These Simple Instructions?

Dear Unnamed Cable Provider,

This is a cordial heads-up that you will soon be receiving a bill from my new counsellor.  The process of packing and mailing back my dad’s no-longer-needed cable paraphernalia, which I entered into with can-do optimism, reduced me quickly to quivering congealed salad. The responsibility for this can be laid squarely at your office door.

First, just as a side-issue:  Did you really need this stuff back?  Yard sales, flea markets, and dumpsters are filled with used electronics.  Are you telling me that your products are somehow different?  Forgive my friendly skepticism.  Plastic is plastic.  Yesterday’s tech marvel is today’s chuckle.  As heavy as this box is, your postage costs will far outweigh your savings in little circuits and chips.  I don’t know.  This just seemed like a waste of all our time.

But, to the point – the traumatic procedure of following the simple instructions printed on the box for mailing the multiple pieces back to you.

Let’s start with the warnings.

“Stop!” read a flyer in the box. “Check the model number on equipment to ensure the unit being packed matches the one on the shipping label.”  There was a definite “or else” implied by that exclamation mark.  Anyway, number matching is not happening.  I don’t have time to find and match tiny numbers.  No one does.  Isn’t your company logo etched into each piece enough?  Enclosed is all the equipment you gave us.

Next, I was warned more than once that severe fines will be levied for incorrectly packed boxes.  I’m sure you have your war stories about shattered equipment rattling around in unpadded boxes and the like, but your tone terrified me.  It was so draconian!  It assumed the worst of me having never met me.  As I struggled to understand the diagrams, I expected at any moment a jackboot at the front door and a blindfolded ride to the nearest gulag.

This was made worse by your warnings that severe fines would also be levied against boxes not packed within a certain timeframe.  Apparently a meter began spinning the moment the packing boxes left your warehouse and I, instead of standing ready with the tape gun, was out appreciating the first robins of spring whilst fines accrued left and right.  Naïve fool!  And since this was my parents’ account, it wouldn’t be me fined, but my mother.  Do you begin to understand the pressure?  Incidentally and ironically, my dear father, who no longer needs this equipment because he is now in heaven, was no doubt watching from heaven and nodding at the familiar scene.  Not one of us knows how to read instruction manuals except him.  He enjoyed them like a good novel.

In my defense, though, these “simple” instructions made no sense.  Yes, there were diagrams, drawn up by people who understand this stuff.  But don’t you see?  99% of your customers don’t understand this stuff; they just want to watch TV.  You need me to write up the instructions and to draw the pictures.  For example, you told me, and I quote, “Place the client in the Styrofoam containers as needed.” 


Wasn’t my dad the client?  And what do you mean by as needed?  I take Tylenol as neededAs needed implies an extended relationship between me and the Styrofoam.  And should I have known that one of the 55 gadgets I was attempting to tetris into your box was called a “client”?  Remember, I don’t know this and don’t have time to know this.  Call it a rectangular black box the size of an open wallet with two nozzles on one side, and I’m your gal.  The one thing that would have fit well in the slotted Styrofoam boxes was the 10 remotes, but of course they were an inch too long.  So they now rest, riskily in my opinion, in a vague zone the diagram referred to as “open area.”

It’s out of my hands.

As I trembled and jigsawed, I could well envision how this will play out.  You receive my box in the warehouse.  Daryl opens the box.  He turns to his buddy, “Earl, you’ve got to see this.”  Earl comes over, whistles his shock, and calls the supe.  “Boss, we’ve got one.”  The headman comes over and reverentially picks up my sweat-soaked, fear-packed shamble and hands it to Jonas, the wunderkind who makes the blooper video for the warehouse Christmas party.  Yes, my box will be the centerpiece, your laughingstock, and I your Joe-idiot-packer who can’t even read a clear-as-day diagram.  I am including a picture of myself so your mirth will be complete.

But it’s Ok.  I can handle being laughed at.  As I said, I’m getting help.  And good luck getting into the box.  My son grimly said that our only revenge was to tape the box up like Fort Knox and also, maybe you will get a paper cut.


