Tuesday was my day off this week, which worked out well because I had been trying to schedule Be on the Phone All Day Trying to Figure Things Out Fest 2010, so that day turned out to be Tuesday. I ordered a pair of Crocs from the internet about (OK, exactly) three weeks ago, and I would link you to them but ever since I browsed “Crocs,” every website in the history of time has these creepy pop up ads suggesting I order MORE CROCS, so I try to keep my Croc URLs to a minimum these days. Anyway, I ordered these Crocs exactly three weeks ago today and they were supposed to arrive at my door in no more than two weeks. I was really looking forward to receiving them, but I wasn’t looking forward to facing the possibility that they were MIA, so I was content with pretending that they were going to show up magically at my door any day now. My mom is good at disabusing me of notions like that, so I finally called the good people at Crocs customer service on Monday. Roxanne, my new Crocs customer service rep/friend, checked “the system,” and informed me that my shoes were delivered on July 7. I informed her they were not. “Did a family member or neighbor possibly bring the package in for you?” she asked, launching into her usual troubleshooting of delivery mishaps. “Not legitimately,” I told her, thinking of my suspicion that someone might occasionally tamper with my mail a little bit. I didn’t go into all of that, nor did I tell her that my only local family member has no thumbs, so Roxanne then suggested I check with my leasing office and the US Postal Service.

On Tuesday afternoon, I called my leasing office and gently suggested that they might be harboring a package belonging to me. The dude gently advised me that “We would always let you know if we were,” and I apologized and hung up, wondering if he recognized my voice. I think I’m still on his good side, but I have a bit of a recent history of doing things like bringing them a Ziploc Baggie full of (now) dead bugs I found in my apartment, thrusting it at the leasing agent, and saying, “This is what I have! Can you please get rid of them? They’re gross!” (To which she responded, “Um…yes. They are.”) and calling in a panic about mold on my air conditioner and insisting that they had to replace the entire unit NOW, which they did talk me down from and they did clean thoroughly.

So, that possibility eliminated, I tracked down the phone number of my local post office. I reached a human in a surprisingly short amount of time, considering the governmental structure of the phone system. Said human requested my tracking number, and I gave her what I thought was my tracking number, but ended up being my order number. I understand the difference now. And I answer a lot of phone calls at work and I need to obtain a lot of numbers, and sometimes it’s a little bit infuriating going through the rigmarole of, “What is your policy number? No, that’s your group number. The one I need should have an alpha prefix. No, that’s the verification number. I know it also has letters, but I need the number that doesn’t start with 1-800. No, your policy number should have more than two digits.” But I am patient. Post office maven was not patient and she started yelling at me that “Ma’am, that is your ORDER NUMBER. It has TOO FEW DIGITS. I need your TRACKING NUMBER. I can’t do anything for you without your TRACKING NUMBER. You need to have that READY.” She kept going, but I was already flustered at the prospect of my stolen and/or lost rubber shoes, and I was feeling particularly sensitive, so I interrupted her and talked over her and yelled. “WELL, YOU COULD BE NICER ABOUT IT,” and indignantly hit the little “hang up” button on my phone as she continued lecturing me about this number of hers.

Yes, I was indignant, but I soon realized the grave error of angering the one person I was able to reach in the entire maze of the USPS phone system. I called back no less than seven times attempting various combinations of extensions and options to reach a person, preferably a different person. (Between all this, I called Crocs and obtained the tracking number from Geoffrey because I misplaced Roxanne’s direct number. Geoffrey speaks ina very soothing, non-yelly voice.) I even tried to get the same person, prepared to disguise my voice using a southern accent, even though my southern accent is terrible and unconvincing. A couple of times, I thought I was getting someplace, because the hold music stopped and my phone indicated that I hadn’t gotten disconnected. But I got bored with that, so I dialed a few more numbers and then got disconnected. Finally, I decided to see where I could get with that weird silent waiting. At least I was in the comfort of my own apartment, so I entertained myself with reading the internet, and then I started sneezing because I need to vacuum but I can only remember to do so at 11:00 p.m., and because I’m hell-bent on being a good upstairs neighbor, I just don’t do it. I was sniffling and blowing my nose for a while, and then I remembered I had a box of Triscuits, so I munched on them, too. Finally, mid-crunch and sniffle, the automated phone voice said, “Recording. Has. Ended.” And that is how I left a five minute voice mail of myself blowing my nose and eating crackers on the message system of the Decatur, Georgia U.S. Postal Service.

And at that point, the only thing to do was make like a client (at work, I am one of only two Spanish-speaking staff members, and we have a proportionally larger number of Spanish-speaking clients, so if I’m unable to be two places at once, Spanish-speakers who call are instructed to leave a message and their call will be returned shortly. What they do instead, is leave a “message” similar to what I did, and then they drive to the clinic and sit there until I can help them, which is not my favorite thing in the world.) and drive over to the post office. I walked in and innocently got in line, pretending I had no sordid history of offending employees in any way. I didn’t even roll my eyes when I saw that the crew in front of me was there to ship fifteen boxes and five suitcases (which all had the word PLAYBOY wrapped around them) to Texas (I was bored so I looked at the address). I was only in line for a minute before my new best friend Cheryl walked over, doing that customer servicey thing of addressing people in line to see about helping them faster in an effort to get the customers not to freak out. I told Cheryl that she could, indeed help me, and I explained the Case of the MIssing Cros, only I didn’t tell her they were Crocs because people make fun of me for wearing Crocs, and for some reason, I didn’t want her to think less of me. I think she ended up thinking that I had ordered Jimmy Choos, or something, because of my concern over the rogue footwear. I did try to explain that the shoes were not exactly valuable, but I just wanted them. I also ended up having to give her background on my mail theft theory and admit that my entry way is not exactly secure and my mail person sometimes seems to be a little bit lazy. “[Street name]…” she mused, “Is that apartments? Condos?” “Apartments,” I clarified, and could see that she was trying to figure out if I lived in a high-crime area where criminals need the mail of strange, small women to survive. Then, after counseling me, she said, “Let me see that order number and my supervisor and I will look into it. You can just wait right here. I’ll take care of this.” And I had all the faith in the world that magical Cheryl would take care of it.

I read birthday cards for sale while Cheryl did her detective work. I had moved onto reading the Margaret Cho book I keep in my pocketbook when she returned with a thorough printout of the route of my shoes. The printout indicated that yes, they were ostensibly delivered to me on July 7, but then they turned right around that day and traveled all over the U.S. and were finally delivered, that very morning, to Montana. “Do you know anyone in Montana?” Cheryl asked, clearly as flummoxed as I was. “No,” I told her. “But I will certainly look into it.” I then got her last name so that I could commend her to her higher ups if I ever manage to navigate the phone system again. Before I left, she leaned in, looked me in the eye, and said, very seriously and very softly, “Nobody. Has the right to touch your mail.” It was like she was Officer Friendly in a kindergarten class, telling the kids, “Nobody. Has the right to touch your swimsuit area.” And if I had been even more delicate that day, I probably would have teared up at her concern and care about the wellbeing of my mail and me. Cheryl is someone you want on your side.

It would be a lot more satisfying to end this saying, “And then I got my shoes!” but that whole thing is still up in the air. But what I do have is an enemy and a friend at the post office and a friend at Crocs (who won’ return my call, but Roxanne needs days off, too.) and an amazing voice mail out there floating in the ether.