In our house, junk mail used to become instant air mail. One look at an address written by computer, or at an envelope telling me the contents were "IMPORTANT!" and into the trash the letter would go, unopened and on the fly.
But one day, I deep-sixed a department store catalog that Mrs. L. had badly wanted to see. Thus was born our mail policy: Thou shalt not destroy anything without opening it first.
So it was that a come-on letter from an Ohio publisher named Sharon Taylor did not meet an early death. And so it is that I am now the not-so-proud possessor of a book called "The Amazing Story of The Leveys in America."
Sharon Taylor's pitch was too amusing to resist. "The Levey name is very rare," it began, revealing nothing that I and my surnamesakes haven't known all our lives. Who has to spell this name on the phone countless thousands of times, after all?
" . . . I have spent months of work and thousands of dollars to research through 70 million families and I have located almost every Levey family in the U.S.," the letter continues. All a waste, Sharon. You could have done your research at the next family wedding. Leveys love a party. They all would have shown up, I'm sure.
Best of all, Sharon promised "important but little-known facts about the Levey population in the United States." Had she discovered a long-lost cousin running the Chase Manhattan Bank? Was a distant relative starring at third base for the Red Sox? For $26.35, I signed on the dotted line.
And regretted it as soon as the book arrived six weeks later.
More than a third of the book turned out to be a computer printout of all 876 Leveys listed in phone books and other reference works around the country. But all the book contained was a name, an address and, for those Leveys who list one, a phone number.
It's wonderful to learn that there's an F.F. Levey in Hardin, Ky. And howdy out there, Michael J. Levey of Hopkins, Minn. But who are you? What are you? Sharon Taylor's research doesn't say.
Thirteen of the 100 pages in "The Amazing Leveys" are devoted to a glossary of genealogical terms and symbols. Another seven pages are devoted to extremely general hints for finding your ancestors. Still another six pages are nothing more or less than a list of the bureaus of vital statistics in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, in case you want to search for more information.
Of course, I thought I paid Sharon Taylor $26.35 to do all this. Silly me, I guess.
Where did the Levey name come from? "Our research indicates that it can be associated with the English and the Germans," says Sharon Taylor's text.
Sorry, Sharon. My branch of the Levey family comes from Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia. A few of us have been to Munich and London on vacation, but we're hardly Western Europeans.
In fact, according to family lore, Levey isn't really our family name at all. It was adopted by my great-grandfather, extra 'E' and all, for some obscure business reason, when the family lived in upstate New York. We were actually Salingers in the old country.
But that didn't deter Sharon Taylor. She managed to unearth the Levey Coat of Arms, which dates from the 13th Century, she says.
It looks genuine enough. There's a shield. Swooping shrubbery to either side. A ram on top, with his right paw perched atop a four-leaf clover.
It might have been enough to make me ask the queen for knighthood -- if I didn't happen to know that my grandfather nearly went broke during the Depression. That doesn't happen to royalty.
In fairness, I should report that Sharon Taylor offered a money-back guarantee in her come-on letter if I was dissatisfied "for any reason."
But I haven't taken her up on it, and I don't plan to. I am going to leave "The Amazing Leveys" in a place of dishonor on my bookshelf.It will sit there as a reminder of how big a sucker I can be. And it will sit there as silent evidence that chucking junk mail first, and asking questions later, might still be the best policy, in our house or any other.