Tuesday, April 20, 2010

adventures in book reviewing

Yesterday, I had an adventure.

I arrived home to discover a a sticky note posted to the outside of the doorbell box outside my apartment's foyer. It was a UPS delivery attempt note--third and last attempt; the package would be returned to sender the next day. There was no name on the sticky, but it was left for Apartment 7. There's no apartment 7 in my building. There are several apartments with 7 in their number--like mine, 73--so on the off-chance it was mine, I called the number on the back.

This is how I learned what UPS's excellent strategy for handling missed deliveries is--unlabeled sticky notes on the outdoor call boxes of buildings, regardless of wind or weather. I'm not REALLY surprised I didn't catch notes for the first or second attempt. But whatever.

So yes, in short, the package was addressed to one Moon Rat (like, not my real name, actually "Moon Rat"). My options for obtaining the package were to pay $6 to arrange another delivery (which I also wouldn't be there to intercept, since I have, you know, commitments not in my apartment during UPS delivery options), to pick it up at the local UPS store, or to let it be returned to the sender.

I inquired about the location of the UPS store in question--it was in an area of the Bronx I had never heard of. Also, I'd have to go at night, after 7:30, when the truck had returned to the yard. I looked at Google and noted the many highways and abandoned lots around this UPS store address. Hmm, wandering around alone in the dark in the Bronx in order to retrieve a package addressed to someone who doesn't actually exist (what would happen if I got there and they required photo ID? Hmm, irritating).

I was going to just let the package go back--what the heck was it, anyway?! I wasn't expecting anything!--but the Rally Monkey major guilt-tripped me, saying this was disrespectful to the person who had sent it. At first I snorted off this logic, but then it started to sink in, and I found myself glumly climbing on the train (I had to transfer THREE TIMES to get there!).

I won't go into too much detail about my escapade (summary: I got lost. A lot. I walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction. It was not a residential area, but there were tons of abandoned lots, warehouses, cars zooming by, and bridges with clumps of two or three people standing under them as if someone were PAYING them to look shady. And it was cold, and dark, and when I finally got to UPS they were totally disorganized, and I had to wait for an hour with all the other cold, lonely, angry people who had been wandering around lost in Co-Op City trying to find UPS). But let me assure you, it was AWESOME. The best part was that the guy at UPS didn't ask for photo id like he was supposed to. If he had protected my privacy, I would have thrown a stink fit.

In the end, the package was a review copy of a book I hadn't requested on a topic I'm not very interested in; the publicist had enclosed a brief note requesting I consider it for review on my blog. I'm a little curious about where the sender got my address; I've given it out in the past (there's not much I won't do for free stuff), but did I make some kind of mailing list? And then why would they pay to send it UPS?

I tell you this nattering story because it's a bizarrely New York story (I think anywhere else you could just DRIVE to the UPS store). Also, because it raises some practical issues. How does one freakin' get one's mail?! USPS is no good, either, since the post office by me is only open Monday to Friday, 10 - 5. What, am I going to take a day off to get mail?! And for at least 100 reasons, I do NOT want to be receiving stuff at work.

What IS the answer?!

44 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

If you lived near me, you could pay me (I take books and large bills) to collect your packages, screen them for you, and then deliver those which I don't want. Err, know you'd be interested in.

I am on a number of those mailing lists 'cause I sign my book club up for anything. Some of the stuff I've gotten is amazing.

Koneko said...

Do you have PO boxes in the states? It's a box in a local post office that you get stuff mailed to, they put it through a slot in the locked box, and you get the key for it. Would that be an option?

Claire M. Caterer said...

I have no answers for you, but I had to comment and tell you how I laughed (cruelly) at this story. In my 6 years as a New Yorker, this sort of thing seemed to happen to me weekly. I miss NYC, but not the kind of experience that finds you wandering around Bronxian warehouses in the middle of a Robert de Niro flick. Glad you made it.

Claire Dawn said...

There's a million and one things that don't work in Japan, and then there's the postal service.

Delivering 7 days a week, from God knows when to God knows when. I wake up and find mail some days. If they have a package, they leave a long detailed card with a number (granted I can't really read Japanese) and you can arrange to have it brought back at a certain time or you can pick it up at the conveniently located Post Office.

By the way, JP (Japan post) is also a bank and an insurance company. There is no better postal service in the world!

Chris Eldin said...

