Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Mail

Up until about, oh I don't know, two months ago or so, I was a complete idiot. I had turned my life into a constant struggle, unnecessarily. We are talking epic proportions difficult. And ridiculous, all at the same time. Why? Why and how could life be so unbelievably nonsensical? Because I'm an idiot. That's why.

Way back when we got married, and moved into our neighborhood four and a half years ago, I walked out to our mailbox. Our mailbox isn't in front of our house. It is around the corner and is set up apartment-style, with all the boxes for the twenty or so houses on our street and the adjoining streets in one place. Our box is number 9, which has nothing whatsoever to do with our physical address. Random. But that's not why I'm an idiot.

The mailboxes are little keyed doors, housed in a big metal box, which sits atop a vertical metal post. What I'm trying to do is give you a mental picture here. The box isn't attached to a wall, is what I'm trying to say. It is a free-standing, large metal mailbox, to my left of the sidewalk. I say "my left" because it would be to the right of the people who come from the street north of us to use it, but now you can see how my bizarre mind works.

Anyway, there is a space, in the mailbox, which is designated specifically for outgoing mail. It is designed as a slot, with an upper lip, so to speak. And it is sealed shut, underneath the lip, with a strip of metal, screwed-in on either side. Because I'm an idiot, I allowed this metal strip to lead me to the impossible assumption that I had no place to put my outgoing mail. "Where the heck do you put outgoing mail?" I asked myself, but no one else.

So, instead of inquiring to other local residents about what they did with their outgoing mail, I began a four-and-a-half-year, pain-in-the-neck, ridiculous-as-could-possibly-be almost daily scheduling nightmare.

Let me explain something. I do all my banking online. I deposit my rent check directly into my landlord's account, which is incidentally, so handy, and only possible because the landlord is also my Grandpa's cousin's wife. In other words, I have no real reason to have that much outgoing mail. Okay, so there is the occasional thank you card or birthday well wish from me, but other than that, no major stamp budget is necessary to keep me going. Or outgoing. Whatever.

There is, however, the matter of our air conditioning business. Which produces more outgoing mail than I could have ever imagined possible. Jose is constantly handing me an addressed, stamped--usually, thank goodness--envelope to "Honey please put this in the mail." Frequently, people. As in, all the time. Are you with me so far? Do you get that I've had lots of outgoing mail, and seemingly, no place to put it?

Thus, the logistical nightmare began. My daily plotting to figure out where I would be, and when, and whether or not there was an outgoing mailbox nearby when I got there, or at least on the way.

I remember I drove by the Albertson's grocery store on my way to Blockbuster once, about a year into my four-and-a-half years, and actually gasped out loud in excitement when I finally noticed that they had a big blue United States Postal Service outgoing mailbox right outside the store. I gleefully thought about how I could now bring my outgoing mail on my way to and from picking up and returning movies. "This is great!" I exclaimed in my head, "now I have a drop point on this side of town too!" Good grief. I sounded like a drug dealer. A desperate drug dealer. An idiot drug dealer.

I had all the schedules memorized. That Albertson's box? Pick up at 10:30 am, Monday through Friday. The drop at The UPS Store? 4:45 in the afternoon. The Walmart location? 2:30 pm.

That brings me to the Walmart drop. Okay, it was weird. It was a mail store, like UPS or FedEx, but it wasn't a recognizable name. To this day, I have no idea what it was called. Probably because I was so distracted by their big blue mail box that supposedly accepted mail by 2:30 pm Mon.-Sat., that looked like the USPS big blue boxes, in that it was the same overall shape, and painted blue, but was NOT an official USPS big blue box. It was like a big blue knockoff. You know, like how they have fake designer purses, that are just not the same quality or whatever? Well, this looked like a slightly tackier version of a big blue USPS mailbox. I actually asked the salesperson at the time if it was really a United States Postal Service dropbox, for reals? Having answered me in the affirmative, I turned back to the box, held my breath and tentatively pulled open the handle and watched as my precious outgoing mail plummeted into its depths, irretrievable, until 2:30 pm. I hoped beyond hope that it would actually be picked up by a blue-shorts-clad postal worker, and not wickedly discarded as some evil prank on the Walmart-shopping populace. You think I'm kidding. Anxiety-filled existence. That's what I lead.

Then, one day last fall, I went into my Walmart Supercenter, and the mail store--the one with the iffy outbox--had closed. Blame it on the crappy economy and other folks who are not as idiotic as me. Other people who know where to take their outgoing mail so that it doesn't create a daily obstacle course of their schedules. They are why this poor--was it Crown Mailing?--postal service went out of business. Because it certainly wasn't my fault. I was there, baby, a couple times a week. Which created in me a new dilemma. Where on earth could I drop my mail when I came to the Walmart Superstore side of town?

