Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Joy of Sea Mail

The slow boat brought card board boxes from Ohio so welcome that it was worth clawing through my dad's 6 layers of duct tape to get to the goodies. It didn't matter what was inside, the thrill and anticipation began the moment my eyes landed on the package slip in my mailbox. It was a collection of valuable random. My mom would toss in outdated bank statements, third class brochures that came to the house in my name, and clippings of the society page in our hometown paper if they featured the third cousin twice removed of a friend of a friend's hairdresser. I'd read every word of each enclosure, including the multiple notices from Discover card for being pre-approved, and even the "you may already be a winner" come-ons. Yup, I was already a winner all right: I had bubble wrap all over my floor and I was combing through treasures sent from home.

I felt like a kid again, getting little surprises like I did in my brown bag lunch in elementary school. I was reaping the benefits of the Sam's Club Boom from my parents, by then empty nesters yet nonetheless getting items in bulk: mini boxes of sugar cereal, flavored coffee creamers, tea bags, peanut butter on cheese cracker packets, dental floss, band aids, deodorant -- whatever they didn't need a year supply of, I got 2 valuable month's worth of bliss. The piece de resistance would be a VHS tape. They would just run a tape on record when they went to sleep and I would have TV from home. This helped make me truly happy, and certainly helped me make friends fast. The way the handful of foreign teachers in the apartment complex passed around tapes is the way I picture prisoners using cigarettes as currency. In an emotional way, we were in similar situations.

Japan could make the most state of the art television sets, and certainly their goofy game shows are known world-wide, but after a long day of work, compounded by relearning how to ride a bike, flush a toilet and use eating utensils in the new land, familiar TV was music to the ears. I really could have been a spokesperson for Must See TV. That Thursday night line up kept us going. With the VHS tapes we would Pay it Forward. That is, the good deed and sharing rotated around the building, and others got their families doing the same thing. We'd watch everything, including weather updates 2 months old in a city 3000 miles from where we lived. It would be a waste of the comfort background noise of English in the vernacular to fast forward through commercials. I started to sing along with the car dealership jingles of Austin, Texas, and felt like I could really call the Father and Son team of paralegals in St. Louis if I was ever in a bind. In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't think of calling them to take action in times of trouble like when Seinfeld went off the air, or when the US discontinued surface mail discounts.

Now with the prevalence of the Internet, it's much easier to click "send" and get creature comforts from home sent to my door. However, I still like to think about the 2-3 month journey those boxes took to get to me. I felt it was a time-capsule of sorts, and for future generations of ex-pats, I might just bury the next box of Fruit Loops I get my hands on.

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