This is the story of a box. A lonely box that could not find its way home. It is banal and ordinary, but stay with me and you'll learn how you can spend extra money to learn why your package never arrived.

I ordered something online, because it was easy. Oh, I could go to the store, walk up to the counter, and say "Hail, friend tradesman, seller of fine goods, stout pillar of our local economic system, I would like to exchange these pieces of paper for those items there. Let us talk about the weather and the Vikings while the transaction is finalized. It is getting colder, and Kurt Cousins seemed jittery and unsure in that Cowboys game. Farewell."

But hey, online is so much easier. Off to a site that sold what I wanted in a dazzling array of options. Of course, a password is required, which is like going to the grocery store and being unable to buy milk unless you input your high school locker combination. I did not choose expensive shipping, but preferred to let the USPS cart the box across the land at the speed of their choosing.

I mean, how long could it take?

After a while, I began to expect the box. Should be here. Isn't. Well, it'll come tomorrow. Didn't. I assumed, as we do these days, that it had been snatched from the porch by some miscreant. I am not happy how we default to "robbery" as a reason for something not showing up, as if it's some natural phenomenon, like weather. As if the TV news anchor should stand before a map, and say, "We have a front of packages moving in early tomorrow, and it's going to collide with this band of crooks, so expect scattered property loss through the day, clearing by sunset."

Then I remembered the company had sent me a tracking number. I found the e-mail, and plugged it into the website. It was something like 4938594303459431323354, if memory serves. Ah. The package was in a local warehouse. It had been there for three days.

It had not moved. It was like Thor's hammer, perhaps. Only the righteous and pure of heart could pick it up. Or it had been kicked under a table, and no one knew it was lost. Suddenly my heart wells up with pathos for my poor package, forgotten, alone in the dark, no doubt scared. It just wants to get home! This, I realized, would make a good animated movie.

Nothing you'd see in the theaters, but sure, direct to streaming. The little USPS package has to team up with a lost FedEx package to get to their destinations, and despite their different shipping code paradigms — one's alphanumeric, one's strictly numeric — they form a bond, and make their way, fighting off porch pirates and backyard dogs.

Anyway. For a few days I entered the package's tracking number, and it didn't move. After eight days I submitted a complaint using their fully automated system. You're asked to input the tracking number. OK.

493 ... 859 ... 430 ... 4 NO backspace 3, 234 —

After 15 seconds, the robot is apologetic: "I'm sorry, I need your tracking number."

That's what I'm doing!

"If you need more time, say 'Hold.'"

I don't! Let me enter the other 37 digits and we'll be good!

"I'm sorry, I need your tracking number. Please call back when you have found it." And I'm dumped to the main menu.

Three attempts, same thing. Eventually I used the USPS website to report the problem, and was assured that a team would get right on it. As if red lights started flashing, klaxons blared, and someone somewhere answered a phone on the nightstand: "What? What's that? A package has been sitting in the warehouse for 10 days? Gas up the jet, I'm leaving the house in five minutes."

Then I saw something at the bottom of the webpage: an option to pay for extended tracking. My item was "eligible for USPS Tracking Plus (TM) Extended History. You may purchase USPS Tracking Plus for only one tracking number at a time." You give them money, and they e-mail you everywhere your package has been.

For $2.10, I could track the package for six months. For $3.59, I could track it for three years. There were five- and seven-year options. For the low, low price of $9.99, I could track the package for a decade.

Here I am, peeved that my package sat in the warehouse for 10 days, and they're giving me the option of watching it sit on a shelf unmolested for 10 years.

To my surprise, I got a call the next day. Good news: The package is finally out for delivery.

Great, so it'll be here today?

"Well, no, it was sent to the wrong post office, so it'll probably be delivered tomorrow."

And so it was. Happy ending, I guess, but let me tell you, I've learned my lesson. No more e-commerce for me. I want ice cream, I'm going to the store to buy it.