I was really worried about you! Not sure if I would've gone... Plus, most people would let you know ahead of time if they were sending you something. Things (bad things) can happen so quickly. I have a similar story about a puppy mill. It's quite awful, but needless to say we were also in an industrial area, and I told my husband to keep driving and he's the one who insisted on stopping. What is that?!
Anyway, we are looking for a puppy (German Shephard) and I did all this research about breeders, etc and found a few really beautiful places (according to their websites).

I called one place, and a girl answered and gave me her address (or what I thought was a farm, based on the website's photos of rolling green fields and happy, galloping pups).

It was in an abandoned industrial area, brick buildings and broken windows.

A woman gets out of her van with a German Shephard.. we follow her into the building, which reeks of urine, to the back door.

Five or six young German Shephards wandering around listlessly, and a small penned in area for smaller puppies. No grass, no vegetation... only gravel and rocks. One dog had a fairly large scar across its nose, and remained cowered in a corner of the landing.

The lady picks up one puppy and starts talking about its breeding history, etc. and tells us it's $6500. "The best money can buy" she says in a thick accent---

We got out of there as politely and quickly as possible. I want to report this, but she has our home phone number.

Nothing good comes from scary-looking industrial areas.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, I usually just drive to UPS when needed. I understand your frustration. This would probably piss me off to no end. I think I would have just let it go back, rally monkey or not.

Laurel said...

Glad you made it through the quest safely. It would make a good start to a book, dontcha think? AND. What were you thinking, young lady? If I were your mama I would thrash you! You must have spent $6 worth of fare just to get there and I know you're in publishing so even at minimum wage you lost money in time.

And Chris: find a way to report that. Anonymous letter to Animal Planet, even. That is barbaric.

MeganRebekah said...

Doesn't NYC have one of those PO Box stores (not the post office but an unrelated store), where you can rent a "box" and basically they accept your mail and packages and you stop by whenever you can to pick everything up? I don't the rental costs or anything, but it could be worth it.

At my old house, I worked so many hours on my job that I was never available to sign for packages or pick up mail, so I'd have things delivered to my neighbor. They actually offered when I missed a delivery once, and it was a great arrangement.

WendyCinNYC said...

I used to live in a townhouse, so I totally understand about the pain of a missed UPS package. Do you have a doorman building anywhere near you? Sometimes you can bribe them to accept deliveries for you. Otherwise, have stuff delivered to the office or a PO Box.

Anonymous said...

In re: postal boxes, this would solve the problem for packages sent through the U.S. mail, but not for UPS. UPS will not deliver to post boxes.

I know this because I have lived in places where there are no street addresses at all. You have to make one up if you want UPS to deliver to you.

UPS, bah.

Matthew Rush said...

What a strange story - but it sounds like an interesting adventure.

I have to agree that this would only ever really be an issue in a large city.

lynnrush said...

Wow. That's quite a story! I would have let it return to sender...or so I can say that now, right?

Maybe my curiosity would have gotten the best of me.

magolla said...

Hmm, was it a book pubbed by PublishAmerica? They are up to new hijinx, promising their suckers . . . oops, authors, they would send their books to XYZ for free if they would spend $$$$ on another pile of books.

Philangelus said...

Of course, even if you'd had UPS attempt re-delivery, and you'd waited on your front step all day for them, there's no guarantee they would have done it. I've heard multiple stories of people being left notices saying they were not at home when in reality, the delivery guy simply stepped out of the van holding only a post-it saying the addressee wasn't at home.

(And one case, where the woman confronted him by chasing after his truck, the guy got mad at her that she had actually expected him to deliver her package.)

A friend from NYC recently received a note on her door saying that UPS could not find her address so they could deliver her package. You figure that one out:
http://kehinde.com/blog/?p=1189

Barbara said...

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys...

Why, you do have neighbours in the States, don't you? Befriend an elderly lady or gentleman, do a spot of shopping for him or her in exchange for their services or maybe invite them over for tea. And then you call UPS and all the other monkeys to let them know to drop packages off at flat X henceforward.

Someone wrote that they charge people for such services? That's despicable! We live out in the countryside (Germany, between Hamburg and L├╝beck), we could not survive without good neighbours: They dig your car out, bring you soup when you are ill, take your packages and mind your children. Free of charge, no friendship intended. Of course, we do the same for them when they are in a tight spot.

I have lived in NYC, there are helpful people around there as well, you just have to actively go and find them.

Janet Reid said...

UPS stores have mail receiving services. They used to be called Mail Box Etc. There are lots of them around the city.

