The checks were on the mail

My quaint, curious Cousin Ralph was distant kin and innovative. Every Christmas he would send me a gift certificate from Nieman Marcus for $2. I was just sitting here, waiting to think of something to do, when I remembered his invention of the postal-card bank check, which is well worth our joint attention. Meantime, I have answered the reader who asked about the dinner-table conversation that used to be well known. It's about the farmer's wife who was hard of hearing, and she asked the guest at her supper table if he'd care for more to eat.

He said, "No, thank you, I have a great sufficiency."

She said, "You been a-fishing?"

"No, no! I've had plenty!"

"Caught twenty?"

"No, no! I'm full!"

"Broke your pole?"

"Thank you, no more!"

"More? Pass up your plate."'

(There was probably further, but fortunately I've forgotten.)

As to Cousin Ralph's postal-card checks: He had a prosperous business predicated on the fact that he could sell anything. If snowballs became available, Ralph would know an Eskimo who wanted a load.

In this small but profitable business, Ralph mailed checks to his suppliers every month. As this started when a first-class letter cost 2 cents and was increased to 3, postage was no great expense. But when the United States Postal Service began crying poor-mouth and wanted whipped cream on its pie, Ralph considered and took steps.

Why did he have to put a check in an envelope and pay the long postage when he could buy a post card for one cent with the postage already on it? Why not print the check on a post card and mail the card? First, he had to persuade his bank. Putting on a 30-cent necktie, he went in to see his banker, with whom he did an annual business of not just a little bit.

The banker was horrified at the idea of a check other than the size, shape, and expensive kind already established. To Ralph he gave the answer to be expected in this world of conformity.

When Ralph got to thinking deeply about something, it was like the snap of a mouse trap. He walked to another bank on the opposite side of the street, and, having introduced himself to the management, said he would give them his business if they would arrange for him to use postal cards for checks.

They said it would take about 10 minutes. They were new at the banking game and didn't yet know all the rules. So Ralph bought a thousand postal cards at the Post Office, had a printer fix them up with "Pay to the order of..." and then saved money every time he paid a bill. He also gained some notoriety as the smart young man who used postal-card checks.

As hinted, Ralph liked to favor his friends with thoughtful Christmas gifts, and he had about 50 customers included. One year he sent each a copy of Joshua Slocum's book about sailing alone around the world. Another year, they got fruitcakes. And the year that Time Magazine was launched, Ralph sent each of his 50 best customers a charter subscription.

To a man, they expressed pleasure until Ralph knew he had made a popular choice. A year later he sent his postal-card check to Time. On the address side he wrote, "Please renew my gift subs. of last year."

This was well before computerized frivolities were run-of-the-mill. So Time had no alternative and simply wrote back to Cousin Ralph to ask, "What gift subscriptions?" Interestingly, and only for what it is worth, Time also returned his postal-card check (for a considerable sum) and asked him to enclose it with his order when he replied.

In this way, the door was opened to an earth-shaking encounter that Time has to date failed to cover in its comprehensive journalism. Ralph simply said he had no idea who the gift subscriptions were for, as he hadn't bothered to jot down the names, and why didn't Time just look them up? He also asked (on his postal-card reply) how anybody was to go about enclosing a postal-card check in a postal card?

I heard, over the years, how many of Ralph's numerous side-issues turned out, but I never heard just how Time handled that one.

In his attempt to buy clocks from Timex, which makes only watches, Cousin Ralph was always satisfied that he'd won, but he didn't get any clocks. I was delighted when he had an Italian sculptor make a bust of Rossini, which he presented to the Rossini Club. (The sculptor almost wouldn't make the bust because nobody knows what Rossini looked like.) In the devices that Ralph contrived, sometimes not even Ralph knew how they turned out, which is good and shows fitting disdain for something or other.

One time Ralph rented a mock Pullman section from the Pullman Company, which used the thing for advertising at fairs, and Ralph used it for an act he did in the annual service-club variety show. All he did was lie on his back in the lower berth and blow Mendelssohn's "Spring Song" on a tuba. The act was titled, "Something Nobody Ever Did Until Now." Ralph expressed the knockdown Pullman Section back to Chicago the next morning, and he prized the letter he got thanking him for his interest in Pullman travel. He did prize, too, his correspondence with Time Inc.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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