Secrets from the USPS

As most of you know, we traveled back to Pittsburgh for the holidays. That meant we had to figure out a way to get some presents home without the use of a car (because yes, driving across the country twice in one year was plenty).

No problem. I’ve shipped a box or seven in my day. We packed everything up into four well-taped packages and headed off to the post office. It was a Saturday. This will be important later.

On Tuesday the first box came. Followed on Wednesday by the next two. I thought it was a little weird that four boxes mailed together from the same place at the same wouldn’t arrive that way, but…I bet you see where this is heading.

The following Monday, a full week and two days from the original mail date, the fourth and final box arrived, sort of. It was dented and haphazardly wrapped in plastic, and when I got it inside, the bottom dropped out. Oh. Okay. So much for my spectacular taping job. Nothing seemed to be damaged, but hey…

Where was Avi’s video game? My new drawing pencils? The postcard kit? The sundial?!

All told there were about nine items missing. Not damaged, just…gone.

It gets better.

This note was inside:

USPS note

It’s possible that my favorite part is the fact that “San Francisco” is spelled wrong.

I spent several days trying to speak to someone at the bulk mail center and when I finally did, here’s what she said.

“What people don’t understand is, we have a lot of heavy machinery here. It doesn’t matter how well you wrap your boxes, they come in contact with very sharp metal that can just cut right through, even if you pack it real tight.”

And

“We have miles and miles and miles of conveyor belts. And a three story drop at the end. The boxes just fall right down. There are three drops, actually, so if items are separated from their boxes, they could go down different drops.”

And

“We have a policy about putting things back in boxes unless we know for sure they came from the box originally. Otherwise we have people ordering lingerie and getting car parts.”

I laughed a little at that.

“Don’t laugh! I took that phone call.”

Oh.

She told me that the best they could do was send me a form that I could fill out describing all of the lost items in detail. That form would be sent to Atlanta, where there is apparently a warehouse of everything anyone has ever lost through the USPS. I’m picturing an Amazon-like environment (the company, not the jungle. Although: that’s funny.) with USPS employees walking up and down aisles trying to match my random shit on the list with the random shit in the bins. This will only end poorly.

Except there is a promising epilogue.

On January 31, roughly three and a half weeks from that ill-fated Saturday, my sister-in-law texted me a photo of Avi’s Just Dance Kids Wii game. She had tucked the sticker receipt on the back of the game and it still had her own address visible. It was in her mailbox – no packaging, just like, here. Have this. Thanks?

She’s mailing it to us. Just watch out for that special sharp metal, package-cutting machinery the USPS uses, okay?

Coping Mechanism

My friend Adam posts these short lists on occasion, and the structure always makes me chuckle. I’ve had this one in my head since we arrived at the airport on Monday and I had to say goodbye to my parents again for what is probably quite a long time.

An Incomplete Lists of Things I Will Not Miss About Pittsburgh:

1) Snow.

2) Boots as a necessity (see item 1) rather than an accessory.

3) Single digit temperatures.

4) Winter coats (see item 3).

5) Dry skin (see item 3 again).

6) Living out of a suitcase.

Yup, this is a good list. It completely glosses over all the heavy stuff in favor of pithy climate commentary. Doesn’t at all touch on how much I will miss my family or friends, especially the ones I totally failed to meet up with when I was in town. Doesn’t cover how exciting it is to see big changes in little people – the unfortunate but joyous side effect of distance from two rapidly growing children.

But we’re home again on the west coast, and it’s good to be back. I told Avi that it’s okay to have two different feelings about one thing: in other words, we can feel pleased and relieved to be back home safe and sound while still being sad to leave Pittsburgh and the people we love.

It’s a complex way of thinking for a kid. For his adults, too.

How Not To Get Rich Reading Comics

An acquaintance said to me several weeks ago, “Oh, I didn’t know you collect comics,” to which I responded, “I don’t. I read them.” I sheepishly apologized for being a smart ass, but underneath the sass the sentiment was sincere.

I went on an organizing spree before we left for Pittsburgh for the holidays and attempted to catalog all of my comic books. In hindsight this was a laughable endeavor; I neither finished the job itself nor got to a reasonable stopping point that would be useful to pick up from next time. Instead, I spent a number of late night hours making stacks of favorite titles, building spreadsheets and reminiscing about reading comics in the early 90s.

(No one has ever said that before.)

But I’ve never considered myself a collector. How could I be? I started reading regularly when I was eleven or twelve – old enough to make my own choices about titles, but young enough to be clueless about the industry as a whole. I got hooked on characters (I still do) rather than creators, although the Rob Liefeld influence was impossible to escape in those years.

I bounced from Marvel to Image and back again, dabbled with Vertigo but never mainstream DC books. If I found a character I liked, I tried to read every title in which that character appeared. Or was featured. Or mentioned. Obnoxious crossovers were made for kids like me.

Cannonball was the first character I remember going out of my way to find. Liefeld created X-Force in 1991 at the end of his New Mutants run, and there was a lot of big corporate publicity about the new title. For some reason rather than being excited about Cable or Domino or perennial favorite Deadpool (!!) I was swooning over a goofy kid in goggles with a lazy Southern drawl. I am positive it was his affected speech pattern that caught my attention (and not his wormy hair) although I also got sucked into the whole Externals is-he-or-isn’t-he storyline. I let Cannonball guide my reading for years. And when the previews for Hickman and Opeña’s Avengers #1 came out this past fall featuring dear ol’ Sam Guthrie on the cover, twelve year old me totally squealed out loud.

