Some people know me as the person who fulfills the Amazon orders for a small nonprofit publishing company. But I am also a person who has lately had a fraught relationship with the outside world. In fact, I view both the inside world and the outside world with alarm, for I am one of the many who live a life of quiet desperation (thanks, Thoreau!), even though I like to think I’m somehow different from everyone else. The truth is, most days (and often nights), I wake up with a feeling of dread, the fear that something bad is going to happen (which, of course, it is, sooner or later).
At the same time, there is room in my psyche for some possibly insane beliefs about good things that might happen to me. I still believe, for example, that I might meet a wonderful man, who may be French, and marry him in a boho ceremony on the beach, looking much younger than I actually am. I also believe, for no reason, that someday a huge amount of money will be given to me, so that I might finally be able to buy a Mazda Miata and have that procedure where they freeze your fat cells and they go away. And I still believe that I will see Paris again, plus a lot of other places that I have seen and many that I have not.
But this is about one of my recent forays into the outside world, which is rife with possibilities for disaster, where one wrong move can lead to the loss of your bank card or your life. For lately, it seems to me that every time I go out the door, I do something wrong. As an example, recently in the space of less than twelve hours, I left my ballet shoes at the gym; was late to the dentist because I had the time wrong, causing the staff to respond as if I had killed their dog; learned that I had to have a root canal; and lost my City Lights book bag with my cell phone, my favorite T-shirt and sun hat, a poetry notebook, a recent copy of the New Yorker, a plastic bag of roast pork, a pair of sunglasses in a leather glasses case, and a paperback mystery I had found in the laundromat. So I am writing this to help others who are challenged by leaving the house and are also tasked with mailing books, especially books to Amazon, with tips of what to do and not do. (And if you hate Amazon, I’m sorry, but I really have no choice here.)
First, if for some reason your printer died and you had to buy a new one, but your computer is too old to accept it, I want you to know that you can actually make PDFs of the Amazon shipping label and packing slip, something it took me seventeen years to figure out! Then you can transfer them to a flash drive and take it to Kinko’s, where I recently discovered that you can print copies directly from a USB device!
But first you may have to carefully wrap all your books, for example, ten copies of a poetry anthology, in bubble wrap and pack them in a cardboard box with all the plastic air bags you have been collecting over a long time. Then, if like me, you don’t have a car, you will have to carry this heavy and awkward box to the bus stop, where there is no actual place to sit down, except the windowsill of a Spanish restaurant, where you may worry about falling backward through the plate glass window.
In this event, you can take the box to the nearest trash can and put it on top to rest while you wait for the bus. BUT IF YOU HAVE ALREADY TAKEN OUT THE COIN PURSE THAT CONTAINS YOUR BUS PASS, TAKE CARE NOT TO DROP YOUR COIN PURSE INTO THE TRASH CAN AT THE SAME TIME YOU PUT THE BOX ON TOP OF THE CAN.
If for some reason you do drop your coin purse in the trash can, you might try inserting your arm into the trash can to try to grab the coin purse, but even if you have especially long arms, which have always been a bonus in yoga class, you might just be able to touch the purse, not grab it between two fingers, because it is in the very bottom of the trash can. Also, you will have to do this while no one is walking toward you who might think, not unreasonably, that you are one of those people who fish food and cigarettes and cans and bottles out of trash cans.
So now you should look for someone to help you. It could be the next person to come walking up the street, for example, a small, thin Chinese man with a cane. Now, when you first ask him to help you, he might react with alarm, since some Chinese people seem to view a city full of white people as a place to navigate with special caution while maintaining an impassive facial expression. But he is using a cane, a long stick-like object that can be inserted into the trash can to try to move the coin purse to where you can reach it.
This man may be reluctant to let you insert his cane into the trash can for fear it will emerge soiled, telling you that he is sick and has to avoid germs. And you might wish that you could use the curved handle of the cane, which would be better for grabbing the coin purse, but he does let you use the straight part, and then uses it himself while you insert your arm as far as possible into the can to try to grab the purse.
When this does not work, the man may tell you he has to go, but that he will return with a broomstick, so you wait for him while standing near the can, in case a late garbage truck comes by to empty the contents. Now you can call out to the women waiting at the bus stop, “I accidentally dropped my coin purse in the trash can!” so they will know you are not diving for food or cigarettes. Meanwhile, look carefully at and try to pull on the door to the trash can, which is of course locked, though the lock part looks like plastic.
If the Chinese man actually comes back with a broomstick, though oddly one without the broom part, try inserting the broomstick into the trash can and attempt to flip the coin purse up out of the depression in the bottom of the can onto a higher level on top of some trash so you can grab the purse by inserting your arm in the can again. When this doesn’t work, despite repeated attempts, the man may tell you that he has an idea and that you he has to go home now but will come back soon. Now you can walk up and down the sidewalk trying to be patient while waiting for this man to return.
If, against all odds, the Chinese man comes back after about five minutes with a retractable walking stick, shorten it and try again to move the coin purse. If this still doesn’t work, despite your best efforts, the man may say to you that he has had another idea and will be back in ten minutes, and that you should be patient because he promises to return. Now is when you should lean against a lamppost and read the New Yorker that has replaced the one you lost when you lost your City Lights book bag on BART, or Muni, or wherever.
Finally, the man may return with something that looks like a crowbar but is much lighter, hand it to you, say “You do this; I don’t want to destroy city property,” and point at the trash can door. With one simple motion, the trash can door, uninjured, will easily pop open, and you can reach in and grab your coin purse! Now you can turn to the man and thank him profusely, then ask him if you can give him a hug. If he says yes, even though he is afraid of germs, hug him and ask him his name, which might be Rick, although later you may think that’s an odd name for a Chinese man. You can thank him again now, and tell him you’re going home to wash your hands, and you will both laugh and feel good about your brief, unexpected friendship, because even though you live in the same neighborhood you have never seen each other before.
That’s about it for mailing tips, except if when you’re actually at Kinko’s there is a tall blond woman in her early thirties talking on her cell phone a few feet away from you so that you can’t concentrate on which of the four different PDFs to print out for the heavy box and the other Amazon mailer in your replacement book bag, and you glance at her a couple of times so that she says “Is there a problem?”, you may or may not want to say to her, “Well, yes, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re talking on your cell phone.” If you do say this, be warned that she may say, “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m bothering you when I’m talking on my cell phone to my father!”, making you wonder why, then, she asked if there was a problem if she didn’t want to know the answer. In this event, just go on trying to print out the correct PDFs and match them with the correct box and mailer, even if you can hear the young woman saying, “I’m sorry, Dad, I have to go; there’s a woman here who can’t use the copier because I’m talking to you on my cell phone.”
So that’s about it! Just insert the packing slips in the box and the mailer, seal, address, and tape, etc., etc., and go to the post office to mail your books! And keep going out into the world and doing your tasks and your errands, trying to keep your wits about you without making any sudden moves, because we do all have to go out there sometimes. Also, only take your bus pass out of your purse when the bus actually comes, and think about buying an attachable long strap for your replacement book bag so that you can loop it over your head. And remember: even if something bad happens, something good may come out of it. Or not.
Carolyn Miller is a poet and freelance writer living in San Francisco. Her most recent book of poetry is Route 66 and Its Sorrows (Terrapin Books, 2017). Two earlier books, Light, Moving (2009) and After Cocteau (2002), were published by Sixteen Rivers Press. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, The Missouri Review, The Georgia Review, and Prairie Schooner, among many other journals, and her awards include the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah and the Rainmaker Award from Zone 3.
Cover image, photo by Linda Cozzarelli.