I read about 90 percent of my mail and throw the rest away without even opening it.
I know this won't shock you. I'll bet a lot of you do the same thing at home. You throw out the fliers, the come-ons, the sales pitches designed to look like tax return checks.
The 10 percent of my mail I throw away without opening is made up of press releases that I know I will never write about. How do I know that I will never write about them unless I open them?
This is a good question. In the past, I just looked at the computer address label and pitched the letter into the wastebasket.
Then I read an article about a debate raging in the public relations industry between those who think the industry has lost its credibility by sending out so much junk and those who feel all the junk is worth it if even one newspaper uses it.
So I reached back into my wastebasket and took out some of the letters I had thrown away just to see if I have been making a big mistake.
Let's start with the most terrifying ones: those that have no return address. This tells me that the company is afraid to tell me who they are because they know I'll throw the letter away if I did know.
So here is a white business envelope and a computer printed address. We open it up to find:
"NEW YORK -- Connie Francis will be sailing off into the sunset from New York to Bermuda with a shipload of fans and celebrated friends on Celebrity Cruises' "mv Horizon" for a one-week "Connie Francis We're On Vacation" cruise September "Connie Frances will be visible during the day -- in lounges and about the ship -- to meet and get to know her fans, sign autographs and partake in video sessions."
Now here's my problem: Let's say I totally lose my mind and want to write about this event? How would I spell Connie Francis? "Francis," as it is spelled originally, or "Frances," as it is spelled lower down?
I could just look at my old 45 of "Where The Boys Are," but I think instead I'll just throw the letter back in the trash.
Here's one that does tell us who it's from. It's from the CBS Television Network. Do they want me to replace Dan Rather? Join "60 Minutes"? Have my own talk show? No, it's:
"THIS JUST IN . . . NEW YORK -- Vincent Irizarry is returning to GUIDING LIGHT this month. 'It's good to be back home,' Irizarry said. 'I'm excited about working with my old friends and the new cast members.' "
And I'm excited for him.
I probably shouldn't have thrown out FACE FACTS from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, but sometimes press releases like these have pictures I don't want to see before lunch.
Inside this one, though, is: "HELP IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR RIPPED OR TORN PIERCED EARS. Whether the opening has enlarged or has been completely torn through, it is possible to repair the lobe . . . the repairs usually involve using techniques that allow the two halves to be joined more like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle."
Me, I always start with the sky first.
Now, what are we to make of this very nice envelope that has blue-gray printing on buff paper that says: "The NPD Group, Inc. Custom & Syndicated Research."
They tell you who they are, but in telling you, they don't really tell youanything. So we open it up to find:
"SHELF STABLE PRODUCTS: THE PERFECT FOOD FOR THE '90s. For Immediate Release."
Almost all information in press releases is for immediate release, by the way. And I would hate to think of news about shelf-stable foods going bad.
"Shelf stable products are prepared foods that have been cooked at very high temperature and vacuum packed in plastic containers, either tubs, trays or pouches.
"Older adults [plus 45], particularly males, from single or married affluent households, are the heaviest consumers of shelf-stable products. Heavy users are employed as professionals or are in white collar jobs which probably gives them easy access to microwave ovens."
So all you young people out there, listen up: If you don't stay in school and get that diploma, you will probably never get a white collar job and not be able to make microwave popcorn at work. Think about it.
Another mystery envelope: The Rowland Company, Los Angeles. other clue. White envelope, stamped "Please Hand Cancel." Inside is a pencil. The pencil is broken.
"Dear Columnist: The pencil, long a symbol of man's creativity, may now become a symbol of environmental responsibility for consumers.
"The Faber-Castell Corporation has recently introduced the first pencil line to be designed, manufactured and labeled as an environmentally sound product.
"The new pencils, unlike some other brands, do not contain tropical rain forest wood or plastic materials.
"American Naturals have a natural wood finish and are not coated with the traditional yellow lacquer and clear varnish finish. In addition, the cardboard used in the pencil package is made from recycled material."
I am all for this, but I have one question: If the pencil cannot survive handling by the Post Office, how will it stand up to the rigors of "man's creativity?"
The next envelope from the trashis Lufthansa German Airlines. Why don't I open letters from airlines? Because they are never for free trips that's why.
Think this could be an exception? OK, we'll open it:
"NEW YORK -- Lufthansa has doubled its Airport Express train service between Frankfurt airport and the main rail station in Stuttgart to four times daily in each direction."
See what I mean? Why couldn't the letter say:
"Dear Mr. Simon: How does the word 'Oktoberfest' sound to you? How do the words 'frauleins' and 'all expenses paid and your editors will never find out' sound? We thought so! That is why we are enclosing a first-class ticket and 10,000 deutsche marks as our way of saying: Willkommen!"
But these letters never say that. Think I don't know what I'm talking about? OK, try this last letter from out of the wastebasket from Air France. Getting your hopes up? Dreaming of Cannes? Nice? Paris?
Now open it up and try reality:
"AIR FRANCE RESUMES SERVICE TO BEIRUT: Twice-weekly nonstop flights between Paris and Beirut were introduced by Air France June 26. The flights are the first resumption of scheduled service by any airline, according to Beirut airport officials. Air France suspended service to the Lebanese capital in May 1985."
See what I mean? Not worth opening. Because even if the trip were free, would you really want to go?