Quest: Received

-by Michael

“Did the mailman deliver a package for me? The  website says it came.”

“No, sorry – you might try next door. What size is it?”

“It’s – well, it would stand out. It’s about four and a half feet tall and fairly slender. Because – get this – it’s a sword.”

“Oh wow! Really? So we’re on the lookout for a sword? It feels like we’re on a quest!”

This is an actual conversation I had with Sarah, the box office manager at my building, roughly two weeks after my birthday. Why, you may ask, was I waiting on a sword?

Well, that begins at Christmas. Joanie – who knows me better than anyone else and still loves me for whatever reason – registered me for an introductory long-sword class with an organization in the City that teaches a variety of sword-fighting styles. So I went to sword-fighting class and guess what? It was AMAZING.

I’ll clue you in on something about me: exercise bores me. To tears. The idea of pounding away on any sort of stationary cardio machine makes something in me die. (If I’m watching TV while sweating, that’s not a healthy decision, no matter how many calories I’m burning in the process.) Cycling is OK, but doing it too often makes my butt numb, and that is just unpleasant. Racquetball is AWESOME, but have you checked out racquetball club memberships in NYC lately? I would have to sell a kidney.

So finding an intense workout that I enjoy is a good thing. And finding an intense workout that I enjoy and that encourages me to learn how to wield a longsword almost as tall as my wife is downright amazing.

I’ve gone to several more classes since, and – given that my summer plans involve being away from the City for two months – decided that I’d like to have a practice sword so that I can terrorize the villagers keep up with my exercise. My parents – with, I’m sure, great bemusement – offered to get one for my birthday, which was in early March. (If you missed it, you should feel badly. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

And that’s when the Quest started.

First, the company selling the sword mixed and matched addresses – they put my street address on it, but my parents’ city, state, and postal code. Somehow the sword DID make it to my parents’ house, just in time for me to actually open it on my birthday and wave it around menacingly.

En garde!

However, Delta has this weird thing about bringing weapons – even reproduction weapons – on flights, so my parents just shipped it to me. The wording is important here:

“We’ll just FedEx it, what’s the address?”

A little secret about NYC life: shipping things is a problem. The Post Offices are madhouses, as a rule, and they typically won’t just leave things on your doorstep or at the building mailbox. UPS and FedEx have the opposite problem – they’ll leave your stuff anywhere. Often with neighbors to whom you’ve not introduced yourself, or perhaps of whom you were not even aware.

With that in mind, I usually ask people to ship packages to my  office in midtown, which has a pair of receiving offices – a front door and a back door – with people sitting there to sign for and keep packages for the building’s tenants. Which works fine as long as the item is sent to the right address – because the Post Office doesn’t know or acknowledge the existence of the back door, while the commercial delivery companies can’t use the front door.

So I gave my parents the FedEx address. They, however, were using FedEx like most people use “Kleenex” or “Xerox,” just a generic term for “ship it there.” Dad then sent it via the USPS.

And thus began the quest.

Now, this is usually not a big deal as long as you have a tracking number. The Post Office will try, and fail, to make a delivery to an address that it doesn’t think exists twice, then put a grumpy message on their website about how they’re going to send the item back after holding it for a week at the PO just down the street. I’ll go in, patiently explain to them that the address DOES exist and that they’d make life a lot easier for everybody involved if they’d just update their system, and then share a good laugh with the postal workers at the idea of the post office actually updating any of its information.

This time, however, that didn’t happen.

Instead, their website was updated with a message stating that the item had been delivered… and then another saying that it was available for pickup at the Penn Station post office, about ten blocks south of where I work.

After checking all of the businesses and residences around my office for the package, calling the post office multiple times (what’s more obnoxious than standing in line at the post office? Waiting on the phone for the post office), I finally bit the bullet and just went to the Penn Station office, determined not to leave until my sword had been retrieved. I stood in line, talked to three different representatives of the USPS, waited some more, and then was told the following:

- The sword IS in this building.

- We will find it!

- But this building is roughly the size of an entire city block. Please give us a couple of days, as this is a pretty strenuous endeavor.

Reasonable request. But a week later, they still hadn’t found it. I was at the PO by my office on another errand and thought I’d ask them to look into the matter – and lo and behold, the sword had moved from
34th Street to Jersey City. “It looks like it’s going back to the sender,” she said, “I can try and get them to reroute it for you but it probably won’t work.”

“That’d be great,” I answered, “but honestly just knowing where it is – and, at this point, that it is – makes me happy. Please keep me posted!”

Her efforts to have its return-to-sender status revoked were in vain, and the sword made its way back to my parents’ house – where they discovered that some bright and intelligent person within the USPS labyrinth had COMPLETELY REWRITTEN THE SHIPPING LABEL. They had deleted the suite number altogether and changed both the street number AND the ZIP code. So my parents were stuck having to re-send the sword.

At the Ready

Quest: Complete.
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