The psalmist says that joy cometh in the morning. Fat lot the psalmist knows. Joy comes around noon on Thursday when the U.S. Postal Service surrenders my copy of Sports Illustrated, a splendid journal.
But soon that joy will end, like a dream at daybreak. My subscription is expiring. I am told so by the persons whose telephone calls nagging me to resubscribe have provoked my decision not to.
Those calls transformed me into a John Brown -- an abolitionist -- concerning commercial solicitation by telephone. Americans should rise in righteous fury against this obnoxious business practice of barging into our homes by telephone to try to sell things.
The first call came when the Will family was enjoying dinner. Well, okay, "enjoying" may be a bit strong, but no two children were exchanging blows or even insults. The caller said it was time to resubscribe. Mrs. Will, who answered the phone, said she would resubscribe. But, ever a lady, she said that if Sports Illustrated were a well-brought-up gentleman, it would know better than to intrude, especially at dinner time.
The second call came an hour later, when father was giving The Phenomenon (Victoria, age 2) a bath. The Phenomenon, in her large-spirited way, was giving anyone near the tub a bath as she reenacted the Battle for Leyte Gulf. The Sports Illustrated caller said he was calling only to "reconfirm" something. I do not know what the something was. Our conversation was one-sided and short, consisting of nine seconds of robust epithets from me. When I am aroused, my complexion becomes tomatoesque and I bark like a mastiff. Concerning my bark, the third pestilential caller can testify, when his trauma subsides. He called to explain the second call, and elicited from me a wide-ranging philippic which culminated with a vow never to resubscribe in this world or the next. I will suffer stoically whatever trials God sends to test me and make me a graver, deeper man. But I draw the line at suffering trials sent by lesser authorities, and Sports Illustrated, though grand, is lesser.
How did we, the seed of brave Founders and of immigrants who fought Comanche, become a nation of such sheep that we tolerate such intrusions into our homes? Someone has said that the telephone is like a mailman who crashes into your home, thrusts your mail beneath your nose, then stands impatiently at your side and forces you to read it all, immediately. No red- blooded American would stand for that. But we are so cowed by our conveniences, such as telephones, that we accept with bovine docility uses of them that are maddeningly inconvenient.
Perhaps it never enters the jellied mind of a commercial society to set limits to commerce. I note that Boston's commission on landmarks is blocking destruction of a Citgo corporation sign containing 10 miles of neon. The reason? For 40 years the sign has been a, well, landmark. Now, a society that is so reverent about merchandising that it gets gooey and sentimental and invokes the majesty of the law to protect old neon advertisments -- such a society is too dotty to resent being assaulted by telephone callers peddling things. If society bristled with irritation about this hectoring extension of the marketplace into the home, the calls would stop.
The broadcasting industry, with the government's agreement, is eliminating the voluntary code that for 30 years has restricted television advertising to one product in each 30-second spot, limited stations to five consecutive commercials and limited commercials to no more than 8 1/2 minutes an hour. A Federal Communications Commission guideline still restricts commercials to 16 minutes per hour, but it is just a guideline. And the FCC's chairman says he wants to deregulate television completely so that broadcasters, like newspaper owners, will be free to advertise what, and as much, as they like. So much for the distinction between printing presses, which can be multiplied at private instigation, and television channels, which, being limited, are allocated as public trusts and regulated by public agencies.
At the Washington Radio Conference of 1922, when the idea of broadcasting advertisements arose, the secretary of commerce said: "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service (radio) to be drowned in advertising chatter." Thus spake Herbert Hoover, whose enthusiasm for commerce was capacious, but not senseless.
Today, most of life's interstices are flooded with merchandising. But surely a dike of commercial ethics can be erected that will keep the flood from trickling through the telephone into our homes.