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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Nine Boxes, One Magazine

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When nine boxes holding 225 copies of next month's issue of a classy home-decor magazine arrive in the office, they pose a dilemma. What's the proper way to get rid of them?


A man wheeled a cart into our office area yesterday and dropped off nine boxes addressed to a man who no longer works here. Now, getting mail for someone who is no longer with you is common in most workplaces. Just the other day, I think I saw something addressed to John Wilkes Booth. Sometimes, I take some small pleasure in knowing that long after I'm gone, my children can still stop off to pick up mail with my name on it.

"Look, our daddy still gets the Victoria Secret catalog here."

So we opened the nine boxes. They hold 225 copies of next month's issue of a classy home-decor magazine. Well, 224 now - I took one home to look at the page of jute grass cloth wall coverings. Nine boxes of the same magazine. Why not at least nine boxes of different magazines or nine boxes of Krugerrands, Cartier watches or Chipotle burritos? What are you supposed to do with nine boxes of something that you didn't order and don't want?

So we called the distribution company, who said it's not their problem. We left a message with somebody who was identified as some kind of supervisor. So far, he hasn't called back. Why should he? How much effort should he spend to retrieve 225 copies of a magazine that will soon be too old to sell?

Mistakes were made, case closed, move on. To throw them out seems wasteful. On the other hand, giving 225 copies of the same home d├ęcor magazines to, say, a public library would be at least 220 copies too many. Giving them to a homeless shelter, prison or nunnery where they hardly have a choice of jute grass cloth wall coverings seems insensitive.

I predict, with more confidence than I would ever try to forecast the winner of a primary election or the Super Bowl, that those nine boxes of magazines will sit in our conference area for a couple of weeks, we'll make a few more phone calls, a few people will help themselves to a few copies, and then, they'll be thrown away.

It seems wasteful. On the other hand, how many hours of our finite time on this planet should we waste each week on hold with customer service, shipping, the accounting department or the lost luggage office, leaving increasingly strident messages that are never returned because the person hearing them just doesn't have time for another problem?

How many of us keep bed sheets that were delivered in the wrong color, or CDs that have a skip because it's too bothersome, time-consuming, or costly to repackage and return them?

And one day, you look at the phone in your hand and realize you've spent more time this week on hold with customer service or computer help lines than you have speaking with your own parents, reading stories to a child, or urging public officials to do something about Darfur.

For a lot of us, the day seems to slip away before we can grab hold of it. How do you make time for the things that are really precious and important when you have to get nine boxes of something you don't care about out of the way?

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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