Wait a minute, Mr. Postman . . . hope's in the mail


Few things in life are so consistently able to rouse hope in me as the arrival of the mailman at my door.

It doesn't matter that the reality never lives up to the expectation; that more bills arrive in the mail than checks, more bedding catalogs than love letters, more solicitations than felicitations.

The plain truth is: Regardless of how bad my mail may be today, I will wake tomorrow with hope perched like a feather in my soul. Mail-wise, that is.

Yes, I admit it: I am a mail chauvinist. And I am not alone. There are millions of us: mail chauvinists who run to our mailboxes every 10 minutes to check the contents.

We live for the samples of breakfast cereal and dish detergent that arrive in cunning little packages. We thrive on the envelopes that promise us -- if we will only open them -- an island in the Caribbean or $1,000,000 in cash. We pin our hopes on what's inside the large, hand-addressed manila folder with no return address on it.

"Make my day!" is what we mail chauvinists think when we see the familiar flash of blue-gray uniform turn the corner and head our way. For us it's the high point of the day; the reason why we keep on keeping on in this crazy world that doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

And it's the reason why there was a flood of protests last week when the U.S. postmaster general talked about the possibility of cutting out residential mail deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In other words, what those lunkheads over in Washington were suggesting is this: that the postman always ring twice-less a week.

But the postmaster general hadn't counted on the public outcry in response to his trial balloon. In fact, the response was so great that the day after he floated this dopey idea in the newspapers, Mr. Postmaster General went on record as "remaining committed to six-day delivery."

Some may say, "So what?" But I say: This is one giant step for man-and-womankind. The fact is, there are so few things left for man-and-womankind to feel hopeful about that just knowing the mail thing isn't going to be taken away makes me feel more hopeful about the future of this planet.

To drive home my point -- which in case you've forgotten is that mail represents the triumph of hope over experience -- let's examine the contents of my mailbox today. It includes:

A very exciting large envelope emblazoned with the return address of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This is the foundation, you will recall, that awards "genius grants" of many thousands of dollars to really smart people. Talk about hope! But, alas, it turned out to be a newsletter on population explosion. Still, at least I now know the MacArthur folks have my name and address.

Next in my mail is a white, letter-sized envelope addressed to me. Printed across the top of the envelope is this message: "A remarkable new book about the Steinbaches is about to be published -- and you, Alice Steinbach, are in it!" Next to the message is some sort of baronial-looking crest with the name "Steinbach" printed under it.

Inside is a letter telling me that a new book, "The World Book of Steinbaches" -- probably the German spelling of my name -- "is about to be published and it is being offered to the "1,526 households bearing the Steinbach name in the world." I immediately sent off my $10 deposit.

Next are two invitations to a son -- who lives abroad and has authorized me to open all his unimportant-looking mail -- to sign up immediately for $10,000 worth of credit. No questions asked.

I, on the other hand, receive an invitation to reserve in advance a funeral plot. Perpetual care offered.

There is, of course, the usual bundle of catalogs and magazines. Today's sample includes one for Difficult to Find Tools, one for Solutions to Your Chronic Back Problems and the always welcome Cats of the World Digest, which this month features sledding Bavarian kittens on the cover.

And last but not least in my mailbox today is a postcard from Seattle. I turn it over eagerly and read the bold, flowing handwriting: "Seattle is beautiful. Already I've found an apartment, a job and some peace of mind. I hope you have thought over our conversation and will come to your senses. I love you." It was signed, "As ever, Stan."

My heart beats wildly at the thought that Stan, as ever, loves me. Then I see who the postcard is addressed to: someone named Sue Sweeney.

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