The Insider’s Guide to Life: Paper Trail

ColumnOne woman’s junk is another woman’s junk.

Junk mail never used to be one of my issues. We had other problems in my old Pacific Palisades, Calif. neighborhood, like the ambitious woman who tried to steal everyone’s identities one summer. (This was an exceptionally educational experience, getting to learn all about the credit lines I’d opened up, like the Home Depot store card in Torrance and the Bank of America checking account in Glendale.) My outdated, after-market CD player was ripped out of my Jeep, to which I thought, if you can get any money for that thing, good for you. My neighbor’s Porsche was stolen out from under us in the carport when we were all home. These small matters of living in Los Angeles aside, the one thing I never had to worry about was junk mail. Raised blissfully unaware on Internet, I assumed that in these greener times of sensible things like online ordering, permission marketing and recycled-paper catalogs, old-school junk mail no longer existed.

Oh, me.

I received my first Bed Bath & Beyond coupon when I moved to the Bay Area in 2007. Well, this is nice of them, I thought. I didn’t even have to ask! I got a jolt of nostalgic preppy delight at receiving my very first unanticipated J.Crew catalog soon after. But that joyous consumer high came to a crashing low as the voracious deluge of reconstituted rainforest began. In those days, I started to get a lot of letters from Leonardo DiCaprio, most of them in very large, thick envelopes filled with reams of paper with words on them asking me to save the planet. Frankly, I felt like he was kind of missing the forest for the trees.

I discovered that we are still doing Valpak. I was…introduced to cheap “catalogs” filled with unreadable print and old timey assortments of things you can easily find in a 99 cent store, things like plastic cell phone stands with miniature bemittened hands and giant telephone cord clasps. And it only got worse from there. Cause after cause. Health scam after health scam. Coupon after coupon. Clearly, the marketers had figured out I was no longer in grad school. I was junked.

I moved to a new house; the junk mail followed like a blue tick on a runaway heifer. I moved to an apartment in the city, expecting that with yet another address change, my days of Death by Paper Cut were over. It didn’t take me long to realize that my new building’s lobby was continuously churning in flyers and coupons and pamphlets, a clogged channel of cheap ink ready to smear our good credit and good cashmere. I bought a small waste bin to warehouse some of this unwanted mail and we worked out an informal system of taking turns emptying it in the recycling. Between our 7 units, the bin needs to be emptied almost daily. And this is just the junk; we stack the magazines and catalogs on the lobby console. The stoop is littered afresh each morning in Chinese takeout flyers, basement blowouts and hardware store leaflets.

I suppose I don’t mind the free address stickers for that one time in the future I might still actually mail a check, although, as with phone books, I am not as reverent of these living fossils as perhaps I should be. I definitely don’t mind the various catalogs I’ve signed up for because some nights, it’s just too much to read another New Yorker. Catalogs are wish fulfillment vignettes within our reach, as interesting a statement about our culture as billboards and commercials and Superbowl campaigns, and I’ve always loved the good ones. And like a bad commercial so awful it’s good, I don’t even mind the ridiculous ones I haven’t asked for, like Gorsuch, purveyor of lithe Aspen trophy wives smiling broadly into the slopes at their first world problems, namely, the fact that they still just spent $700 on high-waisted mom jeans.

But I don’t need psychic services, unless you can tell me that some relief from junk mail is in my future. AARP membership requests, really? I’ve always carried an affable grain of concern over my shoe habit, but I see now these worries are misplaced – I’m well on my way to being the little old woman who lived in her junk mail.

As with any source of pain, there is always a hidden gift. Recently I received a “personalized” letter from Terry Stenzel, the head of AT&T for the Bay Area, thanking me for being a customer and letting me know that AT&T is really working to improve the lousy service in San Francisco. Terry didn’t include an email address on his letter, so I did some Googling and figured it out. I sent him my own letter about the lousy service in San Francisco. The next morning, Terry sent me a 3G microcell tower. So I tweeted out his email address because good customer service deserves all the attention it can get!

I set up my free microcell tower and can report I am experiencing actual reception for the first time. Which is so perfect, because now I can call all these companies and tell them to stop sending me their junk.

This is the latest installment in your editor’s column, The Insider’s Guide to Life, exploring topics such as media, culture, sex, politics, and anything else. Cheers and spellcheck!

Image: H Bee <3