.” (So why was Sunset every in consideration here? Just asking.) She gives me the facility’s phone number. I dial it twice and let it ring for five to ten minutes. No answer. (Then I realize they haven’t opened their doors yet. I check Yelp and many customers say the people at Wilcox are helpful and diligent and personable but they never answer their phone. Oh Godot, as a friend of mine, also a painter, likes to say. ) I do more research and decide to check the Sunset station, just in case. A pleasant woman answers, and I tell her my story and she says, “We open in ten minutes, could you call back then?” Sure. I wait fifteen minutes, just to make sure they have time to open up, and then I call back, and a male worker tells me my clubs have to be at the Wilcox facility because that one delivers to both of those codes and Sunset delivers to neither.  “But they never answer their phone,” I say. He chuckles and says, “I can’t help you there, my friend.” I ask, “Do you have an email for anybody there?” He chuckles again. Enough said. So I dial the Wilcox station again and, behold, someone answers. Yelp was wrong. “Hi, I’m Maria, how can I help?”

I tell her my story and she sympathizes, and goes online. She sees what information is available and then goes away from the phone for probably ten minutes, but I don’t hang up. I can hear sounds of what might be sorting. Something reassuringly industrial and business-like and orderly and reliable. That’s how I want it to sound, so that’s what I hear. I have an image of my new advocate, Maria, walking around, wide-eyed, puzzled, in a cavernous warehouse, like the one where they put the Ark of the Covenant, at the end of Raiders. I imagine her walking down a quarter mile of dusty boxes and crates, an enormous dead letter office expanded into a structure as large as five BJ’s Warehouses. I imagine echoing footsteps and dim incandescent lamps hanging from the cobwebby beams high overhead. Finally she returns and says, “I’m going to have to locate the driver and look into this. Can I have your number and your name?” I give her both and spend the rest of the day working, yet jumping up to check Caller ID every time the phone rings, though I’m disappointed every time. After dinner, I resign myself to failure and say to Nancy, “I’m just going to rent clubs if they don’t show up. I’m not going to let this spoil the week.” Having resolved to spend whatever it takes to just play some golf, I sleep pretty well, but wake up around 1:30 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep. So I get up and post on Facebook some life advice for Edward Snowden from The Onion which cracks me up—“Try hiding in a backyard boat, maybe.”— and then realize my son is also up, since it’s three hours earlier in L.A. He’s just sent me an email asking for my mailing label number. He’s going to stop at the Wilcox facility on his way to work and ask about the clubs.

I write: “Tell them there’s no way they can miss it. The clubs are in a hard black plastic case with buckles and a handle, not a box. And wheels. It has wheels. It isn’t something you wouldn’t notice just sitting around. I’d hate to lose the clubs, but I don’t have the time to play that much anymore so I’m just going to quit worrying about it.”

“They’ll turn up eventually. Maybe not in time for Palm Springs,” he writes.

I recounted all this to a couple friends who speculated on what might have happened to the clubs. Walt wrote: “DEA opened them up because they fit the drug shipment profile.  Put them in the Evidence Locker.  Then the DEA Head of Station remembered that his brother-in-law is taking up golf so to get in good with his wife he passed your clubs on to him, with a wink.”

I wrote: “I imagine someone saying, ‘We’re going to have to cut each of those golf balls in half to check for, well, you-know-what. ‘ Couldn’t I just call the NSA and ask them to mine their data to determine where the clubs have been making phone calls and sending emails?’”

Hank offered a comforting thought: “But obviously they’re in a better place and may be happier than when they were with you, Dave.”

Hank, it isn’t as if they died. They went missing. But he may be right. They could be happier in the hands of someone with a lower handicap. I wrote: “They may have simply run away.”

“It was an abusive relationship,” Hank said. Boy, does he know my game.

So yesterday morning, Matthew showed up at Wilcox and went to the counter and said he’d come see if they had a package that hadn’t been delivered.

“Go stand over there by the door,” the woman said, without asking for any further information.

“Don’t you want the . . .”

“Just stand over there by the door.”

So he went over and stood in the corner. For about ten minutes. Finally, a man strolled past the closed door and Matt said, “Is somebody going to help or should I just keep standing here?”

The guy stopped and stared at him. Just stared. Matthew shrugged and asked again, “Am I supposed to do something?”

“Did someone help you?” the fellow asked.

“She did,” Matthew said, pointing toward the woman at the desk.

At this point, the woman perked up and watched as they talked. Now she was interested.

“Go back and get her to straighten this out,” he said, so Matt moved toward the back of the line, again. “No. Go right over to her, don’t get in line.”

Finally, a supervisor. Someone who actually cared about a customer. He stared a lot without talking, granted, but at some point, he indicated an actual interest in the people he was employed to serve.

So Matthew walks back to the counter.

“Did you get a notice? Do you have the slip?” she asks now, though this didn’t come up the first time around.  “Did they leave you a note?”

“No. I don’t have anything. I have a number. Here.”

“Let me check,” she says.

Shortly, she reappears, lugging the large plastic shell.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he says.

“I’ve been looking at that, just sitting back there, for days, wondering where that was supposed to go.”

About an hour later, I got an email notice from the post office. “Delivered.” That’s all. Yes, it was delivered if delivered can be construed to mean: “If you had paid more we might have actually brought the package to its recipient as promised, but he has it now, which is the result you wanted.” And a few hours later, when I was in Buffalo at the Parquet Courts concert, Nancy got a phone call from the local post office, “I just wanted him to know his package has been delivered.” Translation: the clubs went out for delivery on the 20th, and they were handed to their recipient on the 26th.

Before the concert began—and it was fierce and precise, one of the best hours of music I’ve heard in years, proof that human beings can deliver phenomenal customer satisfaction when their hearts are completely invested in their work—my friend Andres and his friend, Jerry, a philosophy professor, were joking about how maybe we could save the national economy by nationalizing the celebrity industry. I thought, “Go ahead. You will never see Paris Hilton again. She’ll be sitting in a green room somewhere and no one will be able to track her down.” So, hey, there’s an upside to everything.

So, fellow painters, don’t try to save $30 when shipping something you really care about. Do not ever, EVER spurn UPS, who is your faithful and diligent partner and will get your work to its destination on time. UPS, I want to apologize. I will never stray again. The folks at the Post Office are as nice as can be, and they have instituted tracking, which is an excellent improvement, but let me tell you, between you and me, it’s an invitation to despair if you keep checking it. Choose the Post Office if you like, but with USPS, pretty clearly, you may find yourself employed by them, not the other way around.

2 Responses to “Post haste”

  1. Richard Harrington

    I prefer FedEx ground.

    That is all.

  2. dave dorsey

    Yeah, it’s least expensive and most reliable. The clubs came back exactly on time in great shape using them on the return trip. I’ve never had an issue shipping paintings that way.