An Overcomer

Walmart In My Front Yard: Negotiations Begin


Dear City Commissioners:

Evidently you are proceeding with your plan to build a Walmart IN MY FRONT YARD despite my poignant story of what the cornfield means to the residents of Woodland Street.

So be it.

Here are our terms.  We, the Homeowners of Woodland Street and allied streets including Daisy, David, and Edgewood, hereafter referred to as HOWS, accept the commercial presence of Walmart and its satellites provided you gentlemen and gentlewomen broker the following privileges for us:

* Each HOWS will receive a personal grocery buggy that we can keep in our garages since we will not need to drive because we are closer to the coming Walmart than the mattress store is to the current Walmart.  HOWS buggies will be bright yellow to distinguish them from the gray general population ones.  Monogramming will be optional.

* HOWSes will have a small back access for ourselves and our yellow buggies on to the property through the thick wall of hemlock pines I am certain you intend to plant – a simple card-swipe gate for HOWSes only.

* HOWSes will have access to a walking/jogging path around the perimeter of the new facility with mile markers designated. No dogs allowed.  Really, this is the least Walmart can do.

* HOWSes will be provided light bars and sirens for our vehicles to allow ingress and egress from what will be a gridlocked St. Joseph Dr. onto Woodland Street and vice versa.

* Each HOWS will receive one jar of Nutella per month.  The 26 oz. jar, not the 13 oz. one.  Non-negotiable.

Believing these terms to be imminently reasonable, indeed generous, and awaiting your response, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

A Neighbor

Pardon Me, There’s a Walmart in My Front Yard

Dear City Commissioners,

By some oversight the new Walmart is even now being constructed IN MY FRONT YARD.  I realize that choice piece of acreage just cried out for concrete and retail and progress.  I can even appreciate the chop-licking revenue anticipated in the form of jobs, surrounding-county shoppers, and satellite development around the mother ship.IMG_0687

But gentlemen and gentlewomen, we have called that land “the cornfield” for 18 years, though I don’t know if corn per se ever actually grew there.  It contained mimosa trees, a four-wheeler track, an abandoned home with a deep well hunkered down in a copse of pines.  We think the creature that ate some of our cats had its lair there.  A blackberry bramble spread thick and prickery and hard to get to.  Occasionally we would find discarded clothing which conjured illicit trysts, also undoubtedly prickery, which we didn’t tell the kids about.

We did tell the kids to pedal fast when passing the cornfield at twilight when they were first old enough to ride the neighborhood as autonomous free agents.  Pedal fast, I would tell them, because who knew what interstate vagrant, headed to Iowa or something, might lurk in the tall shanks of hay, waiting, waiting to pounce and steal their pocket money to buy a scrambled egg and coffee at Waffle House??  Honesty forces me to admit that my kids never had pocket money, and our vagrants are gentle and harmless.  But still.  The cornfield held its mystery.

Most of all the cornfield was green, green in that breathing, elemental way.  It was a green wall to our north that held our homes in its limbs and muted the world and blew cool, benevolent air down our streets, streets less and less wooded, less and less deserving of the name Woodland.

A sign to the Ave Maria Grotto once hung nailed to a tall pine at the edge of the cornfield, right on the corner.  In all our ramblings, day trip or longer, that sign was a welcome, you-are-almost-home, unload the babies and tuck them warm in their beds.  The pine came down when the Texaco went up and we regret we didn’t get the Grotto sign as a memory.  So, I guess I blame you, City Commissioners, that my children grew up.  Fair enough. Unfair blame comes with public service.

Well, it’s too late now.  The exposure is irreversible.  The once-green benevolence is now white-glare and backhoes.  I can practically wave to the operators as they crawl mechanically over the hills and ruts of cornfield dirt.  I will probably, in the not-too-distant future, be able to wave to the Walmart managers as they park in the back of the new mega store to punch in for their shift.  They won’t be the mimosas of the cornfield.  They won’t carry memories of my children on bikes in summer, free of me, and cicada happy.  But I suppose I will end up loving them just because they are there, and they are people.

Just please leave the rest of the cornfield alone.  OK?


A Neighbor