Sunday, October 08, 2006

mail call

Spam's easy. Select, delete. Select, delete. Not that big a deal. Select, delete. Select, delete. In spite of the big fuss people make about it. Select, delete. Select, delete.

Select, select, select, select, select, delete.

Oops! There went my AmEx bill. It looks just like spam, only it'll cost more to make it really go away. Careful now. Don't get too trigger happy. Select, delete. Select, delete.

The US Mail that drops through the slot in our garage door often overshoots its catch basket and lays scattered on the floor. It presents more of a problem than the neat list of spam that greets me in my Inbox. Oh those Valpak coupons aren't so bad: they're just like spam. Addressed to resident -- they can go straight into the blue recycling bin. No fuss, no bother, no nasty paper cuts.

Reduce, recycle, reuse.

Our mailman tells us to call him John; I think his name is actually Nguyen, but he doesn't want to trip us up or listen to us mangle the pronunciation. He's an affable fellow and very reliable -- a miraculous state of affairs considering that his post office of origin is the notorious Charles Bukowski Memorial Postal Station on 18th and Diamond. I'm afraid it lives up to the now-dated civil service stereotype and then some. The clerks move at what could only be called a languid pace; they look you straight in the eye and sneer. You know they're going to tell you you've filled out the form wrong (or the wrong form) and that you need to cycle back to the end of the line and try again. Perhaps by the next time around, your natural stupidity will have abated somewhat.

You 'tard. Don't you know what goes in the D-U-N-S Number blank?

But I'm not thinking of the hostile postal clerks down on 18th when I hear John drop the mail through the slot. Instead I'm remembering a scene in Post Office where Hank Chinaski, civil servant extraordinaire, is being harassed by a woman after he misdelivers a piece of junk mail:

Some woman screamed at me:
I looked. She was a block back down the hill and I was already behind schedule.
"Look, lady, put the letter outside your mailbox! We'll pick it up tomorrow!"
She waved the thing around in the sky.
Oh my god.
I dropped the sack. Then I took my cap and threw it on the grass. It rolled out into the street. I left it and walked down toward the woman. One half block.
I walked down and snatched the thing from her hand, turned, walked back.
It was an advertisement! Third-class mail. Something about a half off clothing sale. I picked my cap up out of the street, put it on my head. Put the sack back onto the left side of my spine, started out again. 100 degrees.

John/Nguyen has a bad back, which I'm certain is aggravated by the long trek up the hill and down the easement with a heavy postal sack full of Valpak coupons, Lands' End catalogs, and Rite Aid flyers. Who wants these darned things anyway? It'd be a lot more efficient if John just handed the blue Valpak envelopes straight to the Sunset Scavenger trash pickup guys on Thursday morning. Eliminate the junk mail middle man.

Reduce recycle reuse.

But really the Valpak mailer is the least of my worries. It doesn't even have my name on it. Most junk mail these days is rife with personalization. So every piece of paper in every junk mail envelope has my name -- and my social security number, my bank account number, my medical records, and my Safeway Club Card purchasing affinities -- printed in dozens of places. As if I'd find these ads more persuasive because they recite personal details over and over, like the salesman who starts and ends every sentence with your name, "Cathy, what do you think of this AMC Pacer? Real cream puff, isn't she, Cathy?"

They know me so well.

Reduce recycle reuse. Squeeze and pour. Apply directly to the forehead. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Reduce. Recycle. Reuse.

Lucky for me, I have one of those big professional strength shredders so that none of the local tweakers or red-faced speed freaks can scrabble through the blue bin and meticulously glue the strips of credit card offers back together like a jigsaw puzzle. It's postal confetti by the time my shredder's through with it. The Fellowes Powershred Model 120C-2 was my birthday present last year and -- no offense to those of you who've ever bought me other useless birthday gifts -- it's far and away the best birthday present I've ever received. Even my favorite personalized crowbar (a green Woodings Verona Gooseneck Wrecking Bar) holds a distant second place.

You go, Mr. Shredder! You go!

That's how most of my mail is processed. Select, delete. Open, shred. Select, delete.

These direct mail places'll do anything to keep you from just stuffing all your mail into the shredder unopened. Anything! Some people manage to keep their curiosity and paranoia at bay and just feed entire unopened envelopes into the shredder. But not me. Unfortunately I feel compelled to look, if just to keep foreign objects from straying into the maw of my precious Fellowes Powershred Model 120C-2.

And therein lies the source of my discontent: the mostly useless items that are sent to me to make me feel beholden. Of dubious value, these things. But my thrifty nature gets the better of me. It's horrible.

Now I have a whole farm of refrigerator magnets. Not just one or two nice ones like the tasteful cat butt magnets Dave and Loan Anh got us for Xmas the year before last. Or even the cat babysitting coupon Jon and Margaret gave us. Those are fine. Great, even. Everyone needs some regulation refrigerator magnets. I don't really have much that I fasten to the side of the fridge (I'm a baby-o-phobe, for example, so no-one sends me photos of fresh offspring), but if I did want to fasten photos to my refrigerator, I'd have the magnets to do it with.

Far more dubious are the pads of paper that Alicia Tam, REALTOR On The Go, sends us. Alicia, Alicia, Alicia: Who wants to draw up their shopping list under the watchful eyes of a REALTOR?


I just can't do this with you watching me, Alicia. I can't focus. You're making me nuts! I know it's compulsive to alphabetize. I know the onions will ruin my fresh breath. I know. And the Coke'll stain my pearly whites. And the broccoli might lead to undesirable flatulence. Who wants to drive around on a hot Sunday afternoon trapped in a car with an obsessive/compulsive realtor with bad breath, stained teeth, and flatulence, even in a Mercedes SUV with an all-leather interior and a faux wood-grain dash?

Alicia! You're subverting my basic values! You're making me crazy! You and your pads of lined paper. Crazy! I can't use them as fast as you send them.

I remember driving around Pasadena with a realtor who was showing us houses. It was hot and smoggy, the way it is in Pasadena in September. I was in the backseat, feeling just a little bit queasy. I tried to noiselessly slide open the rear window, but the realtor had the childproof locks set. No chance of refreshing myself with a warm smoggy breeze on my face. She was busy recounting that urban myth, the one with the burglar who was maimed by the Doberman. You remember the story. It's the one where the family's Doberman is choking on some foreign object, but no-one wants to stick their hand in the dog's mouth. They bring the vicious beast to the emergency vet and the doctor extracts three fingers from the dog's throat. Of course, back at home, there's a burglar hiding in the broom closet, in shock, minus three fingers. Eeeewwww. I HATE that story. I HATE IT. And it's always told by someone -- like this realtor -- who wants to make a compassionate conservative point about crime and deserved retribution. Eeeewwww.

She was enraptured by the sound of her own voice. The story was embellished with details I'd never heard before. It dragged on and on. September heat. Gross urban myth. Traffic. Smog and exhaust fumes. Vicious Doberman. Severed fingers. Chatty realtors. The air in the car is close, oppressive. Horrible houses, just horrible. Carsick. Carsick. Carsick. Must not vomit. Must not vomit.

Needless to say, we didn't buy any of the houses this realtor showed us. But I can't think of realtors -- and Alicia Tam, that means you! -- without remembering that particular warm afternoon and how it feels to suppress an overwhelming urge to RALPH all over leather upholstery. Even one of my favorite literary characters, Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe, has not wiped the unpleasant associations from my mind.

But I can't throw away Alicia Tam's darned pads. What a waste of paper that'd be! There's plenty of room for list-making in spite of Alicia's compulsion to supply details for every possible mode of contact. You can phone Alicia. You can phone Alicia's voice mail. You can call Alicia's cell phone. You can fax Alicia. You can call Alicia's office. You can email Alicia. You can IM Alicia. You can go by the Prudential California Realty Office on Taraval and speak with Alicia f-t-f. Or you can skip the whole realty experience altogether and go to Safeway to buy bleach, broccoli, catsup, chips, Coke, lunchmeat, olives, onions, Snapple, and yogurt.

