Saturday, August 15, 2015
What Extinct Mail Dinosaurs Do You Recall? A Trip Down Postal Memory Lane
By Mel Carriere
I just read an article on Postal News reporting that Columbia House, that seemingly indestructible mailing giant of yesteryear is going bankrupt. This news came as a shock to me because I thought they died a long time ago, but it doesn't cause me any heartache. Yes, I did get my 13 vinyl records for 1 cent (Can you believe that things are so expensive now my keyboard doesn't even have the 'cent' symbol?). I was a naive 14 years old when I received that musical manna from heaven, but after the happiness wore off I spent the next couple years dealing with the realization that I actually was obligated to buy a few things. When you're a teenager without a job and a miserly old man yelling at you to get one every time you ask for a few bucks, this can be problematic.
God bless Dad for teaching me character, and for teaching me how there's a sucker born every minute. Now I'm older (yes) and wiser (eh-maybe), and looking back retrospectively on the glory days of mass Columbia House mailings I participated in early in my postal career, as well as other hogs of the postal parcel hamper that used to take up a lot more space within those dusty canvas or plastic depths than they deserved to.
Columbia House packages were a real pain in my blue postal pants. They came in many sizes, some big and some small, but there was one particular size that just would not fit in an apartment mailbox no matter which way you turned it. I seem to remember it was about a half a centimeter too big. One would think our sagacious folks working in mailing requirements could have done something to have the musical mega-mailer shave off a couple layers of cardboard, but those bulky things always had to go to the door. The real problem wasn't so much delivering them, however, as it was taking them back. There were plenty of broke teenagers like I once was out there who would hand the packages back to me with the words "Did not order" written across the front in bold Sharpie pen, and would keep doing this until they got a nasty, threatening, legal sounding letter from the company. This meant that every day I had at least one Columbia House item I had to stamp "Refused" after I got back to the office, when I was already rushing to do a hundred other things before I clocked out.
Another bad thing about Columbia House was that when these packages got forwarded they usually had a postage due charge that you had to collect on. I would do my best ninja impersonation trying to leave a notice and sneak off the doorstep before somebody answered, but I invariably got caught, and once in a while there was a customer who actually wanted the package. Who has time to stand there for five minutes while the customer protests "why the hell do I have to pay the postage?" - then spend another five minutes waiting for him to search the house frantically for pocket change?
I'm probably going to miss a few things here; and I welcome you to fill in the gaps in my memory down below in the comments, but there were a few other annoying mailings that used to suck the precious postal time transactor clicks away like bull elephants drinking at a waterhole. One of these was cereal samples. When I was brand new I remember dealing with cereal box samples where you had to match a tiny card with a tiny box in your sample tub. There were sometimes about ten samples or so per swing. I was new back then, I really didn't know how to manage this sort of thing, so I would always wind up missing about half of them, which made our 204b laugh at me when I got back to the office. The only benefit of this mailing - I have heard, because I never dared this, is that some letter carriers would eat the samples going to vacant houses. They would lug along a carton of milk on cereal sample day just for this purpose.
But the mother of all postal pains, of course, were the AOL CDs we used to deliver by the hamper full back in the late 90s, early 2000s. Some days it seems I would spend half an hour in the back of my LLV sorting those things for delivery, only to find the slick metal cases piled up on top of mailboxes the next day by customers who had absolutely no use for them. I take that back - I read somewhere that bird lovers were hanging the CDs from strings by their windows so that birds wouldn't fly into the glass. I don't know how exactly that worked, but other than that they were worthless. Now these relics are selling on Ebay as collectors items for $12.99. Who would buy that crap? Some slick shyster has a whole refrigerator box full of these in his basement and is suckering them off on collectible junkies. What a racket. I never want to see one again.
The Postal Tsunami gains its coastal destroying power with copious amounts of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap. Unless they completely annoy or offend you, please take a look at what my blog sponsors on this page have to say.
My latest on Hub Pages - What's in Your Mailbox? Part 4 - Homo Sapien Horrors
Image from: http://www.ebay.com/itm/1999-AOL-America-Online-5-0-CD-Install-Disk-Software-250-Free-Hours-New-Sealed-/400459446398