I didn’t really want to touch this series (I, II, III) for a while, but recent developments have just pushed me over the edge again, so I think it’s time for part IV.I think I started ordering abroad in 1982, or thereabouts. At that time I ordered from a wonderful man named Robert Weinberg, who ran perhaps the best mail order shop for horror, fantasy and science fiction material. A considerable amount of my rather thin income went straight into his bank account and with the depletion of my funds came the advent of mail order hell.
I live in Germany. I know that’s my own fault, but living in this country automatically means that you not only have to deal with a whole load of monkeys in various mail order outlets around the globe, but also with the 300-pound gorillas working in the various customs and post offices around Germany. Dealing with one of the two breeds would probably kill the best of us, but dealing with a whole horde of them just gets you a lot of kicks in the rear end before you get to study life from below.
So, let’s continue then:
(31) The Surprise Shop Location: A real killer that one. You would expect that when you order from a mail order dealer in Ireland that the powers that be would actually also reside there, have their storage there and deliver from some address in Ireland. Nope. They actually send their stuff from an offshore location. “Cool,” you might say, “then it’ll hit German shores faster.” Yes, indeed, but nobody expected the German customs gorillas that try to get their massive paws onto anything coming into Germany from tax-exempt territories. So, the shipment hits German shores within 24 hours … and disappears into dusty customs offices for weeks, if not months. I’m still waiting for a December shipment from Korea which must have gotten stuck (part 2 of the shipment arrived with one of those green stickers indicating that it was cleared by the office). I wonder if I’ll ever see it.
(32) The Day After Customs: Much in the vein of recent large-scale disaster movies, the shipment that has been manhandled by the 300-pound gorrilas is one that you can basically kick into the next trash can. If you had the nerve to order some release encased in nifty packaging, you can bet your sweet rear end that one of those beasts at customs sat on it, used it as a tray for its lunch or simply kicked it around the office with its chums. I kid you not. Things are at times so bad that the postal service actually has to bag the parcel (some gray plastic bag they use when things are beginning to fall out of the parcel they are supposed to deliver to you) to get the leftovers to your place “safely”. It’s happened to me many times.
(33) Knife-Wielding Maniacs: Never give monkeys knives. When customs gorillas open packages, they don’t just open them. They first try to get into the box with a crowbar, then they apparently switch to small explosive devices and finally they attempt to skin the rest off with Bowie knives. One of my treasured Mosaic boxes arrived here with fork holes (!) in it. Actually, if you frequent music and film fora, they usually have a hall of shame in which everyone posts photos of manhandled packages – true galleries of horror.
(34) Packaging Insanity: “2001“, one of Germany’s best and cheapest mail order dealers, likes to grab an ultra-thin collapsible cardboard box from some shelf, throws in your $200 purchase and adds three wrinkled pieces of paper. Packaging done. In the past three years, I think all of my purchases arrived here damaged in some way. Each. And. Every. One. But hey, you can’t beat their prices. The other day I received an LP from a renowned rare records dealer in the US. The record, which cost me a ton of dough was … wait for it … wrapped in a used (!) dish washing towel. The towel’s good though. After a tumble in the washing machine, it’s drying up a steam around here. You could say I got more than I bargained for.
(35) The Customs Maze of Death: I live about 30 kilometers away from the next customs office. I should also add that I’m the only German without a car. Add to that the remote location of the customs office, inaccessible by any other means of transportation, and there’s no way a sane person would actually invest the money, time and nerves to pick anything up. I didn’t have to in the past – after I had paid up, they would forward it via mail – but they’ve stopped playing nice. You don’t feel like wading through seven kilometers of mud after having tried to get there by public transportation (that would be THREE! different trains)? Your problem. So, if they get their hands, err claws, on my stuff, I just give them the usual unfriendly call and tell them to return to sender. That’s only possible though if they do remember to notify you of the whereabouts of your shipment. That does not always happen.
(36) The German Bermuda Rectangle: There aren’t to many boats around here, but about a sixth of my shipments just disappears. Into thin air. Gone, but not forgotten. When that happens, you don’t pass “Go” and enter straight into e-mail hell.
(37) E-Mail Hell: Do not try to find forms of human life at any of the global online shops. There just aren’t any. They have all hired someone who is apparently called “Dear Customer”. I don’t really know what’s dear about him, but his name is at the top of every automatically spewed-out electronic reply I receive. Me: “Could you tell me what happened to my shipment from 1999, please?” Dear Customer: “We have received your mail and will investigate.” 6 years later they’re still at it. I don’t really want to trash caiman.com, who have probably saved me more money than they cost me, but they have someone called “Claire” working for them. Claire answers each and every mail. Although I always like to think of her as a pneumatic blonde with ample bosom, I’m sure it is a group of 200 outsourced and mustachioed Pakistani students reading about a thousand e-mails a day.
(38) Protectionism? Bring It On, Dude! The European Union, the cradle of European integration and wealth as well as the sum-total of European progress is just that, European. If you want to import anything into this seething mass of imbeciles, you better be ready to pay. It is simply mind-boggling. The maximum allowed inside of this hallowed territory tax-free is so low that just about every inch of a CD has to be paid separately. And each inch is handled by one civil servant. And inspected by one. And repackaged by another one. Forms need to be filled out, sums of usually less than a dollar or two need to be calculated, notifications have to be sent out, phone calls have to be made, and paperwork has to be filed. A whole cottage industry has sprung up around European protectionism and if we didn’t have it, three times the number of people would be unemployed over here. Actually, I’m absolutely for annexing Liechtenstein and turning it into a customs office.
(39) Deaf, Dumb and Blind: No matter how you communicate your order, some monkey will get it wrong. The other day I made a mistake myself and ordered two Stax/Volt Vol. 2 boxes. No big deal, I thought, and I proceeded to notify a nice lady via phone. “No problem. I’ll fix your order and you should have it by Monday.” On Monday, three boxes arrived. Another phone call got me another nice lady who told me that she would send me a sticker to affix to a package containing both superfluous boxes so that I could return them free of charge. Three days later, a fourth box arrived. I am now the proud owner of the most complete collection of Stax/Volt Vol. 2 boxes in Germany, maybe even globally. Cool. I could go on about this forever, about the three copies of a Sergio Leone film that were actually supposed to be three different Woody Allen films, the European Mosaic Count Basie which magically turned into the complete ABBA box, the new Status Quo Remasters which morphed into the cruddy old releases because the online shop simply didn’t have the new ones yet, etc. I was also suprised recently when I found out that Gerry Mulligan actually wrote cook books under the pseudonym of Betty Crocker, because that’s the book I received when I ordered a Mulligan compilation. I gave up communicating that error and decided to learn how to cook.
There you have it. I know I haven’t even covered the worst yet, but I’ll leave that to you. Have you been in mail order purgatory? You can leave your comment here for all eternity, in Internet hell.