If the U.S. Postal service goes bankrupt, it's my fault, at least partly, because of the extra help it has had to lay on to handle the volume of third-class (junk) mail that Skinny the mailman stuffs into our mailbox.
We receive eight to 10 "send money" letters a day, plus four to seven gift catalogs.
The solicitors use every trick in the book. The familiar sheets of address stickers have given way to more sophisticated come-ons, nickels and dimes, $2 cashable checks, key rings, crosses and necklaces.
What kind of insensitive clod will ignore a pack of seasonal cards that handicapped artists painted with their toes?
"This is not junk mail," reads a message on one envelope. I open the letter. It's junk mail. Another note says, "They wanted me to call, but I refused. Was I right?"
So I get a mail solicitation instead of a telephone call at dinner. My lucky day?
A letter from Bill Clinton asks for help to "stop Republicans." That's as improbable as the little Dutch boy's holding his thumb in a hole in the dike to save Holland from flooding.
Here's another nickel, this one from Gen. John K. Singlaub, U.S. Army (Ret.), lamenting, "Some wounded GIs have received less than this nickel from their government." Now what does former Sen. George McGovern want this time?
I'll bet you had no idea I am pen pals with such high muckety-mucks, did you? But, alas, not a word from Sarah Palin.
Where to put the dough
The gun-control folks write frequently. It's been almost 30 years since James Brady, Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was partially paralyzed for life when he took a bullet intended for the president.
Despite all efforts by the cause he championed, you can still buy a Saturday night special or an AK-47 at about any retail outlet with the possible exception of your neighborhood pharmacy, Victoria's Secret and a few others.
I'm a pushover for Heifer International, which seeks to help destitute Third World countries by giving people animals with which to start small businesses.
Usually, I'm good for a couple of hives of bees or half a goat. This year they want me to finance a $250 water buffalo! Hey, I'm not a banker or Wall Street CEO!
I'm also a sucker for wildlife causes. But is it good business to reward my modest contributions with hunting vests or tote bags costing more than my donation?
And I'm truly sorry to learn from the Save a Tiger campaign that Asia's tiger population has declined from 100,000 in 1900 to only 3,200 today.
Sad? Yes. But babies are dying by the thousands in disaster-prone Haiti, and on Raleigh's Hargett Street the line of down-and-outers looking for a free lunch at Good Shepherd Church's table stretches for a block and a half. Priorities! Priorities! Painful priorities.
During the Great Depression, hungry hobos begging handouts would, upon leaving a farm house with a full belly, leave behind some mark on the side of the barn, a tree or a rock to alert others that a kind heart lived there.
Today, when you donate to a charity, word of your generosity spreads like a virus to other fundraisers. Consequently your incoming load of "gimme" mail increases steadily.
Admittedly, a part of our popularity among solicitors is my wife's inability to say "No" without feeling guilty. I'm convinced that if NASA asked for help in building outhouses on the moon, she'd send a check, along with a dozen mega-rolls of Charmin Ultra Soft.
Recently, after hearing her apologize at length for not pledging to some cause, I offered counsel.
"Honey, you don't have to apologize for not saying 'yes' every time somebody calls. You don't have to explain that we're 'reassessing our priorities' or 'concentrating more on local charities.'
"There's no need to tell these strangers that your teacher retirement is tied up in AIG or that we have to repaint the house and put on a new roof this year. They don't really care. They just want a simple 'yes' or 'no,' preferably a 'yes,' before moving on to the next prospect.
"Remember what our good friend Peggy O'Keef used to say when someone asked her to do something she wasn't inclined to do? She'd simply say 'It doesn't suit.' When a caller persisted, she'd reiterate, 'Thank you for calling. But really, it just doesn't suit. Goodbye.' "
Each of you has your own criteria in giving to good causes. Mine leans toward alleviating hunger, especially among children.
To me, nothing is more hurtful to the heart than seeing or knowing that a child is suffering, from whatever abuse. The abuse of hunger is one of the most tragic.
You can't say "Yes" to every deserving plea. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to say, "Sorry, but it just doesn't suit," without embarking on a guilt trip.
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