A couple years ago, I worked as a post-production assistant for a certain network that rhymes with The Shmistory Channel, and part of my job at the Shmistory Channel entailed mailing and FedExing scripts, screeners, contracts, etc. These things I sent were essential to the continued operation of the various productions. The network depended on them being sent and received in a timely fashion. If writers and producers didn’t receive their screeners, they couldn’t do their jobs. Unfortunately, I did not understand how mail worked.
I did not understand how mail worked because I hadn’t sent a letter since the one I wrote to The Goosebumps Fan Club Newsletter in elementary school. I applied to college online; I paid rent and utility bills online; I sent ecards, evites, and emails, but never actual physical mail. The closest I’d come in the last 10 years to mailing anything was when I returned Netflix. There are few rooms in my Mind Palace that are emptier: sports, alcoholic beverages, makeup, anime, and maybe oceanography. I knew stamps were involved somehow, and I knew you wrote names and addresses on there, but I did not know how many stamps you put on a letter, and I did not know in what order to put the name and address. Look upon my dumbness, ye mighty, and despair.
However, if I asked the production coordinator, “Hey, I have a question: how does mail work?” I was certain she’d use her thumbs to push my eyeballs out the back of my skull. Asking questions was frowned upon, but asking dumb questions was simply intolerable. So when she said, “Brad, could you send these letters right now,” I needed to proceed swiftly with the knowledge available (or just examine any other letters or packages for a template, but to each his/her own). I began sending these important packages through the mail—scripts, external hard drives, screeners for the goddamn Emmys—each with a single two cent stamp pasted to the top right hand corner. Without knowing it, I had started the countdown to a terrible confrontation with the boss lady, but until then, for all she knew, I was doing a wonderful job and had a perfectly adequate amount of common sense. Tick tock.
A week later, the boss lady called me into her office. On her desk was a pile of packages with two cent stamps. On her face: not hate as one would expect, but bewilderment. ‘How could anyone possibly be this dumb?’ she must have wondered. ‘There must be some reasonable explanation.’ With the slow careful enunciation reserved for small children and Alzheimer’s sufferers, she asked, “Brad, do you know why these packages were returned?”
“Do you know how much postage to use?”
“One stamp per package?”
At this, she blinked several times and rubbed her forehead. “Do you have any idea how mail works?” she asked.
She then explained the entire process of mailing things, guiding me through it step by step like in a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood episode, her disdain overwhelmed by astonishment at the colossal scale of my ignorance. The restraint she showed by not firing me or shrieking at me can only be attributed to A) she thought I was a special needs child or B) she didn’t want to hire a new PA. By the time she finished her explanation, any trace of self-respect had been shot dead like Lenny at the end of Of Mice and Men.
You go through life, thinking, ‘I am so smart, I am razor sharp prodigy genius man,’ and then you continuously do things that can only mean one thing: you’re not smart. You’re not even average. You’re dumb, you’ve always been dumb, you always will be dumb, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Your parents were wrong when they told you otherwise. Set those books on fire because you won’t need them. Stop trying so hard to string words together because you’re just straining yourself, and no one’s listening anyway. You need to be taken to a facility where trained professionals can care for you, where they have enough coloring books to keep you occupied for years and years until you die trying to stab a mosquito on your throat with a fork.
For the next couple weeks after learning how mail works, I became intoxicated with The Thrill of Mailing. One day, in the middle of eating a slice of chocolate cake (some people only eat cake at birthday parties and weddings, and that, my friends, is a tragedy), I suddenly decided to mail it to a girl I liked and had dated a few times before moving temporarily to LA. Propelled by a mad sugar high, I drove to the post office, stuffed the cake in a manila envelope, and mailed it off to her, confident in the excellence of this idea at all stages. I thought, ‘I am so hilarious. This will be so funny. She will say, “That Brad Pike is so funny, I want to moosh my face all over his face. I want to drive eighteen hours to California to kiss that mouth.”’
I called her a few days later: “Did you get my package?”
She sighed. “…yes.”
“Brad, why did you send half-eaten cake in a manila envelope? If you don’t put it in a box, anything you mail gets crushed.”
“Okay, clearly you don’t understand. It was a joke. I was being funny, you know? It’s just, uh–,”
“What’s funny about getting smashed garbage cake in the mail?”
“Uh, well…hold on, let me think…”
And I realized then I had no answer for her; there was nothing funny about smashed cake. Nothing at all. If anything, I’d provided her with a grim metaphor for our relationship: something delicious and wonderful I’d made flat and unpalatable. I didn’t hear from her after that conversation. There’s always something I don’t understand, some blind spot — girls or mail or what’s funny — and the extent of my ignorance seems to grow larger every day.