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What do you say when you're returning something 12 years after the fact?
June 19, 2014 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I borrowed a classmate's folder full of Thermodynamics notes in 2002, and I just found them in my closet. I also just tracked down his address, so I can return them to him. Should I include a note? What should it say? I haven't spoken to him in 12 years, and I didn't know him that well to begin with.

"Sorry for the delay"?
posted by jeffxl to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a particular reason you're even bothering to return them at this point? If I were your classmate I would have long ago given up on/forgotten about the notes. If I got them in the mail I'd probably just through them out. I wouldn't bother.
posted by aclevername at 11:47 AM on June 19 [22 favorites]


"Found these in my closet. Hope they're a fun walk down memory lane! And also hope you're well. - jeffxl"
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:47 AM on June 19 [34 favorites]


Hi classmate,
I hope this finds you well! I came across these and thought of you. I thought you might like to have them back. Sorry for the delay, haha. They were very helpful! Thanks for lending them way back when. I hope things are going well for you these days. Thanks again,
Jeff
posted by bleep at 11:47 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Consider that he may not at all remember that he loaned them to you, and you never returned them. I mean, I was away from my office for a few minutes earlier today and when I came back there was $20 on my keyboard. A co-worker told me that [other co-worker] stopped by to pay me back. I'd totally forgotten that I paid for drinks when her card was on the fritz, and that was just a few weeks ago.

If you really feel like you have to return them, keep it short and sweet: something like "I just found these - I'm so sorry I didn't return them sooner! Best, jeffxl"
posted by rtha at 11:48 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


If I were the classmate, I'd be more weirded out that you tracked me down after 12 years than I would be grateful to have the (presumably) long forgotten notes returned to me.

Just chuck the notes in the bin.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:51 AM on June 19 [62 favorites]


Well, if you are actually going to return the notes for some reason, I would DEFINITELY include a note, because this is going to be a very confusing piece of mail otherwise. The note should probably explain why you thought returning these notes after such an amazingly long time seemed important.
posted by joelhunt at 11:53 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


If this is someone with whom you had a friendly and cordial relationship with and want to renew contact, I'd include a note that pokes fun at yourself for taking so much time and then offering to reconnect and catch up sometime.

If this is someone you barely knew all that well, I wouldn't even bother.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


How exactly did you track down his address? I think that'll make a big difference here. If you asked a mutual friend, awesome, go with bleep's text for the note.

If you used some deep googling or weird neighbourhood-stalking or something? Just toss them. He doesn't want the damn things badly enough to have to check over his shoulder in his parking garage every night.
posted by AmandaA at 11:54 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Any idea what the classmate is doing now? If they are teaching thermo, they might like the notes back.

Otherwise, up to you; I'd return them with a nice note, personally.
posted by nat at 11:55 AM on June 19


I work among academics who are forever sending long-forgotten things to each other in the mail/by post, and they would typically just include a note saying something like ThePinkSuperhero wrote.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:56 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Some joke about the laws of thermodynamics in action, and the notes wanting to return to their original entropic state?
posted by jozxyqk at 11:56 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


I mean, I'm doing it because I think it's funny, not because I want to reconnect or because I think he actually needs them.
posted by jeffxl at 11:57 AM on June 19 [10 favorites]


You should totally return it with a note apologizing for the mistake. It's just basic human decency to return things that aren't yours. It's not your job to determine the value of the items.
posted by Aranquis at 11:57 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


I'm doing it because I think it's funny, not because I want to reconnect or because I think he actually needs them.

Heh. Then if this is for a goof, you could have fun writing this whole big epic drawn-out tale of how you were delayed in returning them by ninjas and space aliens and the CIA and a whole host of other ridiculous things and then just write, "so, anyway, yeah, sorry I didn't get these back to you on time. Hope all's well."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


Maybe put them in a box that is decorated to look like it's traveled all around the world, and only just now found its way home?

Or include a letter "written in 2002" full of things like

"I have been watching Firefly and OMG it is awesome, I can see this show lasting for a decade"
"The US just invaded Afghanistan...hope that's over quickly."
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:04 PM on June 19 [14 favorites]


Pretend to be his future self mailing them back in time. Mail just a few pages at a time with notes in the margins, regarding specific instructions to avoid future disasters. "Avoid all Brians on July 23rd, 2016."
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:05 PM on June 19 [14 favorites]


'Sorry to have increased your personal entropy by holding onto these for so long.