It was shortly thereafter, after the exodus of the phony big blue box, that I wondered where my friend, Suzie, took her outgoing mail. I was at her house, and we were talking about something totally unrelated, and I was getting a drink of water from her fridge and putting something in her garbage can, and I stopped mid stride, one hand on the counter, between sips of water, and literally wondered out loud, "So, where do you take your outgoing mail?" I wasn't looking at her when I asked the question, and then I turned to face her to receive the answer. I was standing on the kitchen side of her counter and she was standing on the dining room side, with her back to the window, sun pouring in around her. I remember the heavenly glow. Boy do I remember it. I absentmindedly looked at her as she opened her mouth and said simply, "I just stick it in my mailbox after I get my mail."

One of the things that I desperately love about Suzie is that she is absolutely guileless. She is not capable of even thinking "Well, that's a stupid question!" She just answered as if I were asking her about paint colors or the weather, or what time the kids get home from school.

I think I blinked. And then I said, "What?" as if I hadn't heard her correctly. And then she said it again, just as simply, "I just put it in my mailbox."

Pretty sure I blinked again. "You mean you just put it in your mailbox, the one right around the corner?"


"You mean, inside your box?"


"Well, who takes it?" I'm starting to grasp, at this point, that my life might be teetering. Swiveling, really, under the dawning realization. The gilded rays of sun coming through the window chided me; I was swimming in a dark fog.

"I don't know, the mailman, I guess?" Suzie faltered. I think at this point she might have thought I was playing some trick on her or something. She gave a confused, half-hearted laugh.

"No, Suzie, seriously? You take your outgoing mail and... and... you drop it in your mailbox... and... it. gets. picked. up?"

"Yes?" she was questioning my sanity now.

"Are you kidding?"

Quizzical look.

I felt the world tilt upside down. Like the stupid ship in the last Johnny Depp pirate movie. You know, the scene when you sit in the theater and think, "This is so dumb. What is the point?"

"Suzie." Pause. "Suzie. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME."

"Uh...?" Sideways glance.

And then I told her the whole story. All of it. I held nothing back. I had no pride left. Completely demoralized is the understatement of the century, and I mean a hundred years, not just the ten we've finished since Y2K. Come to think of it, I could really relate to the Y2K guy. Or gal. Whoever it was that thought that was gonna be a big deal.

And then I cried. I cried real, actual tears. I cried for my lost hours and gas money and marbles. I cried for my doomed attempt at being a responsible, capable, educated adult. I cried and I laughed, all at the same time. And Dolly Parton's voice, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," ran through my head. And I didn't think it was true. Feeling like an idiot is NOT MY FAVORITE. I could be the subject of the best dumb blonde joke ever written. And I'm not even all the way blonde. Strawberry, more like. Not my finest hour.

And Suzie, bless her heart, laughed with me. Not at me. And at that moment my devotion for her was solidified for all eternity.

And then I wondered when the mailman comes to collect my mail.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The One That Started It All

Why, for the love of all that is holy, did I not read the disconnect notice? It came a few weeks ago and I opened it, and put it in a pile. Why is my life defined by piles? Piles of papers. Piles of laundry. Piles of dishes. Piles of poop. Jenni (my sister) told me this morning that she won't use the word "poop" when she has children. Yeah. Good luck with that, my friend. Clark is only three years old and I've probably used the term 5.2 million times since the day he was born and I had to record his output for the nurse. Or what? They weren't going to let me take him home? But of course, as a new mom, I religiously did whatever any one or any book told me to do with my baby's precious poop. Gosh that is a gross word.

But about the notice. It was from Southwest Gas. I have to say that I ignored it completely. Why? Why would I ignore it? Because I had made all my payments on time and figured I was in the clear, that's why. Especially since a guy came out a few weeks ago (March 9th, to be exact) and instead of disconnecting my gas, told me that I could just give him a check for $191.97 and he wouldn't shut it off. I remember telling him, "But I already paid the bills! Am I going to be reimbursed for their mistake?" He told me that the only way for him to leave without shutting off the gas was to pay the $191.97, "Ma'am." So then of course I start the internal dialogue while he's standing there explaining me my gas rights. Seriously, do I look like a ma'am to you? I cannot believe this. HE THINKS I'M A MA'AM! I about had a heart attack for several reasons, right there on the spot. The most important of which is that I don't have any money.

We're pretty much in a financial crisis. CRISIS. According to the literal definition of the word, according to dictionary.com definition #3: An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life. And let me tell you that it just took me 3 full minutes to figure out how to cut and paste that definition straight from dictionary.com, because apparently blogger doesn't let you cut and paste in the "Compose" window anymore and you have to cut and paste into "Edit Html" instead. Geez. Why? Why the heck does everything have to be so ridiculous this morning?

