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Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Ship has Come In: a Tale of Tragedy and Comedy

I've got this friend, Liesl, whom I met in an online chatroom about 25 years ago.  It's amazing the friends one can make through that crazy thing called the internet.  But we've been friends for years and years and I'm awed and love her to death.

Liesl is kinda brilliant -- a former philosophy professor who started out as an assistant director in Los Angeles on Power Rangers.  Now she's in graduate school again, studying to be a therapist.  Yes, life is that weird.

Anyway, my friend Liesl occasionally gets into her cups and goes shopping online.  She calls it "tipsy shopping."  And she realizes she's been overdoing it a bit when she wakes up in the morning and realizes she's adopted an olive tree in Italy. Seriously.  That really happened.  I mean, I like olive oil as much as the next guy, but this is crazy!

So the other day, I sent her a message telling her I'd outdone her olive tree.  Here's what happened:

A few nights ago, I sent her the following message:

"Okay, so I've got you beat tipsy buying online."

"Oh? What happened?"

"I've got this thing for really beautiful model ships."

And I do.  I've always loved them.  In fact, I kinda like boy toys.  When I was a kid, I was dying for one of those little race-car sets.  What were they called?  Hot wheels?  A tool set would've been nice. But Santa never brought it.  Every year it was Barbie.  And Barbie was okay.  But I hated baby dolls. Then I discovered model trains and never asked for one, but admired them from afar.  I finally gave up on boy toys.

So anyway, I recently discovered this online estate-sale site: Everything But the House.  And I've gotten some really beautiful, cool items there.  Totally useless, but beautiful.  Case in point?  This birdcage:

Oh, be still my heart!   Came with the table and everything.  And it was a bargain.

Anyway, one night, I'm on the site, sitting around sipping on Crown Royal and I see the most beautiful model ship I've ever seen.  I've always admired model ships, but they're always clipper ships or the NiƱa or the Pinta or something.  This was a galleon.  I HAD to have it.  But I was outbid.  And I was bereft.

So I though, "Hmm....I wonder if I could find another one like it somewhere online."  I took a sip of my drink and Googled "model ships."  And, boy, did I find model ships!  You wouldn't believe the ships you can find out there.  Ancient Egyptian, Viking, Clippers, Pirates, Cruise Ships, et al.  Totally cool.

And I saw a photo of this beautiful Spanish Galleon called the San Felipe XI.  I took another sip and thought, "Gosh.  I wonder why they had so many ships named San Felipe."  This one was incredible. It was on a home-decor site called Houzz and was made by Old Modern Handicrafts, Inc.   It was made with mahogany and teak and rosewood and was simply gorgeous.  It was a limited edition. They'd only made five of them.  And there were only two left.

And it was on sale for about a third of the original asking price, which was still pretty steep, but I'd just made some rather big money and I was feeling kinda rich.  And I really, really wanted that boat. It would look perfect in the den on the table behind the sofa.  I took another sip.

Me to self:  You know?  I don't buy a lot of clothes.  Heck half my shoes come from WalMart.  I do splurge on dinners out now and then.   I really deserve this boat.  I can afford it and it's free shipping. Look at that rigging!  Look at the galley!  Check out that hull.  If I had that boat, my life would be complete.

I took another sip.  Wow.  Free shipping.  Wotthehell.  What could possibly go wrong?

So I bought it.

A few days later, I get an e-mail from Houzz:  Your order has shipped!

My first clue that something was amiss happened a few days later when I get a call from the shipping company:

"Ma'am, we're delivering an item you ordered from Houzz, and need to know if an 18-wheeler can get down your street."

"Gee," I thought.  "They must be one of those shipping companies that ships stuff along with other people's stuff when they move or something."

My street's pretty narrow and the power lines hang down pretty low.

"Um, I don't think so," I said.  They may have to park on Orleans Street and walk it down here."

"Ma'am, this package weighs 151 pounds."


Oh, my God.  What have I done?

"Well, I guess he'd better bring a dolly."

A little while later there's a knock at the door.  I open the door to a very sweaty, very winded, very pissed-off man with a HUGE box.

"Oh, my!  I had no idea it was this big," I stuttered.  "I don't know if I can keep this."

"Yeah, well, lady, you can take that up with the store.  This thing is danged heavy and I had to cart it all the way down here from Orleans Street.  Sign this.  I got to go."

