I had not anticipated my, well, issue with the mailbox. It developed insidiously. At first, I was delighted to claim a classic mailbox at the end of my driveway.
After 17 years of unlocking narrow metal boxes to retrieve mail in various apartment lobbies in Washington, D.C., and New York City, I now owned a spacious mailbox resembling a long black barn. It was a Siamese twin with our neighbors’ mailbox, planted on the edge of our tree lawn.
Featuring a movable red metal flag and a friendly door, which flapped open to any reaching hand, this mailbox came with the house we bought in Broadview Heights.
As my husband, my two children and I settled into suburban life, I liked crossing the lawn to see what our mailbox held. Mostly, it was advertisements from local businesses. Sifting through them was like stepping into Times Square — a multitude of brightly colored circulars competing for my attention.
Pizza places vied for our patronage, claiming to be “Real Italian.” “Authentic New York-style.” “Award-winning.” We did need to find a good pizza place, so I kept all those ads with their coupons.
From under the pizzas, a team of OB-GYNs on a giant postcard smiled at me eagerly. Too eagerly. Pass.
Some ads spoke to me as a homeowner: “Need a new roof?” Well, I certainly hope not. “Beat the rush. Call now!” Was there a rampant roof problem in Northeast Ohio?
“Up to your neck in plumbing problems?” “Hail and wind damage?” “Wet, moldy, smelly basement?” “Is your fuse box old and unsafe?” It seemed as if my rosy idea of homeownership might one day devolve into a nightmare.
“Cheese curls — buy one, get one free.” Oh, I do like cheese curls.
I wished I had a secretary to sort the mail, deciding what to pitch and what to keep. It was a time-consuming task.
My husband deemed all of these advertisements junk and, when he got the mail, instantly tossed the whole lot into our recycling bin. It seemed irresponsible. After all, there was money to be saved. Deals to be had. We aren’t the Rockefellers.
From one of these mailings, I gleaned a coupon that saved us $1.50 on Halloween candy. And since we were just settling in, we needed furniture, plus household and yard items. It would be prudent to at least glimpse the offers before discarding them.
“Amish double-sided mattresses!” “Euro top mattresses!” “Mulch. Mulch. Mulch.”
A carpet-cleaning couple included a photo of themselves on their ad: Neither mustered a smile. Actually, they looked shady. Hmm, was carpet cleaning their real agenda? I’d be leery of what lurked under the floorboards when these two were done.
The offers came at me faster than I could keep up. Before I had sifted through one day’s ads, our mailbox got stuffed with a new selection: “Reshape your entire body … FAST!” “We have teeth if you don’t!” “Personalized airbrush tanning directly from Beverly Hills.” Because a pasty Cleveland look is not alluring?
When I didn’t want to deal with the ads promptly, I’d place them on a side table where they accumulated into a stack. The longer I ignored this pile, the more it grew. The more it grew, the more I dreaded the chore. I’d open the mailbox and grumble.
Businesses boasted being “Family owned and operated.” Was that a good thing? What if Junior was not the brightest crayon in the box? He’d be hired anyway, I guess.
Congregations sent leaflets, urging us to pray with them. Groceries hawked pork and chicken parts. A discount store presented what seemed like its entire inventory in small red squares: “Sausage links. Lava lamps. Cat food. Denture cleanser. Pickle chips. Curling irons. Chunk white tuna.”
Weekly, we were inundated with enough paper to cushion wine glasses for a safe trip back to China.
The furniture store ads were especially annoying. It was as if, by some peculiar science, the voice of the TV salesman had been embedded in the oversized postcard. Holding it, I could hear him shouting: “Area rug clearance! NO interest for 36 months!”
The furniture guy wasn’t the only one shouting. Out of small money-saver magazines, insistent voices cried out: “Look younger in minutes!” “Look younger in seconds!” “Awaken the greatness in your dog!”
I felt besieged. I had had enough. The problem wasn’t the ads — it was me. Why was I examining junk mail, for Pete’s sake? Who reads flyers for tree-cutting services when they don’t have trees that need cutting? Didn’t I have better things to do?
My initial reasoning had been simple: I’d figured our mailbox could help reveal what our new surroundings offered. But none of the great discoveries I made our first year in Cleveland could be credited to our mailbox. Eager to clear space in my house and time in my day, I converted to pitching all ads — unread.
Nowadays, if you need to know where to find a wood chipper, acrylic teeth or an artist to sketch your pet’s portrait, I am not the person to ask. I am busy eating cheese curls while lounging on my Euro top mattress.