Category Archives: Confounders

The Best of Comrus: Postal Customers Should Be The Ones Going Postal

This post originally appeared on December 7, 2006 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/553969564/item.html.

So, how is it that it’s postal workers who go nuts and shoot everyone and not postal customers?  I made the mistake of going to the post office today, to mail off a nearly worthless item sold on Ebay for $20 (minus $25 in Ebay, Paypal, and shipping charges), at about 4:30.  Perhaps the worst time to go to the post office, but what made it worse was that it was after Thanksgiving, but before Christmas.  Which means, of course, every person on the planet has to go to the post office every single day to mail off gifts to every other person on the planet. 

Usually, this isn’t much of a problem since my post office has an automated postal machine.  Which is great since, similar to self-checkouts in stores, most people are too afraid to give it a shot.  Oh, people still do give it a shot, and I applaud them for it, but why must they try their hand at it for the first time when the store is jammed and even the line for the self-checkouts is long?  And why must people line up for the individual registers, rather than standing in a single line, so that the next person gets the next available register?  It’s just more efficient and fair that way.  Hey, I’m talking to you, that fat guy wearing camouflage sweats.  And older woman, for the love of God, the barcode is on the bottom.  The BOTTOM!  There you go.  Now bag it.  BAG IT!  Oh, you’re kidding me.  No, no!  You cannot pay with a check at the self-checkout.  Why do you even use checks anyway?  Use a friggin’ check card!  You’re just slowing up the process for the rest of us.  And you, the meandering person who somehow ended up actually buying something which I can only assume you ran in to accidentally since you didn’t seem to have any particular destination in mind when you were single-handedly blocking the 10 foot wide aisle in front of me, the receipt pops out next to the touch screen.  NEXT TO THE TOUCH SCREEN!  You know, RIGHT WHERE THE MACHINE TELLS YOU THE RECEIPT IS! 

My trips to Wal-Mart tend to be stressful.

Anyway, as do my trips to the post office.  The self-service machine has been helpful.  However, even I take awhile when using it because the programmed process is mind-numbingly awful.  Perhaps the worst problem is when the machine gives you a picture of a stamp the size of bus stop ad and asks you if it will fit on the item you’re mailing.  Because of problems I’ve experienced with other steps with this machine, I always assumed that if I said it wouldn’t fit it would tell me to wait in line with everyone else.  I don’t usually have the time to walk to Canada to get to the end of the line, so I usually just say “yes,” and try to stick the poster-sized postage on to my envelope.

If you say no, however, as I’ve learned from my wife, it then gives you postage-sized postage.  How novel.  Now, call me Ishmael, but shouldn’t the machine either ask me what size I want or default to the small stamp, rather than assume I want a stamp the size of San Antonio (a place where they know what picante sauce is supposed to taste like.  Not like those fellows in New York City.  New York City?!  (Okay, that was too random, even for me.  What in the world did picante sauce have to do with postage, or even the size of San Antonio?))?

Luckily, most people don’t use this machine, even when the line for the regular service (two postal workers to handle the post office rush hour during the Christmas season) is extremely long.  Today, however, there was a person at the machine.  A person so evidently clueless, that she had her two young kids work the machine for her.  Naturally, she also had twenty-seven packages to mail.  So I did the calculation in my head, do I stand behind this single person, or do I stand behind the surprisingly short line of five people who are waiting for a surprisingly high number of three postal workers?  I decided on the normal service.

It seemed like it should have been quick, but as such things always go (like what happened the last time I was at the bank and let a woman go ahead of me to use the ATM.  She decided that now was the time to have her kid, a two year old, learn how to push the buttons for her), it took much longer than it should have.

The next person in line, when called up to be helped, had one of those pink slips, which means they’ll be a quick customer.  All they need is a package from the back.  So the postal worker went to the back, and thus began (I assume) her journey, by foot, to the post office where the package was originally dropped off.  You would think that it would be more convenient to move the package from one post office to the post office closest to the recipient, but apparently the process is for a postal worker at the recipient post office to go get the package once the intended recipient comes to claim it.  The postal worker went to the back, and basically never returned.

The next person in line, when called up to be helped, decided that now, and only now, was the time to consider whether or not to get delivery confirmation.  How much does it cost?  The postal worker didn’t know.  She looked at the gigantic sign directly behind her, in full view of the customer, and determined that it would cost such-and-such depending on how she wanted the letter sent.  The customer considered, considered some more, and then asked what “certified mail” meant. 

