Stop! Wait a minute, Mr. Postman.

Have we heard you correctly? Did you really tell us to start practicing better "address hygiene"?

Address hygiene??? When Bert Olsen, manager of the new Magothy Bridge Delivery Distribution Center, first used that term this week we thought he wanted us to disinfect all our letters with Lysol.

Were it only that simple. Alas, the new world of mechanized mail demands that our whole modus operandi for addressing envelopes must change. Apparently, excess information and color on envelopes upsets the machines.

Gone are the days when we could scrawl an address on a letter with our favorite felt-tip, secure in the knowledge that a trusty pair of human hands would put it in the proper slot until it reached its destination. Farewell, Hallmark cards with pretty colored envelopes.

The state-of-the-art bar code sorters at the Magothy Bridge center in Severna Park, which serves much of northern Anne Arundel County, can sort mail faster than people ever could -- 12,000 letters in an hour. It takes mere mortals 13 times that long to sift through the same amount.

But while modern technology giveth, she also taketh away. "Address hygiene" is the price we pay to keep those letters speeding through the system.

They can send men to the moon; can't they make a mechanized mail sorter that's fast and likes colored envelopes, instead of plain old white? And this bit about having to type addresses, in all capitals with no punctuation, no less. It's downright intimidating. Makes a letter to Grandma look like a notice for a District Court hearing on your latest traffic ticket.

And you know people are going to have trouble remembering the no-punctuation rule. The old period after MD is going to get them every time.

Of course, there is comfort in knowing that if we slip up on our address hygiene, 20 human beings still come in every day to sort the mail the machine can't read. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor handwritten addresses will stop mail from getting where it's supposed to go.

But let's not kid ourselves. From now on, only those without a conscience will be able to drop a handwritten card in the slot without a twinge of guilt.

Now, where is that old Smith-Corona, anyway?

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