I am not alone. That's one thing I've learned from doing this column. Whenever I recount the slings and arrows that I am prey to, I always hear from readers who have been knocked by those same slings, perforated by those same arrows.
So it was with my recent column on how the death of my mother-in-law did little to stop the avalanche of mail that has come for her -- to my house.
Readers shared their own particular direct-mail tales with me. Beth Tordella's father died in 2001, her mother in 2004. She notified the organizations that had her parents on their mailing lists of these facts and told them to strike her parents' names from their rolls.
"That only spurred greater mailings," said Beth, of Chevy Chase. "Now, my parents often receive more mail than I do."
And not just mail. Telephone calls, too. Beth's son was at the family's Eastern Shore house recently, where her parents once lived. A fundraiser from a political party to which Beth's mom had belonged called and asked for a donation. "My son told the person that Mom had died and asked that he remove her name from the calling list," Beth said.
The telemarketer's response? He asked if anyone else in the household belonged to the party and asked if he could speak with that person.
"I guess money is more important than the person sending the money," Beth said.
These solicitations to those beyond the grave can be annoying, but they can also be upsetting. Carol Anne Paschall's daughter died seven years ago, at the age of 4. Carol Anne receives solicitations from children's magazines, schools, beauty pageants and the like. Sometimes she receives mail addressed "to the parents of . . ."
"I expect it will only get worse as solicitors think that our daughter would be getting close to her teen years," said Carol Anne, of Dunkirk. "While it happens infrequently, it is another reminder that our only child is no longer on this earth."
Lyn Knapp's 21-year-old son was killed in an automobile accident in 1980. "I don't remember getting 'junk mail' after his death," wrote Lyn, of Annandale, "but in the last few years we have started to receive mail addressed to our dead son."
Who bears the brunt of all this excess mail? Our nation's letter carriers. I heard from a mailman in New England who said that on his old route he had a family ("Let's say their last name was 'Smith' ") that suddenly started receiving credit card offers and those ubiquitous AOL discs for a "Sparkle Smith."
Said the letter carrier: "I'm a survivor of the '60s and know that people back then used to name their kids all kinds of things, but Sparkle?"
So he asked the patron if mail for Sparkle was legitimate. "She started laughing, because it turned out that Sparkle was their cocker spaniel. They had ordered something for the dog a while back and decided to put it in the dog's name. . . . I can't explain how the dog has apparently generated a credit history and therefore is deemed worthy of 'pre-approved' credit card offers."
John Feltzlives in Ohio now but used to live in Fairfax. One day when he checked the mailbox after work, he discovered two letters, both direct-mail solicitations. One was from Greenpeace. The other was from the John Birch Society.
Said John: "To this day, I've been trying to figure out what magazine or catalogue I could have signed up for that would have gotten mail from such polar opposites."
Now, let's allow the Direct Marketing Association's Stephanie Hendricksto make a few points. She notes that the Postal Service returns first-class mail or bulk mail only if it is designated as "return service requested." Just marking "return to sender" on junk mail isn't a guarantee of action. Instead, call the marketer directly and ask to be removed, or visit
Stephanie adds that according to a 2004 Postal Service study, 82 percent of consumers usually read some or all of the advertising mail they receive. U.S. households made 334 million mail-order purchases, saving about 76 million gallons of gasoline.
Is Nothing Sacred?Kay Habegerof Falls Church shared this chilling tale: In the hopes of winning a free lunch at a Baileys Crossroads bagel shop, she once dropped her business card into the fishbowl on the counter.
"That night a guy called and try to sell me something," she said. "He was in the habit of pulling out those cards, taking them home, and then cold-calling the people. He saw absolutely nothing wrong with the practice because he claimed he would return the cards eventually to the bowl."
A man who would tamper with the sanctity of the free-bagel goldfish bowl is capable of anything.