A Remote Possibility
June 21, 2018 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I sent a package through USPS to a friend. When she opened it, there were additional items I had not put in it and had never seen before. We are both baffled. Help us solve this mystery!

I borrowed a pair of headphones from a friend who lives across the country while I was visiting her to use on the flight home. Monday I took them to the post office and mailed them back to her using the smallest flat rate box. I did not add extra tape to the box, just used the self adhesive. I am quite sure there was nothing else in the box. I folded it from flat.

When she received the box today she texted me, “Why did you send me remotes?” I was confused. She explained and sent a photo of two identical universal TV remotes wrapped in plastic in the box alongside the headphones. The remotes appear to be new.

The only theory we can come up with is that our box and another box both came open in transit and the postal worker got mixed up about what went in which box.

Evidence against this theory is that there was no additional tape on the box or signs it had been crushed or bent.

She receives her packages through a door man in case that’s relevant.

The package arrived in the time expected: sent Monday, received Thursday. No delays.

Someone may be playing a prank on us, but I seriously doubt my friend is playing a prank on me.

Theories on how and why this happened?
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you certain that it was the exact same box that you used? Is there a possibility that the original box got damaged and the contents were put into an entirely new box (in which case there would be no additional tape, etc)? I'm just spit-balling here because that's weird.
posted by acidnova at 3:00 PM on June 21, 2018 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Having worked at the post office, I can say your theory is very possible. Parcels popped open, tore, leaked, etc all the time. If it was pretty clear what went where, we'd usually try to patch it up best we could, attach the proper forms for the customer to make a claim etc, and try to get it to them as best we could. Parcels (boxes) and spurs (soft packages) are sorted into big bins (called 'pumpkins') by route-- if two boxes pop open, the contents would end up in the bottom of the pumpkin and no idea what goes where.
posted by The otter lady at 3:04 PM on June 21, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I had this happen to me! It was pretty clearly a case of two smushed boxes. I actually contacted the company I'd ordered from because I got two random bottles of commercially available shampoo, one of which had spilled in-box. I thought they were a badly chosen free sample.

(Happily, the things I'd ordered were well-wrapped and were not damaged.)
posted by Frowner at 3:09 PM on June 21, 2018

Best answer: Also, that self-adhesive is not very good-- it does pop open sometimes. It could have popped open, postal person stuffed things in, and re-sealed it. Usually you're supposed to strap it up with special tape that says something like "DAMAGED" and put a form on it, but if the box popped open intact I can easily see some postal worker just going "eh looks fine off it goes"

I had this happen in one of my loads actually. Something like two cans of paint and a couple of tools-- it was easy enough to guess the paint went in the "PAINT COMPANY" box and the tools went in the "Jim's Hardware" box, but it's usually not that simple.
posted by The otter lady at 3:10 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me when my package was on a truck that crashed. The contents of the boxes were mixed up and I received a box with what was expected and also just some random stuff.
posted by dis_integration at 4:16 PM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding the otter lady - I work for the USPS and while rare, this sort of thing does indeed happen. Packages can come open, especially if they aren't sealed properly. The clerks and mail handlers who encounter them will do their best to match up loose contents with packages,but mistakes will be made.
posted by Roger Pittman at 4:20 PM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Look at the handwriting on the front of the box and see if it is yours. If not, you can be pretty sure it was an accidental mispackaging after damage. If it is yours, then we have a deeper mystery...
posted by MountainDaisy at 6:07 PM on June 21, 2018

Response by poster: The same label I wrote out and affixed to the box is still on the box (so I assume it’s the same box as I think it would be difficult to detach and reattach the label without visible damage).
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 6:22 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Couldn’t they have peeled off the label and package-taped it onto the new box? Even if it took a layer off with it, it’d still lay pretty flat.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:26 PM on June 21, 2018

Peeling the label off and sticking it on a new box is waaaay more time-consuming than the average postal worker has time for. If your office is anything like mine was, your package got maybe 30 seconds of attention. Grab, cuss, search, stuff, seal. Grab tape and forms? Nah, looks good to go.

Maybe later they found the other empty package that had the remotes and went, "Hmm. Oh well" and just stuck a form on that package instead.

I would bet Roger Pittman's office is better run and staffed than mine was, and doesn't have quite such chaos, but I've no idea what yours is like; just saying, peeling labels and so forth is 1. time consuming and 2. NOT according to the almighty regulations, which would be report, forms, tape, tell supervisor. I think. It's been a while and I try to forget.
posted by The otter lady at 6:56 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For completeness in the theorizing: in the course of the Snowden revelations we found out that the NSA has a group called Tailored Access Operations which intercepts packages and modifies their contents. But that seems to normally be packages containing computer networking equipment being sent to targets of particular national security interest.

Just in case though, your friend should put on a hat and gloves made of tinfoil before attempting to use the TV remotes. And don't cross the streams.
posted by XMLicious at 7:43 PM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

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