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My Mailbox Runneth Over

Andy Rooney(Andy is taking the day off. In his absence, we are reprinting one of his classic columns, originally published Oct. 26, 1989.)

The red sticker on the cover of the catalog read: "This may be your last catalog!"

And, in the smaller print, "Our latest computer report shows you haven't ordered any of our products in a while. Place an order now and you'll continue to receive every issue of our catalog!"

Is this a threat or a promise?

I would be happy to pay a modest amount if I could be assured of never again getting a catalog that I didn't ask for. My mailbox runneth over. Not one in 10 pieces of mail is anything I want to look at, and I'm not including bills. When it comes to catalogs, not one in 50 has anything I want to order.

Last year, I suppose we got an average of 25 catalogs a week in the mail - even more around the Christmas season. That's 1,300 catalogs and I ordered one thing from one of them. Two, actually. I ordered a pair of shoes from a place that specializes in wide shoes. The other 1,299 catalogs, with postage, represented several thousand dollars -- wasted on me. It's not always possible to tell how you got on a catalog mailing list but there are several things that do it:

--Having a hobby.

--Having a baby.

--Winning the lottery.

--Buying a house.

--Giving to a charity.

--Using a credit card.

--Being listed in the telephone book.

--Giving your name and address to a store when you buy something.

There ought to be a law compelling any company that sends out unsolicited catalogs or advertising material to include a stamped, self-addressed return postcard. It would say simply: "Remove my name and address from your mailing list or be fined $100 for every piece of literature you send me after two weeks from the date of this notice!"

The catalogs we get most of are in three categories: the clothes catalogs, the seed catalogs and those from woodworking tool companies.

There's a similarity in the literature of many of the catalogs. The catalogs I get from a company that sells wide shoes, for example, may have the same catalog writer that another company uses to try to sell me woodworking tools.

Some of their favorite phrases are:

"Once you've used our..."

"Ordinary (blanks) are made from (blank), but our (blanks) are designed specially for us and made by old world craftsmen from the finest (blank) money can buy."

"Try our (blank) once and you'll never use any other (blank) again."

Banks, credit card companies and insurance agents abuse the mails. I got an official-looking letter from a large New York bank. On the envelope it said, "Important! Personal!" (They always use a lot of exclamation points. Nothing that claims it's important and has a lot of exclamation points in it is ever important at all.)

If you get a letter from a bank, you should be able to trust the bank not to con you. Some of the mail you get from banks is important, and there shouldn't be any confusion about what is and what isn't. Anything from a bank that doesn't pertain to your account should be clearly labeled on the envelope, "Sales Pitch."

I object to the devaluation of the importance of our mail. Mail is special when it's personal and when it's serious business. It ought not be diluted with junk that diminishes the satisfaction we all get from our mail.

(Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via email at aarooney5@yahoo.com)

(c) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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