For two days I didn’t pick up the mail. No bills to worry about. No get-rich offers to resist. No once-in-a lifetime bargains for timeshare in Trinidad and Tobago. And no solicitations from charities to make me feel guilty.
Things just aren’t the same anymore. Gone are the days of anticipation when the mail delivery held the possibility of a new job, a college acceptance, a love letter, a secret decoder ring or some other exciting offer you got as a kid with your sugar-coated, artificially colored and artificially flavored breakfast cereal.
After two days, my mailbox was bursting at the seams. The Postal Service must be doing well, so maybe they won’t have to keep closing those beautiful post offices in places like Greenwich and Stamford and selling the real estate to Restoration Hardware. It makes you wonder what’s happening to America when your local post office, once a venerable institution, faces the possibility of becoming a J.Crew or a Burger King.
As I walked back to the house, I started leafing through the stack of mail for something that would brighten my day. A letter from a long lost friend? (No one writes letters anymore.) A surprise check for an article I wrote? (Nada.) A job offer from GQ or Vanity Fair? (Not my style.) A secret decoder ring? (That would surely do the trick.)
You never know what bad news might be lurking in the mailbox when you open it: Cancellation of your membership in the Miley Cyrus fan club or a tax bill that should have been paid two years ago.
Out of the 25 or so pieces of mail, not one was — how should I phrase this? — the real deal. It was all junk mail, which is known in polite postal terms as “direct advertising.”
In no particular order of importance, there were coupons for tire rotations, oil changes, new brakes, orthodontics, teeth whitening, storm windows, roofing and siding, deep-dish pepperoni pizza, tree removal, garage doors, driveway repair, heating oil, discount furniture, cheap suits — I lost count and didn’t even bother to open the bulky envelope that contained even more coupons, which I tossed in the trash along with several catalogs. Did you know that almost half of all junk mail is never opened and goes straight to the landfill?
I estimate that 70 percent of my mail was designed to save me money and the other 30 percent was designed to take my money. There were solicitations for a new pool at a Texas school, for meal programs, for homeless shelters, and for what is known in telethon language as “worthy causes.” I even received a special invitation from Pope Francis to help alleviate world poverty.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, to learn that Publishers Clearing House is still making people millionaires. I received a letter that contained “IMPORTANT NEWS REGARDING A SPECIAL ALERT.” It turns out I was eligible to win a “life-changing prize of $5,000 a week EVERY WEEK, FOREVER!” This was certainly better than a secret decoder ring.
The average American gets about 41 pounds of junk mail a year, which leads me to conclude I’m above average, because I must get at least 100 pounds — that additional 59 pounds from credit card applications.
The good news is that a lot of people make their livelihood from junk mail, including postal workers, copywriters, graphic designers, marketers, printers and garbage haulers.
I’m not an economist, but I calculate that if we doubled or tripled the volume of junk mail we produce, America could rival the growth of China’s economy in a few years. (Marketers spend $17 billion on postage alone.)
The bad news is that junk mail creates 10 billion pounds of solid waste annually, and some conservationists claim that killing all those trees contributes to global warming. I think, though, it might be better for the environment if they got rid of their Range Rovers.
Since junk mail is keeping the U.S. economy afloat, President Obama, in one of his last acts as chief elected major domo for the U.S. Postal Service, should join forces with Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court to declare National Junk Mail Day. Then, we could spend the federal holiday sitting around the kitchen table, opening all those envelopes and applying for credit cards, which is surely an economic stimulus.
Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.