Hope you (and the ghost of Carnot!) won't be too annoyed at this feeble attempt to restore Initial Conditions.'
posted by jamjam at 12:06 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


"Hey Peter! Thanks for lending them way back when. I've been studying hard for the last 12 years. Your notes were very helpful. Have them down to a t now. Hope you're well! jeffxl "
posted by travelwithcats at 12:13 PM on June 19 [17 favorites]


I might include a forlorn hope that he did okay on the test even though you had his notes.
posted by janey47 at 12:16 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The thing is, I love travelwithcats' suggestion but that's because I understand the context and the jokiness.
If he doesn't know you well he could suspect you of being slightly deranged and it would make him feel weirded out and uncomfortable. Deadpan humour is always risky with people who don't know you well.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:18 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Friend,

Thanks for letting me borrow these 12 years ago.

I think I finally understand thermodynamics now.

Best,

jeffxl
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:21 PM on June 19 [83 favorites]


You should probably just pitch 'em. What would you say? "Here are your decade-plus old notes. Hope you passed the class!" :P
posted by strelitzia at 12:22 PM on June 19


Omnomnom: "[...] he could suspect you of being slightly deranged and it would make him feel weirded out and uncomfortable. Deadpan humour is always risky with people who don't know you well."

Nah, the OP said he has no desire to reestablish contact. No need to pretend to be normal.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:26 PM on June 19


Don't be clever or funny with it. That's for people you're connected with already, or sometimes in the proverbial room that reads as receptive to it. The failure mode of clever is 'asshole' is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, especially with correspondence out of the blue. Just a straightforward friendly note, well wishes, a "remember when $nostalgia1, $nostalgia2, and $nostalgia3? Good times!" to spice up the nostalgia-return, and all's good.
posted by Drastic at 12:27 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I mean, I'm doing it because I think it's funny, not because I want to reconnect or because I think he actually needs them.


I don't think it's that funny, but can't you just scan them in and email them? You're just passing on garbage at this point. It's just going to seem weird since you haven't talked to your old classmate in that long even if you get a chuckle out of it.
posted by discopolo at 12:28 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


"It only took me 3,674 tries, but I finally nailed that Thermodynamics test!"
posted by xingcat at 12:39 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


The only proper way to do this is to use the notes to wrap a 12-year-old bottle of scotch.
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on June 19 [30 favorites]


If you don't care about the money: send it if it amuses you.

Sending it hoping that it will amuse the receiver is unpredictable.

As long as the note isn't particularly creepy or threatening no one will get hurt; so why not?
posted by herox at 12:47 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


For the record, I would think it was funny if I got these in the mail.
I think ellyvortex's idea is hilarious, but since you have no clue how these will be received, I'd just go with a post-it saying: "Thanks! -jeffxl" Then it would be mystifying at worst, and funny at best.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:48 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Maybe if you want to make it more eyebrow raising: "I graduated. Thanks! -jeffxl"
posted by anonymisc at 2:36 PM on June 19


I want to add a vote for "this is hilarious." I would LOVE to get something like this, but I think understated is definitely better - "thanks for letting me borrow these" is juuuust about perfect. Act as though no time at all has passed. It will be awesome.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:44 PM on June 19


I would also find this hilarious. Maybe something to the "how'd you do on the final?" effect?
posted by smittosmith at 2:50 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


As someone who has had stuff come back to her 10 years later from long lost acquaintances, this IS super funny - and I always appreciated them thinking to send my stuff back.
If you are worried that he'd feel weird by you having his address, could drop it off at his parents' house next time you are in your hometown, with a properly bizarre thankyou note.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 4:10 PM on June 19


With all due respect to John Scalzi, the failure mode of clever is 'asshole,' but the failure mode of polite is boring.

There's a small chance your classmate will remember who borrowed the notes, and an even smaller chance they'll be of use. The best you can hope for is to make the experience interesting.

I'd vote for a completely anonymous package with no note. Ideally mailed from the most remote foreign country you're likely to visit in the next few years. Even better, stamped with "non-classified" on every page. Let them wonder. The mystery is worth more than the story. Don't waste the weird.
posted by eotvos at 6:31 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


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