Look out, you junk mailers who slyly pretend to know us better than you do. Beware, overly chummy commercial telephoners who think it's just dandy to disturb us at home during our dinner hour. America is getting ready to strike back.
That's my conclusion after wading through a huge pile of (absolutely first-class) mail in response to my recent columns criticizing the use of form letters from celebrities, at-home phoners from people who use our first names even though they can't pronounce our last, and other distasteful outpourings of Fax-head phoniness. No other subject this year has produced so much reader reaction.Among the things I discovered was that the story I told, of an Iowa woman whose father died 20 years ago but still gets solicitations praising his excellent recent credit record, is apparently not unusual. Consider, for example, the case of Mrs. R.L.L., of Livermore, Calif., whose husband has been gone even longer - since Dec. 6, 1963, "before computers became as popular as typewriters."
Three years ago, she began to receive "all kinds of mail" addressed to him. "It still comes," she confided, "but not as much, because I used a few stamps to mail them back with the notation: `Please address (brackets) my husband's (unbrackets) mail to his current address - Mayfield Cemetery.' "
Across the country, in Cleveland, Ohio, Mrs. P.B. wrote that her husband died fully 33 years ago but seems to get more mail now than he did then. She enclosed one bizarre example from a "professional astrologer" assuring him that he was about to get "a second chance in life" and was "about to enter that rare and wonderful period called the `golden wave.' "
She does her best to stop such mailings, she reports: "The ones that enclose paid return envelopes, I mail back to them. But what a waste! No wonder our delivery of mail is so delayed."
A number of correspondents reacted joyfully to an Arizona reader's method of retaliation: "I'm placing a copy of your commentary in each of the postage-paid envelopes received in most of the mass-produced mailings. If more `Occupants,' `Addressees' or named individuals would return the postage-paid envelopes minus any donation or commitment - but with a message such as you provided - this scourge might subside."
M.C.G. Jr., of Winston-Salem, N.C., has another twist: "Each evening I stuff the junk mailed to me by `A' into the prepaid envelope of `B,' and vice versa, and so on. It is very satisfying to mail stuff to them."
While an overwhelming majority of those responding expressed indignation at the fake palsy-walsy stuff they get from these perpetually rented and re-rented mailing lists, S.H., of Deerfield, Ill., said he was "kind of sick of hearing everyone gripe about `junk mail.' You can have your name cleared off many lists through the Direct Marketing Association, headquartered in New York."
It's certainly true that many people enjoy shopping by mail - I do it myself occasionally - but, as so many of the letters indicate, computers can be difficult, and persistent, opponents when mail is unwanted. The artificially intimate stuff seems particularly irritating. And it apparently does make things back up at the post office, as was recounted by D.L.R., of West Linn, Ore., a former postal employee:
"The Postal Service claims third-class mail not only pays its way but helps to keep first-class rates down. Fertilizer! It clogs the system. . . . The issuance of a third-class mailing permit should be conditional upon the applicant's agreement to pay return postage on each and every piece marked `REFUSED' by the addressee. Bulk mailers would, in short order, be thinning their mailing lists."
Finally, though, listen to M.O., of Royal Oak, Mich., who has her own solution for dealing with those annoying telemarketers who ring even unlisted telephones just when you're trying to relax. Some people, of course, just hang up, but she likes to say: "I get to talk to you first, and then I'll listen to you. Now, here's what's on my mind today . . . "
Who knows? We may teach these mannerless marketers some better business practices, after all. Hello?