I sheepishly signed the ticket and asked him to at least put it inside the house before he left.

Once he was gone, I raced to my computer and wrote to Houzz:

I received the following order today. I had no idea this boat was going to be this large. I thought it would fit on a parson's table, but it's clear it's much too big. I'd like to know if I can return it in exchange for a smaller model. I'm willing to pay the shipping for the return order.
I realize the mistake was my own, and would really appreciate it if you could help me out of this mess. Thanking you in advance, blah, blah, blah.

I figured it'd cost two- or three-hundred dollars to send it back, but it was just too big to keep.

So the next day, I get this nice response from Houzz:

Hi Elodie,

Thank you for reaching out to Houzz! We are sorry to hear the order did not work out, but are happy to assist with a return. We are working to obtain the necessary return information and will follow up as soon as possible with next steps.

Shew!  I really dodged a bullet!  Then a couple days later:

Hi Elodie,

I wanted to follow up with you in regards to your order.

We have made arrangements with our freight carrier for the return. They will contact you shortly to schedule a pickup. If you prefer to contact AGS to arrange please call (800) 645-8300 and reference your order number. Please note the cost of return shipping,$970.04, will be deducted from your final refund.

Oh, dear!  What to do???

In the meantime, Boyfriend wanted to know what the heck that HUGE box was in the hall.

"Oh, nothing.  I ordered something by mistake.  It's going back."

That night we went to dinner at Pearl Street Pasta.  My stomach was in knots.  

"Um, Boyfriend?  I've got something to confess.  I blurted out the whole sordid, silly tale.  I knew he'd never let me live this down.

"But I've come up with a solution," I added quickly.

"Oh, really," he smirked.  "What is it?"

"Well, I've given it a lot of thought and I've decided to donate it to Trinity School."

 It was my Alma Mater, and my parents had been instrumental in starting the school.  My dad built the building after it moved from Magnolia Hall, an antebellum mansion that needed to go back to its former glory.  

"That way, I can write it off my taxes as a charitable donation."

"Why don't you donate it to the Historic Natchez Foundation?"

"What do they want with a giant Spanish Galleon?" I countered.  "I think the school would rather have it."

"Well, Natchez was under Spanish rule for awhile," he said.  You should ask Mimi Miller (executive director of the Foundtion)."

Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River.  It has a colorful and varied history, having been under the flags of France, Spain, England and the United States.  The City just celebrated its tricentennial.

No sooner had he said it than Ron and Mimi Miller walked by with two out-of-town guests.  I reached out and grabbed Mimi's arm.  

"Mimi!  Hey!  Um, could I talk to you for a minute?"

It took quite awhile for her to stop laughing.  It WAS funny.  Tipsy shopping can, indeed, be dangerous.

I showed her pictures of the boat from the Houzz site.

"We'd love to have it," she said.

She walked over to her table in the corner and her guests.  In a few minutes there was garrulous laughter erupting from the corner.  I walked over to show them the email about $970 shipping fee.  Then I told them what I'd done.  Later, Mimi said one of her guests asked, "Is everybody in this town this much fun?"

Well, of course we are.  We're from Natchez.  We drink Crown Royal and go shopping on the internet.

The day they came over to relieve me of my galleon, Mimi told me they'd just brought it in from the truck and she settled down at her computer to check her email.  There waiting like destiny, itself, was an email from The Smithsonian Institution, asking if the Historic Natchez Foundation would host an exhibit on the history of waterways in Mississippi.

"I'm putting that boat smack dab in the middle of the exhibit," Mimi chortled.  They've found it a prominent place in the front office of the foundation among the books, papers, paintings and ephemera that make Natchez such a wonderful place.

I figured out later that San Felipe XI meant Extra Large, not the 11th.  But look at that picture of the receipt. I may have had a drink or two, but THAT was an honest mistake.  I just failed to read the specs.  And this boat is every bit as beautiful as promised.  In fact, I'm surprised it didn't cost MUCH, MUCH more than it did.  Houzz was courteous and prompt and the boat company was, as well.

To read the fascinating and tragic history of the San Felipe, go this article:  Ship's story revealed in 435-year-old wreckageYou won't be disappointed.

As for me?  I found another model boat on Everything But the House.  It's not the San Felipe, but it was only $15.  And it came with a boat in a bottle, too.  So there.  

Oh, and Liesl agrees:  I've outdone her in spades.

See below for pictures of Elodie's folly: