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Unhelpful post office form 3602-NZ not EZ
VITAL TRIFLE, BY LAURI GROSS
Unhelpful post office form 3602-NZ not EZ
Quick. What is 1,607 times 0.229? How about 107 times 0.346? I learned these answers and more on a recent visit to the post office. I was not on a field trip with school kids. I was there on official volunteer work from the PTO from my kids' schools.
For several years, I have helped put together and distribute our school directory. It's like a mini-phone book for all the kids and parents in the school. We print them, stuff them into envelopes and mail them each fall. For a few years, I assisted the mom in charge. This is my second year heading up the effort myself.
Every year, the most interesting part of the process is the time spent at the post office. Before we are ready to mail, I visit the post office to gather a bunch of those handy lightweight bins for carrying mail, and I print the latest forms from the post office website. It's form 3602-NZ.
Once my committee members and I have stamped, addressed, stuffed and sealed all the envelopes -- about 1,700 of them -- we load the bins in my car, and I go to the post office. Usually, I hand over all the forms and answer some questions about how many items I am mailing, how many different ZIP codes there are, etc. Then the post office clerk makes some calculations and fills in the blanks on the form. I pay the bill and then drive to the loading area to unload my bins. That's it.
Well, that's usually it. This year was different. I arrived at the post office with my bins and boxes and my forms in hand. I approached the clerk and told her why I was there. She handed my papers back to me and said I had to complete the whole thing myself due to some new rules this year. She handed me a piece of scrap paper on which she had jotted down some formulas for making various calculations.
The first step was to weigh 10 pieces of my mail, which were all identical. She said I had to record the average weight of 10 pieces in order to determine the true weight of my entire mailing. I had neither scale nor calculator. She had both but couldn't use them to weigh any of my mail or calculate any of my numbers.
"I'm just going to guess at the weight of my pieces," I told her.
"Well, then, if we determine that you recorded the wrong weight, your mailing won't go out," she said.
"So you have to weigh it anyway?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"But you can't weigh it now, for me?" I asked.
"Correct," she said, as if this made perfect sense.
As I shook my head in disbelief, I spotted a postal scale for sale on the rack of shipping supplies. I bought one, for $40. Then I went to my car and chose 10 pieces of mail from the bulging bins. I returned to the post office, sat on the floor in a corner of the outer lobby and plugged in my new postal scale. I dutifully weighed and recorded 10 pieces. The weights varied by a tiny fraction of an ounce. Then I began multiplying and dividing long numbers with many decimal places, using a piece of scrap paper from my purse.
Soon I heard the clerk's warning in my head: "If we determine that you recorded the wrong weight, your mailing won't go out." I knew I needed a calculator. I could have probably used my phone as a calculator, but I had no idea how to do that, so I proceeded to plan B.
Plan B was to call my husband. Sitting at his desk at work, Brent was only too happy to calculate for me, even if I didn't stop to explain why the heck I needed all this calculating. With Brent's help, I determined that the average piece of mail in my mailing was 0.15875 pounds. Form 3602-NZ specifies that many decimal places.
Then I had to call Brent back for more calculating. He calculated 0.15875 pound times 1,714 total pieces of mail for me. So then I knew that my whole mailing weighed 272.0975 pounds.
Just when I thought I was done calculating, I had to call Brent a third time. I had 1,607 pieces of mail going to the same ZIP code, so each of those required $0.229 in postage. The other 107 required a little more, since they had different ZIP codes. Brent made all those calculations for me, and I neatly filled in all the blanks on Form 3602-NZ.
When I presented my paperwork to the clerk, I expected a little encouragement. I got none. But she did say that I had completed everything correctly. I paid her and then drove to the loading dock, where another clerk showed me a rolling flatbed onto which I stacked my bins. Then I went home.
Then the clerk from the loading dock called to say to that, next year, I had better use trays, not bins, because trays could be better handled by "the machine." Also, he said I had made a mistake on the form, and he was going to ask his manager if I had to come back to pay more money.
I never heard back from the post office, and a few days later I did receive my school directories in the mail, so I guess the manager figured I had suffered enough, until next year, when I will be ready.
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