Issue 35, Final Fringe

Post Script

by Amy L. Clark Issue 32 09.03.2012

If you had asked me, even a year ago, what my fantasy profession is, I would have said astronaut.  Or maybe, house-sitter to the stars.  Then I got what my family insists on calling a Real Job.  Which means that instead of serving disgruntled, self-important people beverages for less than a living wage, I sit, disgruntled and self-important, at a desk.  For less than a living wage plus health insurance.  This all has enabled me to create a new fantasy profession.  Now, when I grow up, I want to be employed to write letters in response to people who write angry letters — but more on that later.

Most of my current job, the one I hold until that letter-writing position opens up, involves data entry.  Here’s how it happens: my organization sends out hundreds of thousands of letters, every couple months, to anyone who has expressed an interest in our organization or those with which we seem to share common values.  These letters keep constituents informed about what the organization works for and stands for, and then ask for donations to support that work.  Let me restate that.  We send out junk mail.

In theory, each constituent who receives this correspondence sends a check or credit card number, along with a reply slip, to a lockbox in our name, where the bank deposits the checks and credits the amount to our account.  The reply slips, with a photocopy of the check, then come to me bundled into batches by some other tireless, nameless, faceless entry-level employee at the bank.  I get around five bundles of reply slips on an average day, and one of them is always a bundle of unclassifiable things that came in our spiffy business-reply envelopes along with the more standard responses.  The other day I opened one of these miracles of printing and logistics and got a cookie.  Or what I assume was a cookie.  It was in a lot of pieces, but some of them were discernible chocolate chips.

I never thought much about junk mail until I got this job.  And I get a lot of junk mail.  I get mail from the ACLU and The New York Times, I get mail from PETA — probably because my boyfriend was at one time a vegan and they seem to have a way of knowing these things — from the Christian Science Monitor and Bed Bath and Beyond, Dell and, inexplicably, the NRA.  Once, when a previous boyfriend broke up with me, my best friend signed him up for something like thirty-two trial magazine subscriptions, including Golf Digest and Single Mother.  But even with all this paper arriving at my apartment door daily, I never really considered junk mail.  I just threw it out, along with my bank statements and something that could have been a summons for jury duty, without opening any of the envelopes.  It never, ever occurred to me to send my junk mail back.  But apparently, this is an idea that has occurred to hundreds of people, all over the country.  I have received letters that begin with the salutation “Praise Jesus!”  I have received letters explaining that the constituent writing cannot at this time contribute to our organization because of illness, divorce, a leaky roof, a recently replaced furnace, a dislike of the punctuation used in our solicitation, and downright hatred of our ideals.  I received one reply slip with this impassioned message: “Please remove me from your mailing and calling lists,” and over the part of the slip where we had suggested donation amounts of $15, $25, $50 or $100 was written “666!!!”  Then, “Post Script:  GO TO HELL YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER ASSHOLES.”

Much of this communication is addressed to the president of the organization, presumably because the marketing company with which we contract to write the copy for the letters has decided to print a facsimile of his signature in blue ink under the text.  I think it takes a certain amount of idealism on the part of the recipients to believe that this president has written the body of the letter and then personally signed a copy for each constituent.  I tend to appreciate idealism, but another word for it, it has recently occurred to me, might be audacity.  Or even entitlement.

I have one correspondent who I’ll call Kevin who sends, in our business reply envelopes, a donation of one dollar in cash every week.  Along with his dollar he sends exactly one page of hand-written prose.  His typical subjects are the court system, the way in which America is fascist, the possibility that good people will go to hell, the ongoing take-over of the known world by robots, and his personal distain for carrots.  He has always sounded a bit depressed to me, and I have wanted for some time now to send him a case-worker rather than an IRS statement detailing his tax-deductible contributions.  The last letter I got from Kevin started with the words, “Praise the Goddess!” and went on to tell me that he had a new job, but better than that, he was reconciled with his wife.  All this had come about, he told me in a deluge of badly-spelled words that veritably sloped off the page in excitement, because he had finally overcome his sexual hang-ups and social repressions the minute he had “three-way sex.”  What followed was not only a graphic description of his wife’s dripping nether-regions, but a sincere explanation of the way in which communication is the key to all relationships.  It turns out she had wanted to be polyamorous all along.

I have developed a real affection for Kevin, and I can’t help but appreciate the longing for human contact that is so obviously behind the letters of dissent, or the skill it takes to pain-stakingly copyedit a solicitation.  But I would like to say this, to all the people who have sent me their torn-up coupons, their YOU WILL NEVER GET MONEY FROM ME statements scrawled in red pen, their cookies and their capitalized invitations to BURN IN HELL WITH ALL THE DEAD BABYS YOU KILLED AND THE FAGGOTS YOU SUCKED OFF:  I am opening your mail.  I am five feet tall, and I have a middle name too.  I am paid very little, and I am pretty bored most of the time, and I don’t really care what our organization sends to you.  I throw out my junk mail because I have other things to open, like applications for usury-rate credit cards and invitations to join cults.  Which is another way of saying that I am a human being and not one of the robots that is currently engaged in taking over the known world.  I won’t send you hate mail if you won’t send it to me, either.

I want to write this for each letter I receive, and I want to write it in pink marker on scented paper. Then, I want to seal it, along with a balloon animal, into an envelope, and sign the whole thing:  Love, Your Data-Entry Technician.

Amy L. Clark

Amy L. Clark

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Amy L Clark has had fiction and nonfiction published in literary journals, including Hobart, Juked, Fifth Wednesday, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, and The American Book Review. Her story “All Stop” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Her collection Wanting is part of the book A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press).  She is a Writing Specialist for Northeastern University’s Foundation Year program and is the founder and president of the charitable Endowment for Unexceptional Humans. Her online home is www.overtimewriting.com, and she is still planning to be a rocket surgeon when she grows up.