I was so pleased I just had to laugh.  And the postal worker searching for the missing package still hadn’t returned. 

The next person in line, when called up to be helped  by the third and final postal worker, started off very simply.  She just needed five hundred thousand stamps of a variety only available by all the local postal workers being called in to personally color them on stickers with crayons.  Or rather, she just needed an amazing amount of a particular type of stamp that was not readily available at the counter. 

It was about this time when the package-searching postal worker decided to organize a search party of all available postal employees.  In every state.  It was a very long process to call everyone, but she made it more efficient by creating a calling tree.

The postal worker, with the customer deciding on whether or not to use delivery confirmation, explained to the customer, in the most unclear language ever, what exactly certified mail was.  The customer nodded, and again asked what the price was.  The worker told the customer that it would be about $4 with the confirmation, and less than $1 with first class mail and no confirmation.  The customer responded with “oh, let’s just do it.”  Sadly, I knew that the customer meant first class without confirmation, and also knew that the postal worker assumed that the customer meant the certified mail.  I wanted to call out, but alas, it’s a government building, and as such, might be considered a threat.

The woman at the automated postal machine was still working on her packages.  Three down, by this time.  She now had a very irritated-looking person behind her, and I wondered if I looked as he did. 

The line behind me now stretched to the door.

The worker searching for the packages decided to wait until all existing postal workers were called in order to find the package.  In the meantime, she picked up The Davinci Code.  Unfortunately, when she finished the book ten minutes later, not all postal workers had been called yet.

The woman who asked for the many stamps, when finally told what the price was for all the stamps, decided that it was at this point that it was reasonable to pull out the checkbook from the apparent labyrinth that was her purse.  A CHECKBOOK?!  Oh, the dreaded checkbook.  Please, for the love of everything that is good and Stevie, please, everyone, just get check cards.

I smirked.  I couldn’t believe that she pulled out the checkbook.

The automated machine customer continued to struggle with the technology that is the touch-screen. 

The postal worker with the customer having the delivery confirmation quandary of the decade finally realized that the customer actually didn’t want delivery confirmation after all.  The customer made this known by again saying that she might as well go ahead with it, it was for her brother after all.  HER BROTHER?!?!  She took that much time to determine whether or not she wanted delivery confirmation for a letter sent to her brother?!?!?!  I would have had an aneurism if not for the fact that I would be forfeiting my place in line.

The automated machine woman finally left, the checkbook woman was still dotting every “i” and crossing every “t,” and the postal worker for the searching for the missing package booked a flight to Seattle on Orbitz in order to pick it up (unfortunately, she had to wait four days to get the best rate).  Luckily, the postal worker handling the confirmation women looked at me and said that she could help me now.  I’m not sure what happened, given the fact that the customer was still there.  The customer was filling something out, so I just have to assume that she was filling out an application.

Oh, I unnecessarily slam the postal workers.  It’s really not their fault, really, especially considering the problem the automated machine customer was having (although, given the fact that the machine does have a terrible interface, maybe they were trying to mirror the regular USPS customer service).

I finished my transaction within a minute, and then on to the next person.  I tried to leave the place, but given the size of the line, getting out the door was like playing an odd game of Red Rover.

I could continue on for a little while more, but I have further depressing events in my life, this time not on the job front.  I thought I might have found a Hartley’s Tomato Sauce supplier in Irish on Grand.  I gave them my number about two weeks ago for them to call me if they could get a case for me.  Alas, I have not heard back from them, so I have to assume they are unable.  The sadness.  The horror.  The non-Hartley’s-having-depression.

Oh well, cheers anyway.

Cheers,
Charlie

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The Best of Comrus: The Parenthetical Mall of America Food Court Rant

This post originally appeared on January 21, 2007 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/564723019/item.html. 

Oh, yeah.  A weblog.  I used to have one of those.  I’m not sure what happened to it.  Maybe it might have suffered from actual employment.  Although, using the word “actual” is a little sketchy, given the fact that I’m only technically (two “ly” words in a row just doesn’t work, does it?) a “contract attorney.”  For those not in the know (and I certainly wasn’t until I finally started looking for a job), basically means a temp-attorney.  Just like temp workers, with the exception of admission to the Bar and scale of pay, temp-attorneys are given monotonous grunt work.  To make it worse, the employment is with a high-powered law firm who pays their attorneys about 654 times what they pay us.  However, I do take solace in the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to work for the firm.

