Ask yourself this question when tackling a project involving the slightest whiff of technology: "Am I smart enough to succeed?" The answer often is "no" as I discovered this weekend when trying to print my own stamps.
Print my own stamps. Sounds illicit, doesn't it? As if the activity were a gateway drug. "He started by printing his own stamps and then moved to churning out $20 bills."
Illicit aside, the project felt like a bold step toward independence. Printing your own stamps was like growing your own food, making your own soap and knitting your own sweaters. It also could prove to be a team building project, something we might do as a couple.
"You're not going to print your own stamps, are you?" Sue asked, when I told her the kit I was ordering from Stamps.com included a scale.
Maybe the scale bothered her, arguably a gateway piece of equipment: "First, they were weighing parcels to determine postage but the scale worked so well, they used it for a profitable side business. "
I had heard the advertisement for Stamps.com on a Bill Simmons podcast. Bill made it sound so easy. "You can do this," he seemed to say. "No matter who you are."
I bit and not because I was immune to the charms of going to the post office, especially visits to the downtown branch, which can involve a refreshing dose of Americana 2020 style, plus the echoes of old, old Bakersfield. Pushing through the heavy wooden doors, walking on the tile floors is pleasure enough but throw in the plainly dressed 70- and 80-year-old men wielding keys to their post office boxes fishing out rent, residual and royalty checks and you feel like you're somewhere and that somewhere is home.
The tipping point was running out of stamps. How many times, when you have decided that you can longer avoid paying the bills, do you find yourself four stamps short of a royal flush? It's the bill-pay version of the Seinfeld line: "It's one thing to write the check, it's another thing to mail it."
The package from Stamps.com, including the scale for which we have big plans, arrived in two snappy priority mail boxes with "Tracked and Insured" printed boldly on the outside in snappy capital letters. Inside, the cover sheet read "Mail. Ship. Relax" and on the back, "Your life is about to get a lot easier."
Login to website — check. Select template number — check. Load label sheet (the company provides free labels) or regular sheet of paper for a test run — check. Print — check.
I was feeling so good, I opted to print a real stamp on the label sheet rather than warming up with a sample stamp with "Void," on it which was free.
I pressed print and the sheet of labels fed smoothly into the printer and popped out seconds later. Everything was good except I had printed on the non-label side of the paper. I was down 50 cents but I had learned something. I flipped the sheet over and pressed print.
I had printed on the right side but now the stamp was upside down. My total was now $1. I turned the sheet around and printed again. This time, the printer printed between two stamps. I had spent $1.50. I felt like I was at the craps table in Las Vegas and by the end of the evening, I would be taking advances on my paycheck.
I decided practice might be good so I used regular 8½-by-11 printer paper and chose the "sample void" option that didn't cost anything. Forty minutes and 22 sheets later — front and back — I was still half a bubble off and had not yet successfully printed my first stamp either void or otherwise.
I had, however, answered the question posed at the beginning — "Am I smart enough?" — with a "not even close." I look forward to visits to the post office, a repository of pleasant memories and fertile ground for new ones. They also have stamps.