Fear not, for behold the kiosk of holiday cards

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2011 - 6:51 PM

Perhaps we all had the same reaction to the news that the U.S. Postal Service may discontinue next-day delivery: They have next-day delivery?

I always assume two-day. It would have been smart to issue a press release that says: "Postal Service Guarantees New Two-Day Delivery Program." Then we'd all be impressed.

But now that we know they're still capable of delivering your missives in a day, that means procrastinators can rest easy: Don't have to mail the cards until the 23rd! Which means you can wait until the 22nd to get the cards.

Those of us who plan ahead, however, prefer to get our photo cards made up early, and that means a trip to one of the make-your-own-card kiosks you find in stores around the city.

Herewith, a description of your experience.

The screen says: What would you like today? You think anything but this.

You choose CARDS and see several options: Ugly, Less Ugly, Retro Ugly, Looks Almost Soviet and Sorta Religious. (This usually has the We-Three-Kings-of-Orient-Were, riding on silhouetted camels.)

You choose a design that has snowflakes, because nothing says the season of peace and charity like stylized frozen water. Then you have a choice of nonsectarian greetings, which all sound like "Intending positive outcomes for the current interval!" Or you can go STRAIGHT UP HARDCORE and choose "Merry Christmas," or some such polarizing sentiment.

Now: Choose your photo.

The machine says you can choose any photo from your Facebook account, a handy option for people who want their card to show them blotto in Cancun with a plastic cup of beer and a fresh tattoo in the happy days before the infection set in.

But you don't want to sign in with Facebook. You're tired of being asked to sign in with Facebook. You suspect that when you die you will be asked at the Pearly Gates to sign in with Facebook. Still, it's useful for some: Next to you in the kiosk there's a young woman paging through 395,205 Facebook photos for her card, looking for one in which she's not making duck lips in a nightclub.

On your right, a couple are trying to do something that the machine will not let them do, like "make a Christmas card without weeping or swearing." Their conversation: "Go back. Use the Go Back button." "Then I'll lose everything." "It'll just go back to the typing screen." "No, it won't." "Yes, it will." She taps the GO BACK button and returns to the home screen, wiping out all progress. "What would you like to do today?" says the screen. Kill my husband.

At least the machine was responsive; usually you can eat an entire apple in the time between touching something on the screen and getting a reaction. That includes flossing. The only time the machine responds briskly is when you're mistakenly wiping out all your progress, because it hates you and lacks fingers it could poke in your eyes.

The doomed couple call out for help to a clerk who wears the expression of someone who's been processing souls into hell for five centuries straight without a break. She really doesn't have much empathy left. Let me guess. You'd like me to turn back time. I'll see what I can do.

Meanwhile, you're entering your message, having chosen an ugly old font left over from Windows 95. You stab the screen with your finger, write the message and look at the result: "Gaoot Gikusata." Huh. Really.

You note that stabbing the P key gives you an O. Everything's shifted one letter over, except the A remains an A. Happy Holidays is Gaoot Gikusata. If your name is James you are now Hanwa. This is fine if you'd wanted to send out the cards in a Polynesian dialect of Esperanto, but those weren't your spouse's instructions, so you retype.

It looks good. Yet you wonder which misspelled word you're not seeing, which will be instantaneously apparent to your wife; well, you'll know soon enough. Hit SEND! No turning back! Ready in 45 minutes, says the screen.

You remember last year, when you thought you could shop for 45 minutes, but it turns out that you can do everything you need to do at the store in 30, and after that you're wandering the bra aisle or reading nutritional information on geriatric supplements or hanging around the sample lady back in frozen foods, waiting for her to finish another pizza. She gave you a hard look after the fourth piece.

No Gikusata spirit, that one.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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