Realty is only one "i" away from Reality. Not very far, indeed.

Needless to say, given my lax involvement with consumerism, Alicia Tam sends us pads far more frequently than I go to Safeway. So I have quite a backlog of pads and quite a backlog of shopping lists. I'll have to find another use for the pads eventually. I used to enjoy defacing Alicia's photo (even though she's a lovely realtor, very professional-looking in a red turtleneck and trim navy blue blazer), drawing the traditional Snidely Whiplash moustache, devil horns, Dracula teeth, Spock ears, and hipster goatee on poor Alicia's demure face.

I figure if you spam the neighborhood with notepads like these, you're inviting minor defacement. Note that I've refrained from drawning anything obscene. Nothing you wouldn't have drawn on the cover of your notebook in the fifth grade. I'm far more restrained than the average Congressperson. I just need to do something to take the edge off my resentment. Why does she keep sending me these pads? Why? Why? Why?

You can't select, delete, select, delete, select, delete Alicia Tam notepads. And reducing, recycling, and reusing suggests that list-making is a good use of Alicia's unsolicited gift.

I don't know why I'm deep-ending over the notepads. The notepads are a minor issue compared to the address labels. According to the Association of Fund-Raising Professionals, address labels move people to be more generous. So now I have sheets and sheets of address labels. I give to some of these concerns, and not to others, but they still all send me address labels. Every one of them.

I used to shred the labels and print my return address in the upper left of the envelopes I sent out, but then I decided I was just being stubborn. The original theory -- I'll never accidentally transpose the numbers in my address if I write 'em often enough -- just doesn't hold water after this many years. So I started using the labels. Now isn't that easy? Just peel off a label and stick it on the envelope. Oh, put one on the back of the envelope too. Maybe two or three. Sticker fun! Sucked in! I'm reverting!

But then I started paying bills electronically. So now I have a backlog of address stickers along with my bumper crop of American Express refrigerator magnets and Alicia Tam notepads. I'll be buried alive in unsolicited free gifts.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. Just how bad could it be?

Let's look at today's mail (which -- as promised -- was scattered all over the garage floor). What've we got here? A flyer from Zephyr Realty (oh, Alicia: You'd better mind your p's and q's. I'm being courted aggressively by another). AARP solicitations. 2 of 'em. Both for Mark. To remind him he's old and getting older. United Airlines. CRC Press. San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. Two credit card offers from Capital One with phony cardboard credit cards that look like they could've been magnets. But aren't. (Sucka! Got you to open the envelopes! Made you look!). Comcast ads (3 of them). Political flyers. Statements from this account and that. Bills. Lots of bills.

And what's this? A postcard from Pacific Union Realty. Watch out Alicia AND Zephyr. This guy is selling the condo across the street from us for a cool $1.1 M. Alicia, you've got some competition. Better sneak in while he's holding his open house next Sunday and poison him. He's not working nearly as hard as you are. He just sends us postcards; you send us real notepads. And your website is so much nicer than his.

Mortgage offers. Supermarket flyers. 18-count cartons of eggs: buy one carton, get a second carton free.

I hate that. 18 eggs to a carton; buy one, get one free. I'm standing there in Safeway at 11:45 pm, bathed in the florescent glow, contemplating the egg case. Eggs are on the list, between crackers and Friskies. 18-count cartons of eggs: buy one, get one free.

Wait! That weird dude over there filling his red basket with single-serving strawberry 'n' banana yogurt cartons -- does he have a gun in the waistband of his pants? No. No. No. He's just shoplifting something that looks like a gun.

Eggs. I need eggs. There they are: 18-count cartons of eggs, buy one, get one free. Even one 18 pack of AA eggs is cheaper than the carton of a dozen. I look again. That can't be right. Same size egg (large), same egg grade (AA), same brand (Lucerne). Yep. It would be cheaper to buy 18 eggs and smash 6 of them on the sidewalk than it would be to buy a dozen eggs. Worse yet: it'd be exactly the same price to buy 36 eggs and smash 24 of them on the sidewalk after I politely rolled my cart through the automatic door.

