A Day in Kafka Land

by Alma A. Hromic

October 15, 2001

Share this story by E-mail


so we had harper collins NZ ship us a bunch of copies of letters from the fire. they took our order and i eventually got an email saying that they should have been in NYC freight handling facilities in early september, from whence they would be "delivered to your home address." the freight charges were $190.

so, in due time, we get an "arrival notice" from the shipping company in new jersey, demanding $127 more for "handling and documentation." when i squawked they said, oh, they should have told you about that when they sent the books. but they aren't here yet, they won't be in NY yet for another week or so. oh yes, and they won't be delivered to your place. they'll be delivered to the nearest pick up point. a warehouse. in miami. two and half hours south of here.

i contact the warehouse. they haven't even heard of the shipment yet, but they tell me "you'll need a customs release." a what? where i get dat? oh, contact the shippers in new jersey. so i do. oh, they forwarded a copy of the release to the warehouse, and they'll fax it again just to make sure. and contact the warehouse on monday (that was this monday just past) cos the shipment will be there by then. and they have a trucking service, so maybe they'll deliver.

so i phone the warehouse on monday. oh, they're just busy checking stuff but the shipment should be ready for release on wednesday or thursday. is everything in order? yes, ma'am it is. do you deliver the stuff? yes ma'am. for $350 dollars.

say WHAT?

those are our charges ma'am. (implied, take it or leave it). oh, and if we have the thing here with us for more than 5 days we start accruing storage charges.

i'm flying to new zealand on saturday. i need this like a hole in the head. but we're damned if we'll pay them almost twice what it cost to ship the damn books from NEW ZEALAND TO THE UNITED STATES for them truck them just a bit up the road. i said, we'll be down to pick the books up on thursday.

fine, ma'am. bring a pallet, and $55.

bring a WHAT? and ANOTHER $55???

those are our charges, ma'am. and you don't have a pallet?

no, we don't have a pallet!

well that would be ok i guess.

so today (thursday) we pickup sticks and start out from home at something like 8:30 ayem for Miami. we get to the warehouse with relatively few problems, and hand the guy my paperwork.

do you have a bill of lading?

no we don't, we have what we have.

taptaptap on the computer.

sorry ma'am you don't have a customs release. we can't release the freight without a customs release.

but i ASKED the people in new jersey about the customs release and they say they sent it to you! PHONE THEM!

ma'am, YOU can phone them.

he hands me the phone. i speak to three different people in new jersey. finally one of them says, oh THAT release, no we don't have anything to do with that release, that's between the consignee and the warehouse. you'll have to organise the customs release. what is in the freight? personal effects? no, books. used books? no, they are a shipment of MY books, a novel that I'VE written... you'll have to provide some proof to the contents of the packages ma'am.

so where do i get a customs release?

where's the nearest customs office? our warehouse guy asks a truck driver who just walked in. oh, a couple miles up the road.

so we grab our paperwork and drive a couple miles up the road. the woman at the coalface there looks at this thing. sorry, ma'am, but this shipment came in by sea. we only deal with air freight here. you'll have to go down to the port of miami and get it released there.

but but but you're the same damn government agency! how about a phone call, a fax, anything...?

no, ma'am. you have to go down and do it there.

by this stage i'm just about crying from frustration and fury. so we turn around and trot back to the car and drive down to the port of miami. we get ID-checked by an officious official and we finally find the customs office. the woman behind the desk stares blankly at our paperwork.

who sent you here?, she asks disingenuously,

EVERYONE! i practically snap at her. she proceeds to give me a short lecture about how the fact that i am upset is not her business. maybe it isn't but she's there and she's the one who is now responsible. i grit my teeth and shut up. she goes away and taps on the computer some, asks one or two questions (how many boxes? - well it SAYS so, right there on the paper she's holding!!!) and then comes back with our paperwork stamped in red with "released" writ in there in large letters.

have a nice day, she says sweetly.

back we go, via an unintended detour to miami international airport, to the warehouse. pay our 55 bucks. the guy tells me to tell deck to park the car at one set of bays, and sends me to another set of bays to look for "carlos." carlos is a very chatty fellow who feels the need, once he actually arrives on the scene which takes nearly a quarter of an hour, to talk to everyone at length in spanish while waving my release form about. he finally decides to tell me to get deck to bring our truck around to THIS bay,

we don't have a truck, i say with commendable patience, we have a car.

oh? says carlos, wide eyed.

so should i bring the car down here?

oh, sure.

so he goes off to fetch these minute little boxes (for which they wanted 350 bucks to deliver) and dumps them on the edge of the loading bay, deck and i load them into the car (what did we just pay these people 55 bucks for, i wonder?) and finally fight our way back to the I 95. we arrived home dusty, greasy, frustrated, our day alleviated only slightly by our stopping off for lunch at a salvadorean restaurant on the way down (we'd had no breakfast, and, more importantly, i'd only had one cup of coffee all day...)

i have a headache.



       Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. However she has lived outside her native country for much of her life: Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her next novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, is due out in September 2001 with Harper Collins. Recently, Hromic won the much coveted BBC online short story competition. Her story, The Painting, was broadcast in the UK in the last week of January 2001.

         Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Alma A. Hromic 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

                                 E-mail this article to someone
       Enter her/his E-mail address: 


This Week's Internal Links

What Would You do if You Were in Charge? - by Gilles d'Aymery

Casualties Of War - by Alma A. Hromic

Sparrow - by Michael W. Stowell

10 Years to Peace - by Deck Deckert

I'm Against Terrorism: Now, If Only We Could Get Washington On Side - by Stephen Gowans

Preface: Bingo! Simplicity Itself; Oligarchy - by Milo Clark

Back to Basics on the Way to Going Ahead - by Milo Clark

The Presidential Speech - by Milo Clark

Afterword: Function of Failures - by Milo Clark

Suggestions for Concrete Actions - by Jeff Lindemyer

Change the Education Paradigm - by Philip Greenspan

Wisdom and Compassion Need to Become Action - by Andreas Toupadakis

The Media Marches off to War - by Deck Deckert

Civil Disobedience (1849) - by Henry David Thoreau


Alma Hromic's Commentaries on Swans

This is an Emotional Argument (July 2001)

Letter From My Father (June 2001)

They Change Their Sky (May 2001)

Year Two, P.K. (March 2001)

Letter to my Unborn Child (February 2001)

On the Anniversary (September 2000)

Subject: Into Myth (September 2000)

Sadness in Novi Sad, Serbia (April 2000)


Published October 15, 2001
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Main Page]