At his recent graduation, a friend asked him to hold her school ID during the ceremony because neither her dress nor the graduation robe had pockets. As her friend and a lifelong pants-wearer, he obliged. When we arrived home hours later, he realized she failed to ask for it back and he forgot to return it. (Even though they’re both graduated and free, I think she still needs it to pick up her 2012-2013 yearbook when they’ve finally printed circa spring 2015.) Since their schedules haven’t quite synched up, he offered to mail it to her. She messaged her address to him.
I handed him a blank envelope. He gave me a blank look.
He had no idea how to address the envelope. What I took for granted as a simple lesson from elementary school represents for him either a worrisome memory gap or a grievous oversight by our local school system. He’s ordered plenty of packages in his time, and even sent a few, but most mailing boxes and manila envelopes nowadays come with pre-formatted guidelines to keep users in proper, organized compliance with United States Postal Service regulations. As long as you remember which of you is the sender, which is the addressee, and which end of the pen has the ink-hole, you’ll do fine. Without a kindly manufacturer’s helping hand, suddenly the deceptively simple act of mailing stumped him.
I was surprised at this remorseless confession, but I’m willing to bet he’s not alone. How many millions of other internet-savvy young adults would have no idea how to return their Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes winning entry? How many thank-you notes reached their recipients only because of dutiful parents who did all the mailing, addressing, assembling, and signature forgery? How many independent professionals will have their identities stolen because they trusted hackable online bill-pay more than they trusted their local Mr. McFeely’s speedy delivery?
For those young, ignored, disenfranchised adults who need practical advice, submitted for your future reference at the top of this entry is a sample envelope for your use as a template if you ever find yourself trapped in the inescapable situation of having to mail a thing. You, too, can create your very own legally mailable item like mine in just eight easy steps!
1. Buy a box of blank envelopes from the stationery section of your nearest big-box store. If you need help finding them, do what the average consumer does: walk to another part of the store hundreds of feet away and ask any random employee where they are. They love handling questions about other departments that aren’t in their job description.
2. Take one (1) envelope from the package with the blank side (or “front”) pointed toward you. The other side (“back”) should have a flap on it. If it doesn’t, you’ve mistakenly bought blank index cards and will need to make a second trip. The fold of the flap should be at the top, with the flap corner pointing toward the bottom. If held correctly, it should look just like the “Mail” icon on your email provider’s main page.
3. On the front of the envelope, find the “center”, which is the section that’s located farthest from all four corners. Some regions of the U.S. may refer to it as the “middle”, but don’t let the little differences in lingo trip you up. In the center, fill in the name and address of the person or entity that you hope will receive your mailing. You should use at three lines as shown above, possibly more if they dwell in a subdivided structure or in a fancy suburb with pretentious street names that sound like Fall Out Boy song titles. Make sure you include the ZIP code as well, or else your local mail carrier will crumple it up and feed it to your neighbor’s chihuahua.
4. In the upper-left corner, write your address — again, using at least three lines because three is a magic number. The postal service needs to know where to return your mailing in case they try to deliver it and find the place no longer there because of natural disaster or time-traveling meddlers who tinkered it out of existence or whatever.
5. Buy one (1) stamp either online, from your closest post office, or from your favorite grandparent. Affix the stamp to the upper-right corner of your envelope. I MEAN ON THE FRONT, NOT THE BACK. Sorry, I should’ve said that part first. Stamping the back won’t count, and you’ve wasted however many dozens of dollars each stamp now costs by the time you’re reading this.
6. Insert the contents into the envelope and seal the flap. Unless you bought fancy envelopes, you’ll have to lick the adhesive along the edge of the flap — yes, go ahead and make a face at me, but that’s how it’s done — and press it against the back of the envelope. If you bought your envelopes at Dollar Tree, you may also need to secure the flap with masking tape, just to be sure it stays shut throughout its entire journey. If your tape also came from Dollar Tree, use glue or caulk instead.
7. Pass the finished product along to your mail carrier or to any actively used mailbox in your area.
8. Step back and wait two to eighty days for post office magic to happen.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully mailed something, just like your ancestors once accomplished six days a week in more primitive times. Be warned, though: this incident could happen again. After all, regular mail can still serve other purposes today:
* Christmas and birthday cards. Even if you’re not as dutiful about this tradition as my wife is, you may have relatives who don’t have access to e-cards and will be left out in the cold if your sole expression of Christmas spirit is to retweet whatever funny holiday pic George Takei’s ghost writer posts that day. Do you really hate your grandmother so much that you would shun and/or forget about her? On Christmas? That’s harsh.
* Payments owed to companies that don’t accept online payments, or who are terrible at processing them. Sure, most companies accept them, but not all of them. Those that do, aren’t all great at it. Those that are terrible at it, require multiple follow-up pestering by phone. Obsolete though they might seem, checks might work better for them. You’d be surprised.
* Returning your Amazon purchases. Granted, today’s mailing boxes plainly label the required addressing areas for you, but what happens if you’re low on funds, need to cut costs, and decide to return your brand-new but factory-defective copy of Hey, Vern! It’s Ernest: the Complete Series in a plain, unmarked box you happen to have lying around? Yes, this substitution is perfectly legal, but you’ll have to arrange the front of the box in the correct, mandatory fashion on your own. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?
* Magazine subscription renewals. Yes, like post offices and broadcast networks, a few magazines are still with us. Try one sometime. They’d love a little attention.
* Chain letters. If your online persona as a fugitive Nigerian king isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to take your act to the streets, old-school style.
Hopefully these words of wisdom will help you out of a jam someday. If this entry made a difference in your life, the best way to thank me would be to prove your mastery of the Mailing Arts by sending me an envelope with a tip in it, using the instructions outlined above. Consider it your final exam.