Well, I also take solace in the fact that I’m still getting paid reasonably well.  Unfortunately, though, it’s only a temp position, so this is no way to make a living.  It’s just a way to get by and pay off some credit card bills.  The student loans still await.

But hey, yeah, the whole working a monotonous job has basically limited the range of possible thoughts and creativity.  As such, even if I have a topic for a weblog, it really just sits on my desktop taunting me.  Topics are one thing, writing a full piece is another.  For instance, my wife and myself made the mistake of visiting the Mall of America yesterday for our normal Sbarro’s/Panda Express visits (just guess who goes to which).  This is a topic I’ve written on a few times in the past, and to my chagrin, the mall was completely packed. 

Now, in a normal post, I would rant about this, and about the absolutely freakingly annoying teen girls in front of me at Sbarro’s (and, oh my Bob, were they annoying.  I’m a stickler for line protocol, and when someone steps out of line (sometimes literally), I just want to slap them.  The girls here, for whatever reason, decided that moving up in line when people in front of them moved up was a silly concept.  Instead, they decided it a million times better to stay in their same position and continue gabbing about I don’t know what.  Of course, while this would have been thoroughly annoying in itself, I was at the MOA, and a packed one at that.  As such, my two annoying teenage females had some help.  A father walked up to Sbarro’s with his two kids and instead of standing in line, decided to walk up close to the storefront to survey the merchandise.  Yeah, pizza.  Hard decision.  Must get up very close to determine exactly what Sbarro’s had to offer.  And then he just stood there, a foot or so to the side of the girls. 

And here’s where (is it against procedure to start a new paragraph in the middle of a parenthesis?) the girls truly abandoned line protocol.  Instead of securing their position in line by moving up a bit, or making it clear that they were next, they continued to stand there and gab.  WHY WEREN’T THESE GIRLS AT PANDA?!?!  The father looked to be a threat to cut in line.  I was already waiting in line for way too long (in the sense that there was a line to begin with.  I mean, seriously, why was the MOA so busy?  As far as I remember, Christmas was last month.  Yeah, I know, I know, it’s kind of cold out, but what exactly has the MOA to offer that means the parking lots will be completely full, and the food court packed at 1:00?), and I was actually about to part with my normal passiveness and tell the father to shove off.  Well, I was more about to ask the girls if they were planning on continuing to stay in the line, as that would have been more polite, but then the father finally moved and took the spot in line behind me.  I was saved.  Almost.

The girls still hadn’t moved up, and there was absolutely no one in front of the serving guy.  They were next, yet refused to acknowledge that being next meant they had the responsibility of following through in being next.  To make matters worse, they were facing more toward me, behind them, than they were toward Sbarro’s.  They must have seen the anguish in my face, and one of them finally turned around and ordered.  The other, however refrained from ordering.  Apparently she wasn’t going to be eating then.  Well, that’s fine with me.  Anyway, yes Sbarro’s man, a slice of cheese and a couple breadsticks (it’s sad that every time I go to Sbarro’s at the MOA I ponder whether or not I actually have to tell them what I want instead of them just giving it to me). 

Thinking that my line protocol worries were over, I started to move over to the next guy to ask for some sauce for the sticks.  Sadly, however, the non-ordering female decided that now was the time to order.  Since this was a service line, I couldn’t just jump past her, especially since that would mean cutting in between the two females (although, in retrospect, that’s probably what I should have done), and the fact that I still needed my sauce.  The girls finally moved over to the register to pay, and waited to do absolutely anything until they were told their totals.  Both of them finally pulled their purses off of their shoulders, took a long time in opening them, searched them to find the wallet, opened the wallet, searched for the money inside the standard far-too-large-wallet-slash-checkbook-that-women-tend-to-carry, and finally handed the cashiers their cash (with the extended effort of finding change within their wallets with which to pay with.  Seriously, women.  Change is meant to sit in a drawer or jar for years, and then cashing in eventually at a bank, it is not meant to be used as currency).  Woo-hoo, I’m nearly to the cashier myself! 

