What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


On Friday morning when I took one of my routine trips to the post office, I was surprised to see a long line snaking out the door, moving at a glacial pace. Actually, with global warming, this metaphor no longer applies because glaciers move faster than bureaucratic processes, and eventually disappear. Bureaucracy and the lines at the post office just go on and on.

Surprise turned to shock when I finally managed to get in the door and heard the one employee who works at the 3-position counter apologetically tell a customer that she had to manually type in all of the information from the “short” customs form. I went into deep denial at that point, hoping that I had misheard. Surely all of the information anyone needs is on the form, which is completed in triplicate. There’s the sender’s address, the recipient’s address, detailed information on what is in the package, the country of origin, the value of the goods, whether it’s a gift or merchandise, … well, you get the idea. One copy of the form goes on the package, one goes to the sender, and one goes in a filing box, presumably to be stored in some obscure bureaucratic silo, the contents of which eventually grow into a compacted mass as glaciers used to do in the good old days. Every form has a bar code that presumably can be scanned to track the package’s progress. Is that not record enough?

My denial was in vain, because when I finally got up to the counter, I was told that all of the information from the three forms associated with the sample packs that I was shipping internationally had to be typed into the clunky, cranky old PC-type terminal – apparently not an easy task given that it didn’t “like” half of what she tried to put in. The poor employee was looking frazzled, partly because she was struggling with everyone’s bad handwriting, international addresses and non-English entries, the passive-aggressive people who were tired of waiting in line, and then my sarcastic comments poured on top of that. I did try to be as nice as I could to her, given that the whole fiasco was not her fault.

Of course I asked her why she was suddenly required to type in information from the customs forms, and she seemed surprised by the question. Her response was that when she had come to work that morning there was a message informing her that from now on she was supposed to type in all of the information from every customs form.

“But why?”, I asked. She replied that she did not know. It was just the order she had received.

“From whom?” She did not know.

“Who made this incredibly stupid decision?” She did not know, but thought it must have been someone in the US Customs Office.

“Why would the US Customs Office suddenly want to triple the work of every postal employee when the post office is laying off half of their employees and closing offices? It makes no sense to create unnecessary work at the same time as the labor force is reduced.” She could not answer that question.

“Why do you need to duplicate information that’s already on the forms in triplicate?” She didn’t know, but thought maybe it had something to do with the fact that US Customs is now run by “Homeland Security”.

Ahhhhh … now it all started to make a little bit of sense, albeit illogical sense, and only if one is prone to paranoid conspiracy theories.

“Is there someone I can complain to?” She gave me the card of the person in charge of the main post office.

When I called the number, the person in charge had the same reaction as the employee. She was surprised that I complained, and she did not know why the post office had been asked to manually enter information from every customs form. I asked her who had made the decision, and her answer was that “they” had made the decision and issued the order.

I asked the obvious question, “Who are ‘they’?” She had no clue.

What I did learn from her is that there is a company that, for a price, provides software that allows one to fill out customs forms online and, presumably, transmit that information to the post office’s computer system. Two conspiracies for the price of one! Not only can the US government have digital access to a record of everything that everyone ships everywhere in the world, people can pay a company for the privilege of easily providing these data to whatever faceless big-brother bureaucrats sit in their dreary cubicles compiling piles of useless information. Not only can your tax dollars be used to support this ludicrous waste of human and digital energy, you can pay extra to do it in style.

Now that I think about it, there’s a third component to the whole scheme. With postal employees doing a whole lot of extra, unproductive work, the post office will lose even more money than they currently do, and accelerate their slide into bankruptcy. The whole shebang can then be taken over by something like Central Services in the old film Brazil. And no one will ask, “Why?”

[Glacier photo from Wikimedia; customs form sample from USPS website, Brazil image from Wikipedia]


  1. Really bad stuff is going down at the Post Office! I know someone (I won't mention a name or how I know this person) who works for the post office and I hear the stories. The physical work is brutal, the paperwork illogical and excessive, the customers are understandably cranky, the buildings are usually in disrepair. De-regulation (or whatever it was that happened to the Post Office) is at the heart of the problem. The Post Office has to deal with the worst issues of a public agency while at the same time being held fiscally accountable like private business. A business model designed for failure.

    I'd like to rant too! I'm really tired of hearing all of the "trickle down" economic illogic. We know that a lot of things roll and trickle downhill, but money is not one of these things and it never will be. All of us (customers and employees of the PO alike) are getting a taste of what rolls downhill as we deal with this new version of the postal "service". Gail

  2. De-regulation is not really the problem with the Post Office. I should have referred to the problem as "Re-Regulation" and "Semi-Privatization", truly the worst of both possible worlds! It does make me want to ask WHY the Post Office was set up to fail and WHO will benefit from the imposition of this new business model of "Confuse, Restructure and Control" of what once was a government agency? Gail

    1. Gail, You're absolutely correct that the problem is semi-privatization, imposing all of the arcane and dysfunctional government regulations and restrictions, withdrawing government support, but still expecting the organization to make a profit. The state universities are suffering from the same problem. You can't have it both ways.

  3. Hi Ellen,

    I read this post recently, so I was prepped for my international samples mailing yesterday (6/18/2012) - (I'm in Seattle). The postal clerk was almost finished entering all my data into the computer when her supervisor announced that "they" had changed the rules - again - and the staff was to go back to the old way of doing things. I asked if anyone knew why things had changed, and then changed back. No reason had ever been given. Everyone just does what they're told.


    1. Cymbaline, I had the same experience when I went to the post office mail stuff yesterday (6/19). The woman who works there gave me a big smile when she saw my international packages and said, "We don't have to type it in any more!!!". As you observed, "they" apparently decided it was a really bad idea and gave the order to stop doing it. Pure craziness.

      I guess we'll never know who "they" were, and we'll never know why.