Anyway, because of our financial crisis, I don't have any more money to give to Southwest Gas. Well, I only have about $200 bucks in my checking account. Well. I did before I had to pay them $184.88 this morning plus a "speed pay" phone fee of $3.75. And guess what? I had to pay them the $184.88 plus the $3.75 fee before they would put me on the schedule to reconnect my gas tomorrow. Tomorrow? Are you kidding me? That's what I actually said. "Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me!" And then the lady on the other end said, "No I am not kidding, I don't have any available time today, but do you want to talk to my supervisor about expedited service?" And I said, "Well, yes, absolutely." And then she put me on eternal hold and came back on the line and said, "I can get you reconnected today for another $15 fee." I told her that that was ridiculous. And then she told me "Yes, you can get your gas back on today, for an additional $15." And I'm thinking, "additional fee?" So I asked her what fees I would be paying, especially since, mind you, I've already paid my bills, plus the $191.97 check that I paid the disconnect guy on March 9th, which I figured put me ahead of the game and gave me a credit on my account. So that's when she lays it on me that I have to pay a reconnect fee of $35, plus the additional $15 for expedited service." Lovely. And then she asked me if I wanted to speak to a supervisor about getting the fee waived, and I said, "Yes, of course I will." And then she put me on an even more eternal hold.

This was the fourth Southwest Gas employee that I had had contact with in the last 16 hours. The first one was the lady I got yesterday who told me that since I had paid my bill, all I had to do was send her a fax of my bank account showing that I had paid my bill and that she would send it to their research department and that hopefully, within 48 hours, they would know where the money had gone and they could restore my gas service at that time. Um. Excuse me? 48 hours without the ability to cook on my stove, bake in my oven, or use my water heater??? NO HOT SHOWERS FOR 48 HOURS? I DON'T THINK SO! "So, what happens if I pay you right now over the phone for what you say I owe you?" Her reply: "Well, I can't accept payments, we have an automated system for that. You will have to call that number to make a payment and then call us back with a confirmation number, but we are actually closed now that it is past 5 o'clock, so you won't be able to get us that number until tomorrow."

"So, you can't get my gas back on until tomorrow?"

"That's right. If we have a slot available."

Naturally, I did a little research after I hung up the phone with her and figured out that when I created my online bill pay with my new bank, I put the wrong account number in the Southwest Gas payee account number field. It's not even like a digit off. It's a whole different set of digits. I have no idea where that number came from. Old bill maybe? But we've been here for a year...I don't consider myself to be that dumb. Don't answer that. I sent off a fax with my banking info Attn: Pamela. Yeah right. Like that's ever gonna get through. And amazingly, it didn't. The first time I sent that dang fax through, it didn't dial correctly. And then the second time it went through, as in, the paper went all the way through after having connected, and then a error sheet came through, telling me that my fax had not been received. Third time's a charm, I thought. Sure enough.

The next employee I talked to was a guy that reassured me that my fax had been received last night and sent to the research department. But of course he told me that I would have to go ahead and pay the $184.88 on the "speed pay line" and then call back with my confirmation number in order to get my gas reconnected today.

So I hung up with him and called back to place my number in the holding pattern, and then I called "speed pay" to make a payment with the last $200 bucks in my account, and while I'm making the payment, employee #3 calls me, so I click over and ask if she could please hold. I figure I've already racked up who knows how many minutes just calling them and getting through the 5 menus in order to leave my number to have them call me back because their "call volume is high," she can wait for me for one little minute. Well, she hung up. While I was on the other line making the payment. I think I might have cursed when I heard the tell-tale blip-blip.

But I tell you what, employee #3 was a gem. Because she put me back in the holding pattern. And employee #4 called just a few short moments after I finished making my payment of $184.88 plus the $3.75 "speed pay" fee. She's the one that had me on an even longer eternal hold than the first eternal hold that she put me on, to see if I could speak with a supervisor about getting my $15 expedited service fee waived.

After forever, she gets back on the line (by which time I'm actually shedding real tears) and says, "Well, we can't waive the $35 fee or the $15 fee, but we can waive the $22 service fee and the $200 redeposit fee." And I feebly agreed "Okay," and hung up the phone, wondering how many extra minutes I would be charged on my cell phone bill for my amazing Southwest Gas "savings" of $222. All for a bill that I have already paid, my friends. What do you think? Is it worth the fight? Should I demand to speak to an actual supervisor in order to demand a refund of my $35 reconnect fee plus the $15 expedite fee? Frankly I am exhausted. But on the other hand, I only have about $8 left in my checking account. "Oh that's okay, we'll bill you for it." Thank you, employee #4. So much.