And, since I love you almost as much as sushi, you could have your blog mail sent to my office. Then, you'd come get it and we'd have sushi. Win/win.

JEM said...

Electronic copies, for shures. Or they could just mail you a Kindle with the book on it, I don't think you'd mind that nearly as much...I wouldn't. You hear that, publicists?

Natasha Fondren said...

It can be hard to get mail! Living on the road, it's such a logistical difficulty. We have a mailing service that will forward the mail to wherever we are, but the timing of WHEN to forward it is difficult. People don't understand that when they say the check is in the mail, and we wait a whole week for it to travel in the mail, and then we spend the $9 to forward the mail to us, we are going to be upset that they lied!

But yours is definitely worse.

Sometimes I get my mail forwarded to General Delivery. Did you know that still exists? You can just send it to the post office? I always feel like I'm stepping back in time!

Imogen said...

I recently got sent (needless to say unsolicited) porn in moderately similar circumstances, so I feel for you, I really do! What is the world coming to?!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, I get it. You need to live off the grid. Yeah. I know this guy. Has his own windmill, solar panels, well, etc. Doesn't get mail. He says if he wants to communicate he will do the communicating. He ain't receiving. Live off the grid. No mail, no hassles, no trips through the seamy bowels of NYC.

Anita said...

If someone you know is sending you something, they'll let you know. If you get a UPS sticky like that again, ignore it! You are too nice! :)

Also, Husband works for FedEx and FedEx rocks!

Ken Hannahs said...

P.O. Box would be the best way... especially if you are expecting massive amounts of free stuff!

Kay said...

Another endorsement of private boxes: My NYC kids have a postal box in a store front near their apartment. It's worked well for them for years. My daughter has even had harps delivered.

Whirlochre said...

I suggest we all have a whipround and get you a squadron of trained eagles. You could have a dozen for handling post, another six for keeping away shady types (and miscellaneous predators), a couple for decoration, and finally, finally one for singing to you first thing in the morning — because let me tell you, despite all you hear about eagles existing only to rend, tear and maim, if you send them along to the best avian singing tutor, they can be taught to warble like nightingales.

Clara said...

Wow, that was waaay too dangerous! I´m not in NY, but I´ve seen all of ´em damn brooklyn movies; they scare the shit out of me sometimes. It´s blood everywhere (Could this be Hollywood´s anti promotion of NY? Hum...)

Anyway, Im glad you are safe. Dont do that again. Watch Brooklyn´s finest, oh boy...

hampshireflyer said...

In the UK even the Royal Mail does this. Anything that needs a signature or payment gets taken back to the sorting office which is usually a 30 minute drive or taxi ride away (right at the edge of the postal district) and sometimes only open for three hours in the morning...

This includes letters with insufficient postage - an organisation's boring newsletter mailout and a forgetful distant aunt have both made me have to do this in the past.

Hence why I don't join book clubs, chocolate of the month clubs etc! :)

Indigo said...

I remember the last time I visited NYC and being amused by (of all things) the cabs. Where I live in upstate NY the wait for a cab would be anywhere from an hour or longer.

On the other hand I don't have any issues with deliveries and of course I'm no help. From what I gather a PO Box seems like the route to go. I did find the journey entertaining. Fodder for writing material if nothing else.

Rebecca T. Little said...

Have you sold the story rights on this adventure yet? Heehee. What a great story it would make, but I could see tossing in a few twists...as in the package wasn't for moon rat, but Mon. Rathburn and part of the wording had been ruined by rain...and Mssr. Rathburn was a rather nasty sort...hmmm.....

rissawrites said...

The FED Ex and UPS drivers are like ninjas out here. I can be sitting by the door with my hand on the knob and still not get it open before the dude is driving off.

Luckily, they just leave the package by the front door. It's really funny when they leave a note on the door telling me they left it by the front door. genius.


As for the address- if someone has your real name it is easy to get an address. This is why I use a pen name online and for my writing.

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! Same story in Atlanta. Reading this blog post was like ready a page from my diary.

Maria said...

Hey! I heard vampires lived in that part of the city...in one of those warehouses...

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I'm glad you made it home safely...You were very brave! I would have let it go back to the sender.

Emily Marchman said...

That sounds extremely awful, and I know exactly how you feel. You could do what my roommate does and just gives out her retired dad's address. He lies around all day and doesn't have anything better to do than sign for her packages. If you know someone like that you can start shipping your stuff to him or her.

Kate Evangelista said...

