My Life in Junk Mail

Posted on April 14, 2016



The US Postal Service, for the first time in over 100 years, has lowered the price of a first class stamp. Before you rush out and send greeting cards to all the people whose birthdays you have forgotten about for the last 10 years, be aware that most of them have already stopped talking to you. And be warned that the saving is only two cents per stamp.

How can the price of a stamp be going down? The post office has been losing money for years.  But, as precarious as the postal situation is, know that it’s junk mail that actually keeps the post office afloat, even if the boat is leaky and one of the oars is lost and the rowers are completely drunk and the boat is headed toward some seriously scary rapids. But, if it weren’t for junk mail, it would have gone out of business years ago.  All those unwanted catalogs and solicitations for home improvement and real estate services and virtual colonoscopies, keep the post office afloat.

“But who reads junk mail?” you ask. LBL is glad you asked.  The answer is that she doesn’t know who reads junk mail now, but she does know that who used to read it in the past was Aunt Gert. Gert’s living room was filled with stacks of catalogs, thousands of them, all for people of a certain age. LBL spent a lot of time perusing these and marvelling at all the items contained therein. Over the years, Gert had purchased: portable foot pedals (“Exercise without ever leaving your chair!”), an elastic back band (“Cures osteoporosis!”), a mirror to attach to the front door (“Prevent burglaries!  See who is at the door at all times!”) and a plastic fruit ripening dome (“Ripen your fruit quickly when you might not have enough time left to let it ripen on its own!”)

The most prevalent were the catalogs containing a virtual wonderland of easy-to-wear, brightly-colored clothing for geriatric women on the go. Gert spent her day flipping through these, carefully assessing each item of clothing. Calls were made, items ordered, and like magic, packages were constantly arriving at her door. Old catalogs were never tossed.  Gert insisted that she “might want to take another look at them at some point.” Stacks of catalogs reached up many feet into the air.  A path was created from the front door, through the living room. LBL is reminded of this as she watches the beginning of each episode of Game of Thrones.  Gert’s ever-increasing stacks of catalogs created its own kingdom, and Gert sat on the Iron Throne.

When Gert went into the assisted living facility, and her house was sold, LBL filled 27 large trash/leaf bags with never-worn items of clothing from these catalogs.  She kept about a dozen items to bring to the assisted living facility and donated everything else to a nearby church. And, because she transferred all of Gert’s mail to her own home address, LBL started receiving hundreds of catalogs.  It took months to stop them.

LBL has noticed that her own life is being mirrored in the catalogs she receives. Years ago, she only received catalogs from Ikea.  As her income increased, she began to receive Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Restoration Hardware. Clothing catalogues that had been geared to exercise wear, now became focused more on comfort.

The models in the catalogs have aged, along with LBL.  At about the same time as LBL gave up running for walking, the models finally got off the mountain, first tossing their hiking boots, running shoes and bikinis off the summit. They traded these in for flowing skirts and tops, and one-piece Miraclesuits that came with glasses of wine and loving, attentive husbands with full heads of grey hair. These women spent their days entertaining on their patios, snuggled up with great books, or doing yoga and meditation.  Free People had morphed into J Jill, which had then morphed into Soft Surroundings.

When LBL’s children were small, she received Toys R Us catalogs, basic and affordable kiddie fare.  Then, when her kids grew up and left home, there was a period of nothing.  Suddenly, with the birth of her first grandchild, new catalogs appeared, showcasing toys and clothing that were fussy and expensive, geared to the pocketbooks and inclinations of flush and overly indulgent grandparents, rather than practical parents saving for their children’s college education.  LBL admits to perusing these and considering whether her own grandchildren might enjoy personalized puppet theaters in which all the puppets were likenesses of the people in their family.

LBL wonders how these companies know so much about her life and how they are able to track the stages of such life. What’s scarier is that she suspects she knows what is to come. She dreads the day when the first catalog appears that contains items for ‘easy living.’ She will be assaulted with handy-dandy aids that will help her pull up her socks, lift a spoon to her mouth, and get into the shower. Models wearing loungewear will be substituted for models wearing garments to combat incontinence and dresses with velcro, instead of buttons.

And, at such point that she acclimated herself to this, she will start receiving brochures for assisted living and nursing home facilities. If she ignores them, the next catalogs to arrive will be for funeral services and memorial parks. Models in these catalogs will now speak to her from the Great Beyond, saying things like “I’m so glad my children chose Happy Acres Cemetary for me.  Life has never been so much fun.”

LBL has a plan. She is going to purchase mountain climbing boots online and will click the little box that says “Please send me lots of promotions about other items and sell my name to all catalogs selling high adventure gear.”  She will do so for no reason other than to turn the clock back to the time when catalog manufacturers thought they had a likely prospect.

So, as she continue to slide toward the Great Beyond, her virtual life will remain young, vibrant, and physically challenging. In other words, she will virtually do what she never did in real life: scale that mountain, kayak down those rapids, power bike through Europe, and swim without little floaties. It’s enough to make her want to take a nap, with a smile on her face.