If you attended Obscura Day 2012 in San Francisco, you may have seen my paper airplane. What was it doing there?
It’s a long story, but here’s the short version.
The Elsewhere Philatelic Society (a bunch of odd stamp collectors, it’s a long story) at some point asked everyone to send “talismans.” These objects had to be sent through the mail bare — without box packaging of any kind.
I immediately recalled a book I read as a child: Kid’s Shenanigans from Klutz Books. In the book, they mention that you can send any object through the mail as long as it wouldn’t come apart or endanger anyone. They cite a shoe (sans shoelaces) as something that could be safely mailed.
Around that same time, Origami had become a fad, and by extension paper airplanes. I’d gotten pretty good at folding paper, and after reading the Klutz book I’d started to wonder what would happen if I sent a paper airplane through the mail.
To me it seemed like the basic paper airplane was the best shape for mailing purposes. You could tape it in only one spot and it could not come unfolded. Unfastened folded paper, I posited, had the risk of unfolding during the mailing process and stood the risk of damage or being delivered back to the return address.
For a while, I wondered what would happen if I mailed a paper airplane to a friend. But everyone I knew as a kid had the same dude as their postal carrier. I worried that if I sent a paper airplane, the cool gray haired guy who delivered our mail would just carry my paper airplane directly, skipping USPS. I felt like that was cheating, and I still feel like I was justified. A system is more than the sum of it’s parts and I aimed to test the policies of USPS as a whole rather than the generosity of a single employee.
After a while I forgot about the experiment. Other things came up in my life, like girls, college, etc. But then one day it all came back to me: I had to send a talisman to the Elsewhere Philatelic Society. From their ad, it seemed like they’d notify me in some way if I sent something in. Exactly what I’d wanted! So, why not? I made a paper airplane and sent it on its way.
For a while it seemed like nothing had happened. I worried my poor little airplane had gotten destroyed by USPS’ industrial equipment somewhere along the way.
Then, out of the blue, it happened. My paper airplane appeared on this Flickr page, relatively unscathed by USPS. Thus proving my childhood hypothesis: one can send paper airplanes through the mail!
That was a couple of years ago. Now at the little “exhibit” on Potrero Hill the other day, my airplane seems surprisingly still intact despite both USPS and the Elsewhere Philatelic Society’s storage over the past couple years. Victory!
While it’s by far the least cool talisman in their collection, that little paper airplane is important to me as it satisfies a long-held curiosity with USPS and folded paper objects.