Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Other Robert B. Kaplan

Last week, I reviewed a book that somebody mailed me. As you may recall, I didn't think much of the book. However, one thing I liked was that it was mailed to me from clear across the country (which in this case is the United States of America), and it took less than a week to get to my mailbox.

"Big deal," you may be thinking, and normally I'd be inclined to agree with you, but this week I consider such speedy delivery to be some sort of minor miracle.

On October 8th or 9th, I ordered a book from an Amazon.com partner. I was notified by email that the book would be mailed on the 10th and that I could expect to receive it by the 30th.

Twenty days seems like enough time to get a book from one place to another, but it wasn't. On October 30th, I contacted the seller and she agreed with me that the book must have gotten lost in the mail. It wasn't, though. I finally received the book on October 31st. I checked the postmark, and it was sent on the 10th, so there's no explanation for why it took so long to get to me. Maybe it's because October is a busy mail month, which I doubt because I know it isn't.

The book, by the way, is called The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker. It's probably one of the funniest collections of single-panel cartoons I've seen in a long time, but it wasn't too hard to see why a lot of them were rejected.

A few times, I even laughed out loud. I don't laugh out loud a lot, and I don't think I've ever laughed out loud at a cartoon that was published in The New Yorker. The cartoons they publish are usually pretty funny, and they usually make me think something like, "That was pretty funny" or "That was kind of cute" or "That was sort of droll" or "That's the kind of witty but not necessarily funny sort of cartoon that The New Yorker tends to print." But I never laughed out loud at one. Or if I did, I don't remember. So consider that a recommendation of The Rejection Collection.

By the way, speaking of people named Robert B. Kaplan getting books in the mail, a week or two ago I got a sort of interesting phone message from someone I didn't know. She got my number from the phone book and she called to tell me that a package from some publishing company had been delivered for me at her address, and she had no idea why that happened. She left me her phone number and street address. The only thing her address and my address have in common is that they're both in the same city.

I knew immediately what had happened, of course, although not because I'm such a genius but rather because I happen to know that in the sleepy little bedroom community that I live in, there used to be another Robert B. Kaplan.

I never met him, but there was a time when he was an inescapable presence in my life. That's because he had an unlisted phone number and I didn't, so whenever anyone wanted to call him and didn't have his number, they always ended up calling me instead. And there were a lot of people who wanted to call him. I could never understand why so many of the people he knew didn't have his phone number, but I could never ask him, because his phone number was unlisted.

As an aside, have you ever wondered where the term "bedroom community" comes from, or for that matter, what it even means? I always thought it meant a quiet cozy little community, but it doesn't. According to wikipedia.org, it's a primarily residential area in which most of its workers commute to a nearby city. In England, they apparently call it a "dormitory town," which doesn't have as nice a ring to it, but it still gets the idea across: It's a place where people go to sleep when their work day is over. Then when morning comes, they get out of bed and go back to work again.

Anyway, in my cozy little bedroom community of about 42,000 people, it seemed sort of odds-defying that we'd both have the same name. But we did, and as a result, I used to get a lot of phone messages intended for the other Robert B. Kaplan. And, strangely enough, in not one of those messages did the caller leave a phone number, so I could never call him back and explain the situation. I always used to wonder if all those people ever got angry at the other Robert B. Kaplan for never returning their phone calls. I also used to wonder if his voice sounded anything like mine -- I would have expected that at least one person listening to my outgoing message might have thought, "Hmm. That doesn't sound like the Robert B. Kaplan I know."

Of course, for all I know, maybe at least one person did think that. Maybe he was the one person out of twenty or thirty or forty who didn't leave me a message. We'll never know, of course, but there was a time when I got so many messages for the other Robert B. Kaplan that it seemed like I was getting more messages for him than I was for myself. So I changed my outgoing message to explain that there were two Robert B. Kaplans and to inform the callers that they were very likely contacting the wrong one.

I thought that might do the trick, but I was wrong. The messages I got for the other Robert B. Kaplan just kept pouring in.

The problem eventually went away, but not until the other Robert B. Kaplan went away. And the only reason I knew he was leaving is that a few real estate agents left me phone messages that were obviously intended for him.

So he moved away, and the phone messages eventually went away too. That was years ago, so I was a little surprised when I got the phone call from the woman in the other Robert B. Kaplan's old house. I called her back but she wasn't home, so I left her a message. I told her there used to be a guy named Robert B. Kaplan who lived in her house, but I was thinking of leaving her an entirely different message. I was thinking of just telling her to forward the package she received to me. That way, I'd at least receive a book in the mail, even if it wasn't the one I ordered.