There was a time when a delivery company refused to deliver a package to our house because they thought we lived in a "safety risk zone," which is totally not the case. It's so far from the case, it's not even funny. My mother blew a gasket at that one.

Anonymous said...

You know, I can commisurate with this. Not because I live in New York. I live in a city where driving is safer than in most cities, and if it takes thirty minutes to get somewhere you've driven out of town. But I don't have a car. And I live in an apartment complex that is not UPS friendly. Or USPS, if it's larger than a bill.

The last time I ordered something and got it via USPS they pitched it over my back porch. I don't go out on my back porch because I have an opossum family living in my outdoor closet that no one will get rid of. It was a month before I found the package.

Now I have everything shipped to either my Dad's house or the nearest store in the website's chain. Thank GOD for Office Max and Barnes and Noble. I can walk there.

JES said...

Y'know, if I were DadRat (which I am not, Deo gratias), right about now I'd be checking my pulse and thinking: "Glad you're safe, young lady. But don't assume from this ONE experience that you can make this trip a habit!"

"Ripley's Believe It or Not" (newspaper editions) used to feature items occasionally about how a letter/package got delivered to a celebrity even though it lacked an address, or even a name. I seem to remember one envelope addressed with a cartoonish drawing of a big nose and the single word "Hollywood," which found its way (correctly) to Jimmy Durante. I guess if you start getting deliveries -- even missed-delivery notices -- addressed with nothing but your little Blogger profile photo, you can be satisfied you're famous.

Funny that you elected to make this a story about parcel delivery. It sure seems like a story really about the cluelessness of publicists!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I like Janet's suggestion.

Here we can sign the back and check that they can leave the package without needing me to be present. Then, if you get it, you get it. If not, oh well - especially since it wasn't something someone you know sent.

JS said...

Rally Monkey is obviously a tender-hearted soul, but the day I start worrying about being disrespectful to people who send me unsolicited packages is the day you can stick a fork in me because I'll be DONE.

Aaron Gilbert said...

We don't have this problem in Maine, anything that doesn't fit in the mailbox gets left at the front door. If its raining the mailman will even put it inside the front door, or else under the awning behind the house. Hoorah for rurality!

Regardless, I imagine it won't be too long, relatively speaking, before you're longing for the days of receiving hard copy mail. I'm too young to remember the good 'ole days but I might follow Natasha Fondren's words and start using the General Delivery system just for fun.

-Aaron
www.KeepWriting.org

Kerry said...

I have the same problem. Luckily the UPS driver in my neighborhood is pretty consistent, so I've told him it's ok to leave any packages for me in the stairwell, which he does. Sometimes my neighbors even bring them up to my door for me! Could you ask your driver to do that? When I order something and can track it (not the case with an unsolicited review copy, of course), I leave a sticky note on the vestibule door for FedEx/UPS/USPS with my signature asking them to leave it. Usually they'll count this as a signature.

David Alton Dodd said...

Hmmm. Well, I have a P.O. Box in the U.S. for all such services. Not so much only a box, but in a place that's not a post office so I can qualify the place to sign for stuff in my stead, it's worth the extra forty dollars per year. That's a necessity for me; mail service in Mexico is about of the same quality as Mexican food in the U.S.

jalexissmith said...

I have been to that place. I had to pick up your birthday present there once. Agreed- it was a little unnerving to wander that atea- and I did it in daylight! Eek!

varethane said...

Eurgghhh, I don't live in New York (or even the US), but I definitely feel your pain there. I recently went through proceedings to go on an international school exchange trip, and getting all the papers together involved a lot of forms... which had to be sent back and forth between me and the administration of the school I wanted to attend.

Said school insisted on using some shipping firm I'd never even heard of prior to the trip for all of their deliveries... DLC or DCL or something like that (I can't even remember the name). I had the option of signing my name to the doorhanger they left on my door, and the forms would be left at my door-- this seemed to be the best option so I did it, then went to bed that night... and returned home the next day to find that my mother had found the note on the door and had taken it off, thinking I hadn't seen it yet. Calling the number they provided in panic (as this was the last delivery attempt), I learned that their depot wasn't even in the city, but in a smaller town about two hours' drive away.

Not fun. (and these were forms I needed in order to get across the border, too...)

Ellen said...

My apartment complex's solution to this dilemma was to convince the sweet family who runs the dry cleaners on the corner next to us to accept any UPS boxes that show up for our building when no one is home. I'm not really sure how this began, since they've been doing it for years and I only moved in 6 months ago, but it has saved me about a million times already?