(Hickman isn’t writing him with the drawl, though! Twelve year old me was sad. Thirtysomething year old me is pretty stoked for this book and got over it. It’s also a lot easier to read.)

(After my infatuation with Sam came Clint Barton, first by way of his Thunderbolts appearances and then with the Avengers. My love for Hawkeye’s unique combination of self-deprecating wit, defensive arrogance and mad marksman skills remains to this day. I have a lot more to say about his classic redemption arc, how I think he’s the heart of the team and ultimately why Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is the best new series of 2012, but I’ll save that for another time.)

More than twenty years later I’m pretty sure I don’t own any single issues worth more than $10. I have some Death TPBs signed by Neil Gaiman, but they’re for reading not hoarding. And I was lucky enough to have Chris Ware sign my copy of Building Stories, but it’s not going to just sit on a shelf wrapped in plastic.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a tactile person, but collecting comics always struck me as a sad alternative to the rich escapism and excitement that reading them could provide. An open door vs. a closed door, if you will.

Instead, I buy them – print and digital and sometimes multiple copies of each with variant covers because I swear I will buy anything David Aja draws yes he is that good – and I read them – over and over and over – and I share them – with friends and family and hopefully more with my son as he gets older – and I kind of love them a little bit.

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.
-Walt Disney

Nah. Not rich at all.

Nothing says lovin’ like fried potatoes in the oven.

I’ve never really been in a position to establish new family traditions since I was always the one living close to Pittsburgh. But while going back east regularly is extremely important to us, it’s also pretty necessary that we have new plans in our new home. Luckily, April and I are very good at this, because we understand the essential component of a good tradition: food.

Did you know that until recently I had never made latkes from scratch? True story. I finally have a kitchen with enough surface area to thoroughly trash while doing so, so I figured what the heck. Let’s grate the potatoes by hand, even!

Latkes

Yeah. So that was pretty successful, not going to lie.

Matzoh ball soup, check. April’s delicious brisket – whose one fatal flaw was not being bigger so there were more leftovers, check.

Hanukkah table

(This was about the point where I realized my casual plastic placemats and lack of tablecloth were, well, lacking. Next time I’ll work harder on the presentation. See also: not wearing my jammies to the dinner table.)

Candles were lit. Blessings were sung. Passive voice was written.

And then, dreidel. Popular among the under 8 crowd, especially. There is something intrinsically appealing about counting gold and silver coins.

Jonah with dreidel

Actual spinning is optional, however. (So is knowing the rules of the game.)

We ended the night with full bellies and happy hearts. Seriously. It would have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy evening if not for the soft pants.

decorations

Mussels: Achievement Unlocked

There’s a point when you’re making mussels for dinner where it becomes undeniably obvious that you are in fact preparing a live animal for consumption. That point most likely occurs during the “cleaning and de-bearding” stage – which, let’s be clear, is made worse by the use of the word “de-bearding” – when the mussels can get protective of their little beardy bits (seriously, what the hell are those, anyway?) and pull them back inside their shells.

Don’t freak out. This is perfectly normal self preservation behavior for a live animal about to become a tasty tasty snack. Says the former vegetarian.

I’d never prepared mussels at home, but our family’s love of all things mollusk is well documented (though we prefer them sans starfish, thank you very much). This weekend, inspired by San Francisco’s crab season (totally a thing) I went a little seafood crazy at the market. In addition to dungeness crabs, I also picked up 5 lbs of mussels.

Five pounds? you say. That sounds like a lot.

mussels

Oh yeah. It is.

I opted to go the traditional white wine route, adding tomatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley, like you do. It made for a lovely presentation.

mussels with white wine sauce

Coupled with crusty bread for sauce sopping, I’d say this was a pretty successful first attempt at making mussels in the comfort of my own kitchen. We didn’t actually finish all 5 lbs, by the way. Not that you can tell from the carnage below.

shells

But now Avi has an enviable lunch of leftovers to take to school, and I have conquered one aspect of a previously intimidating cooking category.

What should be next?

Generations of Artists

The first *real* artist I met was my nana. She was a quilter. She was also a nurse, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. But she earned a reputation for her quilting, one that I was aware of even as a child. I think I have a memory of visiting a fabric store with her as she gathered supplies for a quilting contest celebrating Grand Lake St. Mary’s, but it’s possible I’m remembering a different time. I’m pretty sure I can also picture us visiting where her winning quilt was on display, but again, I unfortunately can’t be sure if what I have is a true recollection.

What I do have are several of her quilts and wall hangings. We just returned from our first visit to Pittsburgh since we Moved Across The Country, and I brought back the very first quilt my nana made for me.

(Cat not included. Since we returned home, she is practically attached to my hip and wasn’t interested in my attempts to capture the quilt for posterity sans feline.)

This quilt was completed in 1981. I know that because my nana always signed her work. Avi would probably tell you that’s what made her an artist.

Two observations: this was clearly done before I was calling her “nana”, and I recognized her “handwriting” in the embroidery. Wow.

While we were in Pittsburgh, I also got to make some great art with my four year old niece. We did some simple printmaking together and I watched her draw. She is extraordinary. Her understanding of spatial relationships and composition and expression is years and years ahead of most children her age. I am consistently astounded by what she is capable of, and this is me as a parent and former art teacher saying that.

I know a lot of *real* artists now. Masters of media of all types. Sometimes I even play that role myself. It’s such a part of my life that I often take it for granted. It was nurtured in me by family and teachers…it is who I am, no matter what I do.

And I would be honored to be a link between the artist my nana was and the artist my niece may become.