Dear AJ (The Big Form and the Little Form)

AJ in Tulsa.

The big form, we think.

I'd like you to write a little story for me. You have a way with words that ought to be useful in driving my point home. It's a complaint, you see, and, well, I don't tend to be taken very seriously when I write letters of complaint. Just yesterday, in fact, I wrote one to the electric company (not the TV show), and all I got back was a form letter. You, on the other hand, outfitted with that giant mustache and all that gray hair, are much more likely to be considered a legitimate threat. After one glance, they'll think you are David Crosby and will respond out of concern that you'll go off and write a protest song that'll rile up all the hippies.

The story takes place at my local post office, and the scenario has played out a hundred times (you can exaggerate here if you like - maybe make it a hundred, fifty). I go in to mail a package off to Taiwan. So I saunter over to the rack with all the forms in it and find myself faced with the choice of two forms for the purpose; the big form and the little form. They keep the big form hidden away behind the counter, so I choose the little form trying to convince myself that it's bound to work this time. It doesn't, of course. It usually doesn't, but on occasion I think it just might.

Now, this part needs some additional color, and I know that you'll think of a good way to work it in. It's tedious. I fill out the form, which consist of about 60 layers of carbon copies, causing my hand to contract arthritis in the process. They supply ball-point pens for this purpose, and I have to confess that I find it to be the one suitable situation for a ball-point pen, because it requires bearing down with the force of a medium-sized pile driver to get a ball-point pen to operate in the first place, and that's about the force required to get through all of those carbon copies. Well, you never get through all of them, because they are too old. But half of them, maybe.

So I enter the queue just as one of the two postal service personnel clock out on break. After a half hour my turn comes up and I dump my package onto the scale and hand the little man my homework. He takes one look at it and informs me that it's the wrong form and pulls out one of the big forms hidden behind the counter. At this point I ask him how a soul is supposed to know in advance which form might be in order and how they might go about obtaining the big form in advance of filling out the little form on the off chance that it might be the correct one. He replies that the little form is for shipping items internationally that weigh between six ounces and 4.0027 pounds and measure between 1.5 inches by 7 inches by 8.23 inches, rounded up to the nearest inch, and costing less than $412.32, and that the big form is for items over that size but not to exceed 12 inches in any direction or 43 pounds, and not to exceed $516.08, assuming you want to insure it for the proper amount, unless you are shipping to New Zealand, which allows for insurance of up to $528.63 or Malaysia, which allows for insurance of up to $610.12. If you are shipping to Upper Volta, however, forget it because they don't allow insured packages to enter their country. If one's package surpasses these standards, one must consult with the private sector, even though the U.S. Post Office is not funded by the government. You may have a more efficient way of communicating the precision of the above specifications, so use your judgement, please.

The little man does not bother to tell me how I might obtain a big form in advance of filling out the little form, and I do not ask, because he has already started typing in the address of my package's recipient and has instructed me to go ahead and fill out the big form at the counter while everyone else waits. Thus begins a second period of knuckle-breaking activity with the ball-point pen. You might want to reword that last sentence so it doesn't sound like I mean the exact same ball-point pen as used on the little form, because that first pen was, of course, over on the forms desk. You will also want to check and see if ball-point pen is hyphenated. Unless you already know.

It is worth pointing out (I would not say "ball-pointing out" - resist that urge) that the big form has the exact same information as the little form. It's just bigger. However, that doesn't mean it's big enough. It is pretty clear that the person or committee who created these forms never had any contact with with a country outside North America, because they are under the impression that all countries use our standard address model: One line for the street number and name, and one line for the city, state, and zip code. They don't realize that some international addresses, particularly some in the far East, contain up to seven lines of street information alone which might include items like alley number, sector, section, segment, and phrases such as "fourth red door past the street lamp." Not to mention that every other country in the world puts the zip code somewhere in the middle of the address. But considering that carbon copies were at their zenith sometime during the cold war, it is perhaps not surprising that the person or committee responsible had no knowledge of other countries. I think they may have all been closed during that period. You might want to check up on this before printing it.

To dwell on this point a bit further, I have been scolded before by a postal worker for filling out the address lines according to the standard of the country in question. There seems to be a collective mental block among a great number of postal employees regarding the methods of international addresses. Be sure you get this point in there very clearly because it's an area the post office needs to study.

Fortunately, about half-way through the recipient's address, which is nine or ten lines long, the other postal service worker returns from break, opens up shop, and starts diverting traffic. It's a good thing too, because I was starting to feel the glare of my fellow customers boring large holes into my back.

The big question I have in all of this is why do government agencies feel the need to use up so much paper in the course of their activities? Is carbon pager even still manufactured? (That's another question, by the way.) Do they not realize that the cold war is over and that fax machines have been replaced by email? Okay, that last statement was probably a bit out of context. In fact, most private sector businesses I've encountered still use fax machines way too much for my comfort. You might want to just nix that last bit about fax machines. After all, the fax machine is really...oh, never mind.

So that's basically the story. It's getting really late, and my eyes are pretty fried, so I'll just leave it for you to rewrite as you see fit. Keep it under a couple thousand words, if you will. I'm planning to mail the final version to the Far East, and I don't want to have to use the big form.