Paper Storm

By Jeffrey Page

My birthday’s not for another 10 months but this week I received a most thoughtful gift from the government. It was a day with almost no mail. Actually there were two items, a bill from the plumber, which I expected, and a card from the American Symphony Orchestra inviting me to Bard College for a concert that will include a performance of a concerto for tuba. I’m not going.

But this is not about music for tubas.

It’s about the fact that every morning, the letter carrier drops off a packet of mostly sheer trash. I almost always know when he arrives because there is so much mail coming in that I hear a distinctive thump as it’s delivered.

Does this happen to you?

You look through the day’s delivery in the naïve belief that there’s something important in there, something interesting – maybe a letter of acceptance from a magazine, maybe a check, maybe a note from a nephew on the West Coast – but no. Important things rarely arrive. I remember when the mail was fun, when you might get a letter from a friend or a favorite aunt. This hasn’t happened for decades. Nowadays the important stuff is a bank statement; almost all the rest is trash.

Every so often a credit card company with which I have an account wonders how I’m doing, and, in the event I’m not doing well, they include a sheet of six personalized checks. All I have to do is fill one out and sign it, and presto! An instant loan. I think this is a little too casual a way of getting one’s hands on some needed cash.

Do you get those sheets of stickers with your name and address on them? The charitable organizations that send them must believe that using a pen to write my return address on an envelope is just too burdensome. Often they get the names and titles wrong anyway, such as “Mrs. & Mr. Page, Jeffrey” (complete with ampersand and strangely placed comma).

I usually write shopping lists on the backs of used envelopes, but sometimes a charity sends me a little pad marked “shopping list.”

Don’t get me wrong; I give to certain charities. But I’m tired of having to open their pitches all year long when, as I have informed them, I have no intention of donating on their schedule, but on my own. They ignore me, and the pitches keep coming. Sometimes they call to ask me how much I’m kicking in this year, and the caller sounds put-off when I say he’ll find out when I send it.

I get autumn catalogues, winter catalogues, spring catalogues and summer catalogues from high-end stores and usually ignore them and their grand prices. And I get holiday catalogues from any number of museums whose prices are outrageous.

I don’t respond to any of these ads, but the postal trash just keeps piling up. Without exaggeration, I think I receive about a dozen invitations a year to subscribe to Optimum. The one that arrived today – addressed to “Our Neighbor,” which is odd since I’m in Orange County and they’re in Nassau County – says their latest special offer ends on Oct. 15, but I know the come-ons will continue after that. They always do.

Do you get pitched by outfits supporting victims of certain diseases and the scientists trying to put an end to those illnesses? I do. I am contacted by groups advocating for homeless people, sick people, and hungry people. I have empathy for all, but when these letters come day after day, week after week, I spend a lot of time tending to this junk and get weary. I go through the stuff and withdraw anything with my name and address and put it through a paper shredder, whose contents I add to the recycling barrel for later pickup and disposal.

Once, I let a membership in an environmental organization lapse and was bombarded with paper asking me how I could have forgotten to re-join. It took a year or so, but the paper finally stopped coming.

Nan Hayworth is relentless. I think she sends me more mail than she sends her favorite uncle. This morning I received a flyer from something called Friends of Nan Hayworth – they didn’t identify themselves – telling me that her opponent, Sean Patrick Maloney, is a bum.

The next piece of mail was from the very same Sean Patrick Maloney telling me what a great guy he is.

I get new-car ads all the time, and sometimes I get brochures from garages about bargain basement prices for oil-changes.

Maybe I can put a stop to this paper blizzard. This week I called the Direct Marketing Association (212-768-7277) to ask that my name be placed off-limits to direct mailers. I was sent to a website – – and advised to look for a link called “get started.” It takes a while for the mailings to stop.

I’ll let you know how I make out.

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4 Responses to “Paper Storm”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Oh, you hit a nerve with this one. I just received about 15 catalogues and know this will continue through the holiday season. I was on the do not mail list for quite a while but it seems to have some sort of expire date. I also think you have to have all the catalogue info entered into the web site to stop the mailings. It’s made very difficult.

    Good luck and I hope you do a follow up.

    PS: My mother sent money to all those charities and my very blunt father would say, “she’s on the suckers’ list”!

  2. Jean Webster Says:

    I’ve handled some of these a different way. I write back and tell them to stop sending, and one charity has actually stopped! They sent me one request stating that “if you send us a donation today we’ll stop bothering you,” or something to that effect. I did and they did!!! (Somehow, I don’t think it was meant for me alone.)
    I am very independent about who I’ll send money to – mainly local organizations, specifically those that feed people. I figure that if we can feed people, the rest might take care of itself. Oxfam and food pantries get my money.

  3. LeeAgain Says:

    Jeffrey, I think you’re getting on the wrong mailing lists. There are some great catalogs out there that make for interesting reading, even if you never order anything from them.
    Years ago I joined a pen pal organization and received (and sent) letters to Scotland, Suriname, Canada and Australia. The upshot of all those letters was a number of visits to my pen pal and family in Canada and a six-week visit to the family in Australia. Even with the popularity of Facebook, there is something special about having a pen pal send you something concrete instead of blips on a flat-screen.
    As for the endless credit card offers, I take any scrap paper around that doesn’t reveal my identity and stuff it into the postage paid return envelopes. Supermarket circulars, expired coupons, bits of torn gift wrap….it all goes to some anonymous poor S.O.B. who has to open all this stuff – and the post office gets to collect the postage. If we all did that, we could keep the postal service funded for the next decade. So that way, the flood of mail would continue and you’d never be in danger of missing another tuba concerto.

  4. Jeffrey Says:

    Dear Lee, You know, now that you mention it, I heard a tale years ago about one way of dealing with all this junk with use of the sender’s postage paid envelope. Basically, you could attach the front of the PPE to a wrapped nice-and-heavy brick and send said brick back to the first sender. But, in a slight variation from your way of dealing with paper trash, I think you could save all the paper junk of a month (or a year, I guess), tear off the identifying items, wrap that stuff in a box, attach the PPE, and send it all back to the last sender of junk. I have no idea if this works.


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