I really had been deluding myself repeatedly during this whole process, because I had neglected to notice that the girls had not yet grabbed napkins, straws, plasticware, or their drinks.  Additionally, I forgot that they had to do the whole payment process thing in reverse.

Nearly in tears, I approached the cashier after the girls left, and made the transaction within seconds.  I think he felt for me.

So then I had to find a table in the zoo that was the food court (seriously, “zoo”?  Why “zoo”?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bunch of anything packed together in a zoo.  Most often what I see is an empty field, besides which is an informational plaque telling me what I should be seeing if the animal hadn’t done the wise thing and disappear from sight).  In a way, it was a good thing that Panda and Sbarro’s are at opposite ends, since that allowed me to walk towards my wife and still look for a table.  There was nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all.

And then my eyes spied an opening, a table right in the middle of the walkway.  Fantastic!  I could sit down (how simple my happiness after the horror that was Sbarro’s)!  As usual, however, in a food court land, the table was covered in so much food-product that it had to be sandblasted in order to not have to vaccinate oneself before even thinking of sitting down (and how does this happen, one would normally ask.  I mean, they give you plates, trays, and napkins.  The food itself usually is created in such a way as to not spill.  So, how does this happen – again, one would normally ask.  Me, I just accept).  I used my extra napkins, happy I grabbed extra, to clean off at least the non-sticky substances on top of the table.  The sticky stuff, that would just have to stay.  There was no moving, after all.  And then I proceeded to wait 10 minutes for my wife who, while she did not have a similar experience to the horror that was Sbarro’s, apparently had an extremely long line.  Seriously, pizza vs. Chinese food?  How does Chinese food win?  Really, I’m just glad it does, or else I’d have even more lines at Sbarro’s), but I just don’t have the mindset or patience to write about them.  Or, for that matter, about the predictably dirty table that I came upon as the only oasis of the food court. 

Cheers,
Charlie

The Best of Comrus: The Minnesota State Fair

Since it’s finally starting to get warm outside, I can’t help but think of what the summer has in store for us, as well as what comes at the end of summer: the Minnesota State Fair.  As such, what better way to start off the “Best Of” posts than with a State Fair post?

This originally appeared on August 31, 2006 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/524803174/minnesota-state-fair-i-had-to-try-this-title-thing.html 

Ah, the Minnesota State Fair… my stomach is finally settled.  I kid.  My stomach actually settled by the morning.  I topped myself in the amount of food consumed this year, but it was basically at the expense of beer, so it’s hard to say whether I came out on top.

The day started, of course, with the pronto-pup.  The day must start with the pronto-pup.  For those who don’t know (i.e. non-Minnesotans), the pronto-pup is basically a corndog but the hotdog is dipped into a wheat-based batter rather than a corn-based batter.  It is far and away better than the corndog, although many a riot has been started at the fairgrounds over just this issue.  Naturally corn-dog people are wrong, but they just don’t listen to reason.  It’s a similar argument as to which stand has the best mini-donuts.  Some people say Tiny Tim, and the right people say Tom Thumb. 

The Tom Thumb donut.  When I was a kid, we would come early in the morning before anything was open except food stands, and the first thing we would do on our walk in would be to head to the Tom Thumb mini-donut stand.  My dad would inevitably order approximately 453 bags for the five of us, and we’d go sit in the audience of some long-dead by now Minnesota morning show.  Channel five, I think.  The donuts were great, nice and hot, and the sugar granules would stick perfectly to the donut.  And that’s the main difference between Tom Thumb and Tiny Tim, the sugar granules actually stuck to Tom Thumb donuts while they fell to the bottom of Tiny Tim bags.  Oh, I’ve heard arguments that this isn’t so, but through my experience, it definitely is.

Another argument, but definitely involving fewer people than the other two arguments, is which cheese curds are best.  I’m of the position that the stand outside the food building on the north side is better than the stand inside, but the only reason I hold this position is because my family says it’s so.  So every year, the cheese curds are purchased at the stand outside the food building.

And onto the next food adventure…  You see, the State Fair is different things to different people, but to most, a huge part is the food.  For me, it’s almost exclusively the food.  I see it as a sort of a challenge to hit all my goals: pronto-pups, Italian Fries, Cheese Curds, Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob (dipped in a butter-bath.  Such an ingenious invention.  How can I register for one for our wedding?), Mini-donuts (and, as previously mentioned, they must be Tom Thumb mini-donuts), and Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (a bucket, of course.  If you’re given the option of purchasing any food product by the bucket, how can you not choose the bucket?). 

