This is the time of year when millions of packages are delivered to American homes -- and some are not.
Most packages are delivered by normal human beings whose behavior is comprehensible to other normal human beings.
But some packages are delivered by two-fisted ringbangers. The two-fisted ringbanger is a flighty bird, a breed known more for its impatience and waste motion than for its good sense.
A rational human driver who has a package to deliver comes to the door and rings the doorbell. He does not expect the householder to be crouched behind the door with his hand on the knob, ready to fling open the portal the instant the bell is rung.
If the door is not answered after 15 or 20 seconds, a normal human driver rings again, If the door is still unanswered, he knocks. After all, the bell may be out of order.
Not so with a ringbanger. A ringbanger rings the bell and pounds on the door simultaneously. Heaven only knows how he holds the package, rings the bell and pounds, all at the same time. Possibly he has three arms. Or perhaps he pounds on the door with his head.
A householder with quick reflexes who is within 20 feet of his door when a ringbanger strikes can, if he hurries, get to the door fast enough to catch a glimpse of the ringbanger as he scurries back to his truck. One who is two rooms removed from the door when a ringbanger arrives has no chance whatever of responding in time.
In due course, the householder will discover whether the ringbanger left his package at the door, left a notice that he tried to deliver a package but "you were not at home," or left a notice relating where the package could be be picked up.
In my case, I seldom find either a package or a note. The only clue I have is the sound or sight of a large truck pulling away through the foliage -- usually a United Parcel Service truck. The United States Postal Service appears to employ a smaller percentage of ringbangers.
I had an encounter with a prime specimen of the ringbanger genus just this week. After working all night on the Children's Hospital letters that have begun to arrive, I went to bed about 9 a.m., so overtired that at 10 I was still wide awake when the ringing and banging began.
Ours is a small house, and for an old man I move with reasonable dispatch. I doubt that it took me more than 10 seconds to reach the door, but by that time the ringbanger was gone and I saw what appeared to be a United Parcel truck pulling away.
I went back to bed thinking black thoughts, and finally fell asleep. When I did, the doorbell rang again. No banging, just the bell.
Outside was a young man holding a package. When he handed it to me, he said, "I live across the street. They left this with me."
Where I live, "across the street" is like the length of the backstretch at Pimlico. If you'd like to know why the package wasn't left at the house 25 feet to the right of ours or 25 feet to the left of ours, you'll have to ask that ringbanger. But first you'll have to catch him.
Most people have by this time learned to wait at least six rings of the telephone before assuming that the called party is not at home. Even 10 rings require a wait of only 60 seconds.
Phones ring while householders are in the basement, in the attic, in the bathtub, or at the kitchen sink, up to their elbows in dishwater. For me, the phone rings only when I am shaving or making breakfast, with the toaster, the coffee pot, the softboiled eggs and the telephone all demanding attention simultaneously.
Is it unreasonable to wait a few seconds to give people a chance to answer? Of course not.
If ringbangers were as patient as telephoners, I dare say there would be fewer mix-ups in the delivery of Christmas packages.
And the fidgety ringbangers might even save themselves some time and effort.
Try it, fellows. It took you quite a few days to get that package to my door; why not wait 10 seconds longer and actually turn it over to me?
THESE MODERN TIMES
Bob Orben resents the implication that his inveterate TV watching marks him as a person of low mentality. "I may even write a fan letter to my favorite network," he says. "How do you spell ABC?"