“You did it again, didn’t you,” my father said.
He called me this morning asking about the package they received from Amazon, with my name on it.
I slapped my forehead.
“Oh my god,” I groaned, “I did it again.”
I had clicked “Purchase” without changing the default shipping address. As a result my parents, in California, are now in possession of two used spy novels and three boxes of Kind Bars, two of which are the smothered-in-dark-chocolate variety, which my mom doesn’t even like.
“I want nothing to do with these,” I could hear her thinking in the background.
This box is slightly more manageable than the first three (though in my defense it was all one order) I had carelessly shipped home. They came in rapid succession bearing things my parents had zero use for: a mini-ironing board, followed by the iron, hot water kettle and finally, the item that broke the camel’s back or more accurately, made my father realize why his daughter made a terrible executive assistant: the toaster oven. Ironically, I had also ordered a book called, “Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind” which came packaged with the toaster oven.
My mother was home when the packages arrived and called me, her voice high with curiosity, “Did you order…something long and flat?”
“What are you talking about,” I had said, all the while wondering where the hell were my packages.
Then it dawned on me, and I was embarrassed. I knew I would never hear the end of it from my father who, when he came home from work, blanched at all the crap he’d have to pay to have shipped to me. He had slowly opened up the boxes and saw the book first. He snorted. And then he called me on the phone and asked me why I was so stupid.
“When you got into Columbia I felt much better about your abilities,” he said, acknowledging his (and many other people’s) classic error of equating academic degrees with competence. “And for a while, I was not so worried. Because you know, I did worry. When you told me you forget to put coffee in your boss’s coffee maker, I worried. When you told me you mismanaged your boss’s calendar, I worried. When you told me you got confused booking flights for your boss, I worried. And then you quit your job and I worried some more. But you got into a good school, so I thought, ‘Betty is not a good EA, but so what? Maybe she is good at other things.’ But now something that was supposed to be simple like ordering a toaster oven, but instead you have it shipped to the wrong address on the other side of the country? I am worried again.”
I didn’t blame him. It was a huge hassle for my father to open everything and repackage it into one UPS box and then pay some $40 for shipping that should have been free, because that’s why I’m paying $75 a year for Amazon Prime (but don’t tell my parents), but I assured him it would never happen again. Don’t worry Bah, I told him, I am competent. I’ll be more careful.
So this morning.
“The man at the UPS office thinks I’m a fool,” my father continued, “Or he thinks I’m your assistant. I’ve gone in there more than three times this past month just shipping stuff for you, and he just laughs and says, ‘Your daughter again?'”
I know the UPS office man. He was impressed that I was moving to New York to study at Columbia (his own daughter, he had told me almost sheepishly, had gone to UC Davis) and made the obligatory remarks from one Asian (he was Indian) to another, “Your parents must be very proud.”
“They’re alright,” I had shrugged, and now it was clear that my father, at least when it came to his daughter and every day common sense things, has very little to be proud of.
“I don’t like being a fool,” my father said.
“I know,” I said.
“Your mother is standing behind me shaking her head. We both can’t believe that our daughter is so ridiculously stupid.”
“I know,” I said.
“How many times are you going to do this?”
He snorted again, “That’s what you said last time.”
“Well yeah, this time I mean it.”
He sighed heavily, but I could tell he thought it was funny too.
“Well alright,” he said, “I guess this is the kind of student you are. Shipping the books you have to read for class to the wrong address.”He picked up one of the books and read the cover out loud, “‘From Russia With Love,’ isn’t this a movie?”
“Yup, but it was a book first,” I said, “It’s for my Spy Novel class.”
“So this is what you’re studying. James Bond.”
“Among other things, yeah.”
“This is graduate school.”
“For me, yeah.”
I could see him scratching his head. My mother was probably off somewhere humming to herself, thinking about her orchids. Or opening the non-chocolate covered box of Kind Bars and putting one into her badminton racket bag. I wondered what my father was thinking. Doing a quick calculation that looked something like this: tuition plus rent plus living fees plus unplanned-for fees for shipping your daughter’s kitchen appliances, granola bars and “textbooks” from the wrong address to the right one. All of it adding up to one giant, lifetime fee for essentially, his daughter’s incompetence in the “real world.”
He probably felt a little lonely right then, standing there with a box of over-priced, gluten free granola bars at his feet and a spy novel bordering on pulp in his hand, purportedly a component of his daughter’s ivy-league education. It wasn’t Pandora’s Box he’d just opened but something else entirely – and he couldn’t decide whether it was good or bad but just knew that it was too early to tell. Too early for genuine worry or dread. For the time being his daughter was happy. And he, despite the hassle of having to make yet another goddamned trip to the UPS store and endure the goddamned smirk on the Indian man’s face, he was happy too.