The mailbox has come unbolted from the wall. The Sunday newspaper is now so heavy that it takes two days to deliver it. There is a large bruise on my instep where a five-pound magazine fell on it.
What do these unnatural disasters have in common?
All are the result of the Great Advertising Blizzard of '87. And more is on the way. Between now and the Year-end Clearance Sales of 1988, an unimpeachable source estimates that each man, woman and child in the United States will be snowed under by 4.9 1/4 tons of advertising inserted in newspapers, magazines and the mailbox.
In the bad old days before we became friends with the Soviets, Nikita Krushchev warned, "We will bury you." Isn't it ironic that the clear and present danger is no longer nuclear fallout, but the capitalistic fallout of sales inserts and catalogues that may bury us all?
Yes, the Soviets, too. Who knows where Mikhail Gorbachev's courageous perestroika will lead? Eventually, his economic reform could bring about -- oh, dread prospect -- the freedom to advertise.
The next summit might be held atop a mountain of Kitty Litter coupons.
And the sad thing is that neither leader of the super powers has a glimmer of the problem's magnitude.
Do President Ronald Reagan's daily newspapers contain close to three pounds of ad inserts, escalating to six pounds or more on Sundays? Isn't one of the perks of high office a sanitized newspaper, culled of all such threats to domestic tranquility?
Surely the president of the United States doesn't have to peel off the wrap-arounds from the comics before he reads Doonesbury.
Do 8-to-10 pounds of unsolicited catalogues, sales brochures, coupon books and detergent samples in plastic bags get delivered daily to the Oval Office? In this unlikely event, does the nation's chief executive ponder the merits of each, and decide instantly which to keep and which to toss?
Or, as in more plebeian households, are they set aside and allowed to grow to alarming proportions? If he keeps them, does he worry that somewhere under that slippery pile he might have lost the trade agreement with Japan? The names of the latest cabinet members? The Kremlin hot line?
Does the president get flyers from Kim and Jim, addressed to Current Occupant, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, saying, "We want to sell your house."?
Or "Have you seen me?" cards with an offer on the back to steam clean the carpets in any three rooms of the White House for $39.95?
You can bet your ICBMs he doesn't.
It's an equally safe bet that no coupons for two rubles off Any Large Pizza or one ruble off Any Medium Pizza (offer expires February 16) are rattling around in Mikhail Gorbachev's pockets -- or Raisa's purse. But just wait.
As perestroika progresses, Izvestia and even Pravda will start swelling with four-color inserts advertising bargain babushkas, Siberian sables and Kibbles and Bits -- not to mention pizza coupons and zero percent financing on all Edsels with rack and pinion steering, front-wheel drive, sunroof and all-weather radial tires (must take delivery within three hours of reading the ad).
After an initial orgy of coupon-clipping and ruble saving, the comrades may yearn for the good old days when there was just G.U.M. and it didn't advertise, and there were no major decisions to make -- should we save 400 rubles on an RCA VHS camcorder with 2/3-MOS image sensor, 6-to-1 power zoom lens, electronic shutter and auto focus, or 200 rubles on a Pioneer 110-watt rack system?
The meticulous street sweepers of Moscow will soon hark back to the time when the only trash they had to worry about was cigarette butts and empty vodka bottles littering the gutters.
Even now officials of the Soviet Union and the United States are probably conferring on the disposal of atomic missiles. But who's holding a conference on getting rid of millions of tons of unburnable, nonbiodegradable, unrecyclable advertising waste products? Nobody. That's for sure.
The volume has grown exponentially in the past year or two in this country. For our Soviet friends who may not be aware of this spinoff of a free economy, here is the way it works:
Let's say Uncle Vanya orders a crate of oranges for Ivan from Omsk Orchards. Ivan gets the oranges and a catalogue as well. Then Omsk Orchards sells Ivan's name and address to the Minsk Fur Co., Pinsk Appliance Stores, Dnepropetrovsk Software and Floppy Disc Suppliers, the Kazachye Fruit Cake Bakers and the Mongolian Horse Breeders Association. Each will send Ivan a catalogue, and, in turn, will send his name to other companies, who will put Ivan's name on their mailing lists. Then each of them will ... and so it goes ad infinitum.
A request for a "free booklet" increases the volume of mail by at least 10 percent. You get the booklets; they get your name to sell.
If a name has more than 13 letters, the computer is overwhelmed. Instead of giving up on the problem, it tries different combinations of letters to reach a solution. So, a man named Igor Petruchkavitsky, for example, can get dozens of identical mailings from the same place. One may be addressed to Igor Petruch, another to I. Petruchkavi, or Igorp Etruchka, I. G. Orpetruchk, or maybe Ig Or.
When this happens, do not try to correct the error. If you write to the company, your name will be added to a new mailing list. It is easier to change your name than to correct a computerized mailing list. And once you're on one, it's for life -- sometimes beyond.
The bulk of the mail, however, is addressed simply to Resident, or sometimes Current Occupant. Whether it has your name on it or not, it's your money they're after -- except for the post card from Aunt Catherine, who is wintering in Nordvik.
Anything not in an envelope is trying to make you buy something. Anything in an envelope is trying to get you to send them money direct, in another envelope enclosed. The latter are either solicitations for worthy causes or bills.
Even many of the bills try to sell you something. Before you pay off last month's credit card bill (another capitalist trap) you must tear off an order form or you can't seal the envelope provided. Throw it away immediately or it might drop into the envelope. Then on next month's bill you may be charged with a set of plumber's tools or an electric typewriter -- whatever was on the order form this month.
With all the newspaper ad inserts, unused order forms and most of the day's mail filling the trash can, still ahead is the chore of shaking out the magazines.
First you flutter the magazine, holding it along the spine, until all the unattached inserts fall out. Then the attached or tipped-in ads must be torn out from the front part of the book. Next find the matching halves somewhere in the back and tear them out. They are not difficult to find; they are printed on coated stock four times heavier than the ordinary pages, and slick as a greased pig. If not removed, they keep popping up like a jack-in-the-box insisting you read them and not the magazine itself.
Our Soviet friends in peace and prosperity should also be prepared for the growing aggravation of stitched-in ads of innumerable and unnumbered pages, extolling the virtues of but one account -- Spasibo Aftershave, or maybe Cuba as a vacation paradise.
Because of these intrusions, plus ad pages that are lettered and not numbered at all, it could take 10 minutes of searching to get from Page 30 to Page 31. In the months before Christmas, magazines double or triple in size, just when there is the least time to read them.
In fact, there is a certain rhythm to the swelling of newspapers, magazines and mail, linked to preholiday sales in the United States. Except for certain holy days, the Fourth of July and Ground Hog Day, all American holidays are celebrated by law on Mondays. They are known as Spectacular Sales Days, since people have lost track of what the holidays are all about anyway. The celebration takes the form of bargain hunting, and the bargains have to be advertised so people will know where to go to celebrate, or "salebrate."
The Soviet shoppers will have a humongous problem once the freedom to advertise is well established. Our holidays are spaced, roughly, a month apart, with the months before Christmas being the biggest sales season. In the Soviet Union, the preholiday sales will concentrate on May Day.
No one will come to the parade. They will all be swarming the stores in search of bargains. As the ads reach halfway up the Kremlin wall, Mikhail Gorbachev will plow through the paper blizzard to reach the hot line to the Oval Office.
"May Day! May Day!" he will call plaintively, in a plea for help.
But no one will answer.
The red phone got buried months before, under the Presidents Day sales inserts, and nobody can even hear it ring.