Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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Return to sender

Ian Urbina has a fun story in today's New York Times on the small rebellions individuals engage in every day to protest life's petty annoyances. Here's an excerpt:

Life can involve big hardships, like being fired or smashing up your car. There is only so much you can do about them. But far more prevalent - and perhaps in the long run just as insidious - are life's many little annoyances.

These, you can do something about.

To examine the little weapons people use for everyday survival is to be given a free guidebook on getting by, created by the millions who feel that they must. It is a case study in human inventiveness, with occasional juvenile and petty passages, and the originators of these tips are happy to share them.

"They're an integral part of how people cope," said Prof. James C. Scott, who teaches anthropology and political science at Yale University, and the author of "Weapons of the Weak," about the feigned ignorance, foot-dragging and other techniques Malaysian peasants used to avoid cooperating with the arrival of new technology in the 1970's. "All societies have them, but they're successful only to the extent that they avoid open confrontation."

The slow driver in fast traffic, the shopper with 50 coupons at the front of the checkout line and the telemarketer calling at dinner all inflict life's thousand little lashes. But some see these infractions as precious opportunities, rare chances for retribution in the face of forces beyond our control.

Wesley A. Williams spent more than a year exacting his revenge against junk mailers. When signing up for a no-junk-mail list failed to stem the flow, he resorted to writing at the top of each unwanted item: "Not at this address. Return to sender." But the mail kept coming because the envelopes had "or current resident" on them, obligating mail carriers to deliver it, he said.

Next, he began stuffing the mail back into the "business reply" envelope and sending it back so that the mailer would have to pay the postage. "That wasn't exacting a heavy enough cost from them for bothering me," said Mr. Williams, 35, a middle school science teacher who lives in Melrose, N.Y., near Albany.

After checking with a postal clerk about the legality of stepping up his efforts, he began cutting up magazines, heavy bond paper, and small strips of sheet metal and stuffing them into the business reply envelopes that came with the junk packages.

"You wouldn't believe how heavy I got some of these envelopes to weigh," said Mr. Williams, who added that he saw an immediate drop in the amount of arriving junk mail. A spokesman for the United States Postal Service, Gerald McKiernan, said that Mr. Williams's actions sounded legal, as long as the envelope was properly sealed.

posted by Dan on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM


I used to mail the junk back to the sender in the pre-paid envelopes. It's a bit of work, because I always ripped my name/address out. (Most mass-mailings come via third parties that lease out their mailing lists - the party your mail returns to may not yet have your name/address)

I like this Williams' tactic better, as it might get, for instance, Citibank, to encourage Mass-Mailing Company X to take you off of their mailing list.

Also, similar to the Dominos guy, I always request a DrPepper, even when I know the place doesn't serve it. Just my way of reminding them that at least one of their customers wish they did.

posted by: MattJ on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Man, the wife and I do this all the time, typically enclosing one junkmailers glossies in another junkmailers return envelope. And likewise, I always report spam to SpamCop.

Might not be the best use of my time, but yeah, it feels good.

posted by: fling93 on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

I used bugmenot.com to sign up to read the story, so when bugmenot was mentioned I had to laugh.

posted by: DavidM on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Whatever happened to taping those annoying magazine cards to a brick and plopping them in the mail?

posted by: T.A on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Allegedly (meaning I read it somewhere on the internet), that would be called 'using a postcard as a label', and voids the postcard. The postal clerks were supposed to trash anything like that.

posted by: Barry on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Great information, my mail box is filled with about four inches thick of junk mail for my elderly mother in law practically every day!
I think she'll enjoy returning them the favor!
Grace be with you...

posted by: Empowerqueen on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

Re Starbucks. "Grande" of course means "large" in Italian, so you should ask for a large then complain if they try to give you the "Venti". There is no medium, there is small and large, and then 20 oz. which is more accurately called "ridiculous."

posted by: Vanya on 03.15.05 at 08:55 AM [permalink]

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