The mail's tidings

I'VE been feeling a tad guilty lately. Some of the biggest companies in America have been spending a lot of time and effort encouraging me to buy things, join associations, read new magazines, win prizes, take weekend trips to mini-ranches for sale in the desert, and generally improve myself by sending them some of my money.

The mail-order people seem to be making quite an effort. Some of the solicitations are slickly printed and multi-colored. Some make it clear that my selection was no haphazard affair. Sometimes I have been ``recommended'' to them. One organization was given my name ``as someone who would understand.'' Some have divined that I am a special person with the rare discernment to appreciate their service or product. All this is flattering, especially when the letters are personalized, addressing me by name. I am puzzled, however, when these letters to me carry a ``bulk rate'' on the envelope.

The reason I feel guilty is that I very rarely take up these offers to improve my well-being. True, I once did succumb to a Mobil oil company pitch to buy a 38-piece set of drill bits. My wife, a woman of much wisdom and even greater forbearance, did not try to deter me. They have lain unused for about 18 months. But as a bonus, they came in a nice suede pouch made in Taiwan. They look handsome, and any day now they'll come in handy.

Other than that, I am not a compulsive mail-order purchaser. I am, as a matter of fact, probably one of the few people to have been kicked out of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Despite a fistful of credits for purchases in years past, it seems I just wasn't gulping up enough current selections. I think they suspected I was getting a better deal at the discount bookstore.

Still, the propositions come with each mail.

Dazzled by its earlier success, Mobil now wants me to buy a space-saver audio system through the mail. I can listen for 30 days and send it back if I don't find it's saving enough space.

Readers' Subscription thinks I am a ``serious, discriminating reader'' (take THAT, Book-of-the-Month Club), and wants me to start with 10 volumes of Chekhov in paperback.

Others want me to mail money for Italian sunglasses, and matched luggage, and even electric model cars and ray guns to play with in my study during dull moments between columns.

American Express wants me to trade in my green card for a gold card. I've ``earned'' it, says American Express. I ``deserve'' to join the ``select group'' that carries it. Of course, it'll cost a little more.

The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned lest I missed its earlier letter. ACLU is ``not for everyone,'' but it apparently wants me. The future of civil liberties, executive director Ira Glasser warns darkly, is ``fraught with peril.''

But Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the Republican National Committee, is just as exercised about the possibility of a Democrat victory in the November elections. That is why he is writing to me ``personally.'' He addresses me: ``Dear Friend.''

Meanwhile, Prentice-Hall wants to sell me a book telling me how to write business letters. Their own letter to me is addressed: ``Dear Executive.'' They're too smart to claim personal acquaintance with someone they think needs help writing letters.

Something called SyberVision wants me to buy its videocassettes. One cassette will show you how Jean-Claude Killy learned to ski. Another will show you how to defend yourself with Hee Il Cho (if you're a man) or Cynthia Rothrock (if you're a woman).

Finally, my mail one day smelled exotic. I tracked the aroma to a candy-striped envelope from Giorgio, of Beverly Hills -- Rodeo Drive, no less. In a perfumed plastic packet, Giorgio had sent me the best-selling fragrance for men in Beverly Hills. It was potent stuff. Though it may be big in Beverly Hills, I don't think it will go in our little Cape Cod town. I discarded it in a bin outside our post office. It drove a couple of waiting dogs wild.

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