Many people go to the Fair to check out the local news buildings, the kids’ artwork, the animal barns, the odd items on sale, and the musical acts at the bandshells.  But those are secondary to me.  The food comes first, and those things are just diversions to let myself digest.  They’re basically the same every year, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s bad because it can get tiring seeing the same stuff you saw the previous 15 years, but it’s good because it gives you a sense of familiarity.  The State Fair is a right of passage of summer for Minnesotans, and without the repetition, where’s the real tradition?  

Oh sure, some things have changed over the years.  Sand castles came and went, Machinery Hill (where farm equipment is on display) is no more, and every year features yet another item on-a-stick, but so much is the same.  The Ye Olde’ Mill, the Giant Slide, the Haunted Mansion, the Salsa-chopper-thing sold at the Grandstand along with the super sponge/cloths that soak up two-liters of pop with only a square-inch of material, and the various demonstrations.

And the cows.  There’s no good reason for it, but we like to look at cows in late August here in Minnesota.  No other time of year would we care to pay them any mind, but come late August, people line up to look at the animals.  Well, not really line up, but many make a strong effort to get a glance at some.  We did, for reasons I’m still not sure of.  It’s just a compulsion one has when at the fair.

There is a weird pattern that began a few years ago that has exploded all over the Fair (and everywhere else that draws a crowd, for that matter).  Apparently, you cannot buy normal size strollers anymore.  In a culture where bigger is better, parents are purchasing strollers the size of SUVs.  Strollers that take up three square blocks for a single stroller, and five square blocks for a double.  People in crowds already have done ingenious jobs of blocking you from getting anywhere, but these strollers are the work of a madman.  When you’re trying to pass two slow walkers, who, because they are meandering, are taking up the space of 10 people, the last thing you need to be coming the other way is a stroller that could bulldoze a house. 

Hmm, but that’s bordering on complaining, and as for the MN State Fair, there can be no complaining.  It’s all good, darn it.  Even when I dropped my Peanut Roll to the ground immediately after purchasing it, I didn’t complain.  I picked it up, brushed it off, and dropped it into the plastic bag the Fiancée was holding (so that I could eat it later) which she immediately dropped to the ground because she wasn’t expecting me to drop it in.  It’s all good.  I took a little of Dan Patch Avenue with me.  I opened it up today, and the cursed Roll was still fantastic. 

And as we discuss State Fair food, I cannot leave out the Luigi’s Fries (aka Italian Fries).  I believe I might just be the only person who really likes these things, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who craves these things.  What they are is really basic.  They’re warm breadsticks topped off with a lot of melted mozzarella, with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.  The “Fries” themselves are quite good, but there’s just something perfect about the marinara that makes them fantastic.  Sure, in the end it might be something as simple as Prego (though I highly doubt that it’s actually Prego), but you cannot go wrong with bread, cheese, and a good tomato/marinara sauce. 

The “Fries” were the second thing I had at the fair, and if not for my rule that you cannot repeat food (so that you have room for other food), I would have had a second order.  I’m still craving them today.  In fact, we had breadsticks and cheese in the fridge, and I had a marinara of sorts in the cabinets, so I went ahead and made some.  It just wasn’t the same (or even close, for that matter), and I will now crave them until next year.  Should have had a second order.

And the Fair day ended as it usually does.  The stomach is too full, the legs are too tired, and we still needed to purchase the bucket of cookies.  I cannot leave the fair without the bucket of cookies.  They serve you the bucket with so many cookies on top that you cannot close the lid until you’ve eaten approximately 25 cookies (for once, this is not an exaggeration).  Last year, it’s what killed us.  This year, we had a baggie to take the cookies we couldn’t eat.  However, we did give it the college try.  You have to.  The State Fair officials won’t let you leave unless you at least try to finish off the top of the cookie bucket.

Off to the parking lot, and off to the long wait for the park-and-ride shuttle in a parking lot full of gravel, where you stand in a catatonic state and the reality hits you of just how much you ate and how much walking you did.  Please, God, MAKE THE BUS COME NOW!  It does, eventually, and you drive home and pass-out.  Ah, I love the Fair.

Cheers,
Charlie