I Paid for a Bot to Send Me Useless Junk for a Month

Unsurprisingly, this ended up being really annoying.

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Apr 23 2015, 9:00pm

The constant rush of emails, tweets, targeted advertising, and other bullshit blasted at our skulls can sometimes leave you wishing for the days when people used telegrams and postcards. But if you're like me, the only thing the mailman brings you are bills, ads, and credit card scams.

That is, until I signed up for Bobcat in a Box, a bot that indiscriminately purchases random, small objects worth a dollar or less with free shipping from websites like eBay and Amazon. "Expect regular delivery of items that are strange, whimsical, random, occasionally useful, entertaining, and interesting," the bot's website promises.

The idea was unofficially borrowed (i.e. stolen) from two xkcd.com comics, in which a character programs such a bot to disastrous results, and another in which a character mails bobcats to eBay customers for shits and giggles.

But who doesn't like receiving spontaneous gifts? So I gave Bobcat in a Box a whirl, ordering $30 worth, which presumably equals 30 packages. The bot allows you to plug in certain keywords to influence what you'll receive. Wanting to remain adventurous, I left my options blank.

Then, I waited.

It wasn't long before packages numbers one and two arrived. The first was some sort of iPhone part shipped from California. I don't own a smartphone, so this was essentially useless to me, but I was excited about it anyway. Getting mail has a way of making you feel loved and cared for, no matter what it is. This was promising!

The second package was a pair of greeting cards. Even though they weren't from anyone special in my life—or even anyone I knew—I was pleased.

With my first two packages in hand, I assumed I would be receiving the third the next day. But it was another week before I got my next package. BIAB turned out to be less consistent than promised, robot precision notwithstanding.

After a while, I received a plastic pearl necklace, some sort of keychain, some plastic green leaves, a bike necklace, a pair of owl earrings, and some plastic heart beads. Getting mail was fun, but this stuff was about as thrilling as getting sent a bunch of rocks. In fact, rocks would have been more interesting.

Even still, I awaited the mail each day with more eagerness than before—and each day, I was let down. I'm used to fruitlessly waiting like this for checks or packages I purposely order, but somehow getting these useless trinkets felt especially important to me, and when the mailman turned up empty-handed, it felt especially disappointing.

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Finally, a ninth package arrived, but this time, I missed the mailman. In place of some random Chinese envelope, there was a tiny pink slip left on my door, instructing me to visit the local UPS distribution center to collect my package. I drove to the address, inside of a strip mall, and walked into a bare room with nothing but a few signs and a door. Where the fuck was I?

As I nervously rang the buzzer, the door flung open and a woman appeared, apparently surprised to see me. She didn't seem to deal with many people. I gave her the pink notice and she returned with my mail, holding it out with blue surgical gloves, for reasons I didn't quite understand. Then she slammed the door and I was left alone with whatever was inside Package #9.

Nothing in my life, with the exception of hitting puberty, has ever gone from being exciting to disappointing to annoying so fast.

The return address read somewhere in Israel. Given that it was sent with delivery confirmation, whoever had mailed me this package really wanted to make sure I got it. I was incredibly intrigued, and even a little bit moved. Surely, after all this trouble and expense for this package, it would be something fascinating, right?

I ripped open the package. It was a black pouch made to hold D&D dice or something stupid. Nothing in my life, with the exception of hitting puberty, has ever gone from being exciting to disappointing to annoying so fast.

After that, I stopped caring altogether. Once again, getting the mail totally sucked.

In the end, I collected several more packages, containing more stupid, useless shit: some plastic plant for a fish tank, some gold beads, some sort of cable, a triangle necklace, and a rubber snake. After weeks of waiting, I realized the rest of the packages were never going to arrive. I only ever got 14 out of 30.

The combined value of the objects would barely approach $5 and the novelty factor became less anticipating than a gumball machine. It would have been more fun (and less of a rip-off) to give $30 bucks to a blind dude and send him into a dollar store.

Now, I wish I would stop getting mail altogether. The BIAB program had, against all odds, turned the chore of sifting through the mail from something interesting into something even more boring. Which is strange, considering all the videos BIAB has on their site of people showing off the awesome stuff they got, like eyeball rings and PlayStation games and stickers and all kinds of other cool shit. I was left with a rubber cobra and a pile of useless plastic. Where was my PlayStation game?

Follow Troy Farah on Twitter.

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