This piece originally appeared on the Op/Ed page of the Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1982.
Stamp This Into Your Brain: Get the Message–or Else!
While paying my bills the other night, I noticed for the first time that blank space in the upper-right-hand corner of pre-addressed return envelopes–the spot where your creditors advise something like PUT A STAMP HERE, DUMMY.
At least that’s what I always assumed that it said. Without ever reading the fine print, I just figured that there was a Bureau of Standards somewhere, or at the very least a federal statute, that dictated the wording for the postage window on pre-addressed envelopes.
Wrong. The message is the same, but the wording turns out to vary as much as the essential nature of, say, Bank of America varies from Mother Teresa. After comparing the first three envelopes in my stack, I amused myself for the better part of an hour by doing a sort of consumer’s Rorschach test on the folks to whom I was sending my money.
It’s not as reliable as blood-typing. It may prove to have no relevance at all. (On the other hand, it just might.) What follows is a partial list of the department stores, oil companies, utilities and banks that I have helped support over the years and what their stamp instructions say about them. Draw up your own list. Then draw your own conclusions.
American Express–most succinct. It says, “Place Stamp Here”–no period. Does this indicate an open-ended, ongoing business philosophy, one dedicated to expanding horizons, global pleasures and virtually limitless credit?
Sparkletts Drinking Water–same instructions, also no punctuation. In this case, it obviously wants to indicate that even though the product can be contained, the source is endlessly recurring; the Sparkletts man will come and come again, as on-time as the tides.
The Broadway–another simple “Place Stamp Here”–with a period. Are huge department stores more grammatical, more correct, more “right,” position-wise, than money-lending financial giants? Or are they simply reminding us of a need to set limits so that the Christmas spending season, while it may blow over, unnoticed, into spring, will be settled by summer?
Los Angeles Times–most polite. It says, “Please Place Stamp Here.” (Punctuation mine.) I admit this piqued my curiosity. Suppose you’re 30 days overdue. Does it still say “please”? Sixty days? Ninety days? How about the letter saying that it has referred the matter to a collection agency? Never mind. The “please” works on me like an old-fashioned paperboy, ball cap askew, diffidently sticking his hand out. I always pay.
National Wildlife Federation–most polite and by far the most literate. “Please Affix Stamp Here”–no period. This could indicate that it wants you to keep affixing and contributing and affixing and contributing. It did make me wonder, though. Among all the people interested in wildlife, aren’t there any with vocabularies limited to one-syllable words like “put”?
Union 76–a tough one. It wants its money, it wants it now, and it wants you to know right up front what will happen if you try to pull a fast one. “PLACE STAMP HERE. The Post Office will not deliver mail without postage.” Period.
Equally as hard-nosed with that kind of no-nonsense, no-compromise ultimatum are California First Bank and General Telephone. Their instructions are almost identical: “Put Stamp Here. The Post Office will not deliver mail without postage.” Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
My favorite, partly because it was so unexpected, came from Safeco Insurance Co. Its envelope didn’t advise anything. Not a word. It just provided a big blank space that stood out like a sore thumb. Does Safeco assume that its customers are bright enough to know that they must affix postage to anything they drop into the mailbox? Good. I’ve never had much faith in insurance companies before, but knowing that one has faith in me made my whole day.
Thanks, Safeco. You get my stamp of approval.