They have us trained, folks, like the seals that bounce balls on their noses at the circus.
Trained for a world that’s going away.
Busy day. Errands, chores, endless do-list. Home for a quick lunch, and as I pull into the driveway I see the mail has already arrived. My heart is aflutter.
Let’s see. A bill, right on time. A magazine. Plenty of junk. And what’s this? Something from the mutual fund. It’s not the right time for a quarterly statement. No, this is different.
My mind flashes to Monopoly, specifically that wondrous Community Chest card: “Bank error in your favor. Collect $200.”
Yes, that has to be it. I am spending the money even as I rip open the envelope.
Which contains some annual form that the mutual fund people allege will be needed for my taxes.
So that day’s haul of mail is a bill, the usual assortment of come-ons, and something that was not $200 and was instead a reminder of a dull, tedious and expensive civic duty.
Yet tomorrow’s mail will come, and I will eagerly look for that bank error in my favor despite decades of contrary evidence. The Community Chest also has a $10 prize for second place in a beauty contest, and it seems I’m unlikely to win that one either.
Who does mail anymore anyway? The banks are only too happy to have us do their work and pay everything electronically, and the utilities and other creditors – in the name of saving trees, postage and hassle – push the same line. No one writes letters. So it’s junk, junk, junk: lines of credit, pizza discounts, the newest high-dollar car wash.
But like any conditioned animal – remember getting letters from Grandma, perhaps with a dollar tucked inside? – we leap to the door when we hear the letter carrier on the front step. Today, we are sure, has to be the day.
I fear other simple pleasures are in danger, too. I’ll admit it: I’m the last person in America who still enjoys going to the grocery store. I do this with a sense of purpose and anticipated surprise, kind of like fetching the mail.
I’m going to find great bargains. Duck or lamb will be on sale, and I will be inspired to make something grand and new. I will become a new me, an admired gourmet. Perhaps Food Network will want me. Yes, all things are possible, especially for a properly trained seal who still believes.
But if the hype is to be believed, the simple joy of walking down the baking goods aisle might go away. We will sit at home, ordering and paying online for goods dive-bombed onto our driveways by thoughtless, speechless drones. It will be progress, as some count it.
Somehow the sense of anticipation, discovery and surprise doesn’t work for me on the Internet. I think that ran out about 1998, around the time the entire enterprise was taken over by celebrity gossip and “one simple, hidden trick to lose 20 pounds of belly fat in two days.”
I prefer the live to the virtual. Real mail, such as it is. Real grocery stores, while they last. And some day, maybe, a bank error in my favor. Cold, hard cash would be nice.
Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @FoxEJC.