Slice of Life

Take this job and ship it

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 13, 2014 

Kathe Tanner

I looked like a refugee from a Rocky Mountain avalanche, covered head to toe with white. My fingers were stuck together, my hands were numb and my back felt badly sprained.

Suddenly I realized one reason why the U.S. Postal Service’s business has plummeted: Shoppers don’t wrap-and-send any more.

Before the pseudo-snow attack, I’d been shopping for a perfect present to give dear friend Linda Nakamura. Finally, at Harmony Pottery Works, I found some delicate, cobalt-blue porcelain bowls by Berkeley artist Itsuko Zenitani. They were perfect.

Plus, I’d bought locally, not from some online vendor in Texas or Bangladesh. I also hadn’t resorted to the last-minute desperation moves — gift cards or buying from Amazon Prime.

But, oh dear.


Porcelain. That means FRAGILE! in big red letters. Will I never learn?

I took them home, wanting family members to affirm my decision that the bowls were the perfect gift. They agreed. Too late, I realized I’d now be the one who had to wrap and send the bowls, in a manner that would allow each to arrive intact.

It’s been a long time since I had to pack and ship. Did I even remember how?

In recent years, when I bought gifts from nearby brick-and-mortar stores, I asked those shops to ship them for me. And, if I ordered presents online (including from local stores), they, too, would wrap and send.

If I’d been smart, I’d have begged John Schoenstein to do just that. He knows how, having had the pottery shop for 41 years.

Too late. At home, I studied the breakable artworks for several days, trying to calculate the odds and methods of protecting them well enough so they’d survive being (excuse the phrase) dropshipped to San Francisco.

Do you know how hard it is to stuff packing pellets in and around a bowl, and then keep those squigglies in place while you nail ’em down with bubble wrap and strapping tape?

I didn’t want the tape’s sticky side to adhere to the delicate bowl, not being at all sure the latter would survive the eventual removal of the former.

Every time I tried to stretch bubble wrap around the pellets on one side of the bowl, the wrap would slip off the other side, and a veritable blizzard of springy white pseudoworms would spew in every direction. Sproing!

What a mess.

Ever tried to catch packing pellets as they fall? Without dropping the FRAGILE! bowl in your other hand?

Lesson one: Don’t.

Lesson two: Don’t sneeze!

And lesson three? When handling rebellious packing pellets that shed, don’t wear black corduroy pants and a fleece top.

Finally, I held the tape in my teeth and the pellet-and-bubble-wrapencircled bowl firmly between my knees. Nailed it! I then quickly slid the packet into a small, plastic trash-can liner bag and tightly tied it.

Yee-haw! I finally trapped those slippery little pellet devils. I’d securely encased the first of the four bowls, and it only took me an hour or two.

Three more bowls to go.

Eventually, I had four lopsided spheres that looked like slightly deflated soccer balls. But by golly, those bowls were very well padded with pellets on all sides and nothing, nothing, was going to move.

However, that big box I’d dragged up from the basement? It wasn’t nearly big enough for the recommended 4 inches of pellet protection around each bowl.

Pack each bowl in a separate box? I didn’t have enough pellets. Or boxes.

Finally, in a huff, I carried the whole FRAGILE! mess to the Cambria Business Center shipping outlet, and paid them to pad and pack the doggone bowls.

They shipped the box via UPS, so once again, the post office missed out. Point made. How about wrapping services, USPS?

I learned my lesson, too. From now on, the store can ship it. No matter what it costs.

Meanwhile, I’m still finding packing pellets in strange places in our dining room and have vowed I’ll never, ever, apply for a job as a shipping clerk.

The next time I look like Frosty the Snowman, I want it to be because I’m in a snowstorm.

Tribune and Cambrian reporter Kathe Tanner can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @CambriaReporter.

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