Direct mail has slowed to a trickle

Posted
Tuesday, Feb. 02

WILLIAMSTOWN

The firm's mail room is a quiet place these days and management attributes this to the weak economy.

In more prosperous times, postal deliveries bristled with "direct mail" solicitations, and many hands worked to stem the tide, which occasionally threatened to engulf entire pieces of furniture.

Many of the mailings were recycled unopened, particularly if other business demanded top priority, but some were retained against the day when the firm's denizens -- for lack of anything better to do -- opened them and subjected them to close inspection with an eye toward bringing in some easy money.

This hasn't happened yet, but the company is nevertheless proud of the single-minded persistence of its envelope-ripping, lucky-number-scratching associates and wishes them success.

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Still, business has been slow and days have passed without the delivery of the brightly-colored oversized envelopes that bring "once in a lifetime" opportunities to the farthest corners of the realm.

So it was that subdued jubilation ("Well, whaddya know?") greeted the arrival the other day of a garishly decorated and tantalizingly bulky envelope.

Upon inspection, the envelope proved to contain a realistic-looking vehicle ignition key. Also in the package was a scratch-off "ticket" and capital-letter laden descriptions of the wonders that await winners.

Before long, resident experts in the deciphering of microscopic print were summoned, and the painstaking dissection of the mailing began.

This work was well under way -- to the point of determining the travel time to the scene of the prize-giving action -- when a senior executive announced the discovery of an "issue." Known to laymen as a "problem," an issue can hobble even the most efficient organization as it passes through the five stages of resolution: assessment, denial, statement, re-statement and burial.

In this case, as it turned out, completion of the first stage was all that was necessary to proceed directly to the last: The "sales event" being touted in the mailing had ended the day before it arrived.

Only momentarily discouraged, the crew dispersed to take up other duties, knowing that in the world of direct mail, the postman always rings twice.

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A recent audit revealed what is believed to be record-high consumption of sunflower seeds by the birds inhabiting the firm's campus.

Since feeding began in late November, some 150 pounds of seed have been beaked and there's no end in sight.

Recent publication of a Christmas Day bird count delighted the firm's accounting department, which is now engaged in a statistical analysis aimed at proving that most North Berkshire blue jays are employed at the firm's feeder either part- or full-time.

The diversity of the feeder's visitors recalled a letter that author E.B. White wrote to a friend in the winter of 1960.

"Today we had a delegation of Evening Grosbeaks, along with regular customers -- the Black Capped Chickadees (there is a brown cap offbeat chickadee around the place but I haven't seen him yet). Last week, I had the great pleasure of a visit from the Whiskey Jack, who hung around the back porch for almost an hour, looking for a handout. And two Sundays ago, the Pileated [woodpecker] came to the big Balm o' Gilead tree in front of the house and spent a couple of hours remodeling it according to ideas of its own. This tree is as hollow as a soil-pipe, and every spring a raccoon female ascends 30 feet and has her kittens in a big hole. The Pileated didn't like this hole -- wrong dimensions. But the hole has two vents, higher up, on the north side, and the woodpecker, in his red toboggan cap, spent the morning enlarging the topmost hole -- probably to make a convenient roosting spot in bad weather -- then took fright and hasn't been seen since."

Some years later, in a letter to his stepson, White describes his adoption of two baby robins whose parents had abandoned them.

"I casually dropped a couple of marinated worms into their throats as I walked by a week ago Monday. This did it. They took me on with open hearts and open mouths, and my schedule became extremely tight.

" But I have proved one thing -- a man can bring up young robins if he is foolish enough and hardy enough. My next, and most important job, is to hop about on the lawn with my head cocked to one side, to show them how to get their own living and stop breathing down my neck."


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