I have noticed that in spite of the fact that my children are grown and moved out of the house, I sometimes get mail sent to them at my address here in East Hampton. I set it aside, no matter what it is, a solicitation or a catalogue or a bill, and I try to give it to them when I see them, dutifully wrapped in a rubber band.
But often, they refuse to take it. “Just throw it away, Dad,” they say. “It’s not a problem.” But I persist and force it upon them, putting it in their bags or on the dashboard of their cars, because I know that interfering with the U. S. Mail is a federal offense. You can go to jail for years if you do that.
Why do these kids say “throw it away?” Did they never hear of this rule? I HAVE to give it to them. I get the mail, theirs and mine, from the metal mailbox set up on the wooden post by the side of the road and I clutch it in my hands carefully to make sure none goes astray as I climb back up the hill to the house. This is my bounden duty.
My belief is these kids say this to me because everything they do now is online. The mail is a dinosaur. They don’t use it. They think nobody should use it, as it’s a waste of trees and lumber and paper which is a sin. So times change.
Well, let me tell you that in a day when everybody is worrying about computer hackers, the terrorists, government agents, snoops and leakers, about having your whole life out there where people you don’t know can look at it and learn everything about you, every quirk, every political position, every deep thought, there’s something to be said for the comfort of envelopes, letters and stamps.
For example, a bill comes in through the mail. I fetch it, open it with a letter opener, spread it out on the table to see what it’s all about, make a decision about it. If it’s to pay it, I take out my checkbook, a roll of stamps, some blank typing paper, an envelope and I get a pen—pens are preferable to pencils—and I get to work. Pretty soon I’ve got the thing pretty much taken care of. I’ve written out the amount of the check and signed it, I’ve entered the amount and name in the check register, I’ve taken the eight and a half by eleven typing paper and folded it up into three and put the check inside so nobody can see it, I’ve put it into the envelope, peeled a stamp off the roll and affixed it into the corner, written on the envelope the name and address of who this goes to, sealed the envelope and taken it down the hill to the mailbox. There I put it in, and I put up the little red metal flag to show the mailman when he next comes that he should remove my outgoing letter before putting in my new mail.
It’s an efficient process, and it’s very satisfying. Also there’s a great finality to it. There’s none of this business where later on you find out you forgot to press “send,” or there was a computer glitch or a modem failure or, one way or another, things have gone awry.
The mail box sits there, its red flag up, and everybody driving by over the age of 40 knows there’s a fresh letter in there to go and they will go to jail if they mess with it, so they don’t. The mailman arrives in his boxy white truck with the red-and-blue striping, sees the red flag, removes my letter and puts it safely into a canvas bag he carries in his truck for that purpose. The missive is off.
I now know with considerable safety that it will be passed from hand to hand from one authorized official to another and taken by truck or train or plane or on foot to its destination and that in due time it will be plopped on the desk of someone at the other end who knows just why it has come and what he or she is supposed to do with it.
The invoice has been rendered. It has been paid and posted, the deposited check my receipt and no computer snoop will have seen any of this in my lifetime.
On the other hand, if after I pass away it’s deemed that my time here has been effective and those curious about it should be able to learn of what I did, my “papers,” my descendants will honor the request of some college or library somewhere and give them my “papers” to make them accessible to whatever researcher wishes to come and view what I did. I’m dead and gone to heaven. I’m not going to care about it now.
And so, that said, a researcher one day will find my check ledger and on this date and at this check number be able to see that I paid my bill in a dutiful and proper way, and that I did not stiff the company that sent me those sex toys.
* * *
About a year ago, I made a brief stab at paying all my bills online.
I spoke to my secretary, a young woman who is as they say “with it” and “computer savvy” and I asked her to show me how that is done and you know what she said?
She said she’d rather not.
She told me she had set herself up sometime before, had all her purveyors paid automatically as soon as their bills came in, but discovered too late that her computer had spun everything out of control to land her far off into debt with penalties, overdrafts, bounced checks and problems.
“A big mistake,” is how she described it.