"Are you sure I can't help you out with those?" The clerk asks me, doubting my piloting skills. "No? Well then thank you very much, Mrs. Glenn."

Then I'd walk out the door and smash 2 dozen eggs.

That's the only way I can think of dealing with this situation. Unless, of course, I took up soufflé-making.

Okay. That's the solution. Soufflés. They're hard to make. Takes plenty of practice. Wikipedia and wikibooks are useless on the matter, since they offer no specifics, but other sources tell me that the average soufflé takes at least 4 eggs (although it troubles me that most soufflés seem to take an uneven number of yolks and whites -- this could compound my problem if I don't watch my step).

So. If I make, say, 6 soufflés, I can use up all the extra eggs and possibly learn the gentle art of soufflé-making. That's a lot of amateur soufflés. I'm not even that crazy about eggs. I'd rather have donuts (which, you remember, are 14 to a dozen at Safeway, another troubling fact). Donuts. And a dozen eggs.

I usually either cave in and buy the 36 eggs, 24 of them unwanted, or convince myself that I don't need eggs at all. That the ones currently in the magnet-encrusted refrigerator are only 2 months past their expiration date, and eggs generally keep quite well. Really. Try it. You'd be surprised. Nature's perfect packaging, eggs. And you'll know if they've spoiled -- trust me on this.

I think I'd be happier if I either bought the dozen eggs I originally wanted or smashed 24 of them on the sidewalk on my way to the car. Or gave the excess to the guy with the gun in his pants for a quick bout of spontaneous target practice. After he's through shooting the cups of strawberry 'n' banana yogurt, of course.

I think I'd be even happier if I didn't have such difficult junk mail. Or if I could be one of those carefree people capable of feeding whole unopened envelopes to her Fellowes Powershred Model 120C-2.

Reduce Recycle Reuse. Select, Delete. Select, Select, Select, Delete.


Reuse. The key is in reuse. I've got it!

This year, instead of stopping at 7-11 on the way to Mark's family's Xmas celebration and buying all those last minute Xmas gifts -- Slim Jims, Autotrader magazines, party favor-sized boxes of Tide, windshield washer fluid, nachos (a real bear to gift wrap, let me tell you -- the grease always makes the wrapping paper translucent), Pokemon cards, and Cup o' Soups -- I'm going to give people the No Middle Initial Gift Assortment. I can see it already:

An Amazon box brimming with Alicia Tam notepads, American Express Credit Card refrigerator magnets, extra eggs, a mostly new Signature Gourmet automagic coffee maker sans timer (and unfortunately, sans carafe), and several sheets of stick-on address labels. Eat your hearts out, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meg Ryan, Cameron Diaz, Denzel Washington, Josh Hartnett, Kevin Spacey and Hugh Jackman: this makes those tacky Oscar gift baskets look so elitist and frivolous.

The stick-on address labels will be frosting on the soufflé. So what if they have my address on them? The giftee is going to want to send me a thank you note, and this'll save them lots of time. They'll neither need to look up my address, nor scrawl it on an envelope. Those fragile eggs'll need some packing material too, and what better packing material than confetti produced by shredding junk mail in my Fellowes Powershred Model 120C-2? It's fluffy and colorful and my giftees can reuse that too! Ah, maybe I'll even slip in one of my usual 7-11 treats; those Slim Jims left over from last year really should find a nice home. They don't keep forever, do they? I've also got some mini-summer sausages left over from my last few American Airlines snack boxes.

My Grandma Goldie would be so proud. She always signed her cards to me in pencil and never put the year on them. Your birthday's only going to come 'round again next year. She knew that.

Reduce. Recycle. Reuse.

Spammers should get a clue.

Select. Delete.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I really i really enjoyed reading your article. I just thought i might aswell let you know now that i have come across your article that a while back i actually had a great deal on a batch of address labels from a british labels company as they charged me such a low cost for the labels. If you are at all interested then it may be worth taking a look at their website.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

As I said, spammers get a clue. How ironic for this post to be spammed with an advertisement for--of all things--address labels.


3:53 PM  

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