With dire predictions about the future of the U.S. Postal Service rampant, it seems a bit odd that solicitations by mail appear to be both more numerous and of greater weight as we approach the holiday season. Further, there seems to be something of a shrill quality to requests for monetary funds. The economy is probably to blame but it's as if the old standby mail service is being used in more aggressive ways by many non-profits in what may be a kind of farewell salute. As a great philosopher once suggested, "Get it now."
Offhand, I'd say I've received at least twice my normal mail during the past six weeks and it's not just attributable to the buying of public office. At the risk of being called a roadshow Andy Rooney, I'm certain some of these annual appeals arrive at least four times a year. A new wrinkle is the holiday gift including such items as tote bags, jackets, blankets, note pads and more return address labels than I could possibly use in 10 decades. Boys Town, American Heart Association and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have told me to look inside for my present. Easter Seals has announced on the envelope that I've been a supporter since 2011 and that there's important information inside regarding my 2012 membership. Wonder what it might be?
I can't recall who it was but I've received two checks for $2.50. Implicit in the pitch was the suggestion that I, the original nice guy, wouldn't cash the check but would add to it. My guess is that the most difficult aspect of being a legitimate non-profit is media coverage. Hardly a week goes by without a story about either a mail scam or the sky-high overhead of yet another do good organization. Yes, let's blame the media, today's All-American whipping boy, if you discount President Obama.
In a country whee greed is hardly limited to Wall Street, many of us buy lottery tickets as a solution to money shorts. While I'm sure that the people at Publishers Clearing House think otherwise, a sweepstakes is a sweepstakes is a sweepstakes. How unfortunate was Gertrude Stein not to have lived long enough to experience the Clearing House Follies. What a musical that will make some day with an Ed McMahon-like character making house calls while proving what he was: Max Bialystock with carny blarney.
Publishers Clearing House caught up with me the other day and my reaction was one of wellwhadyaknow? things much like running into a friend of a largely forgotten ex-wife. Curious, I opened the PCH envelope to a WARNING indicating that the Executive Offices at 101 Winners Circle in Port Washington, NY were letting me know about my ignoring prior notices. The WARNING was further identified as a WAIVER that could very well be activated if I followed directions.
The WARNING (capital letters, often in boldface type, are PCH stock in trade) became detailed indicating that a failure to return my official entry validation & order form would (a) automatically waive my ownership of Mega Prize Number 391112404319, (b) automatically waive my number's permanent admission onto the Final Winner Selection List for the November 30th Mega Prize and (c) automatically waive my opportunity to win Millions of Dollars from this Notice. Fortifying these threats was a hand-written note: "Don't let this happen to you. Respond today, before it's too late." In the word of Jack Benny: "Well!"
As if to sound a note of reason, there was a five paragraph raison d'etre from Dave Sayer, Prize Patrol Executive Director. I wonder what it's like running a prize patrol? Probably full of logistics and, if you're a veteran of the biz, likely to harbor feelings of good fortune that you never had affable Ed McMahon on your team although, come to think of it, McMahon's efforts as spokesman for rival American Family Publishing, no longer in business, were often mistaken as being for PCH. Confusion often is a word used in conjunction with the sweepstakes since the direct mail scheme, deftly promoted, was started in 1963. Confusion may have peaked with McMahon's death when a great many articles and obituaries credited McMahon's efforts as being for PCH, a firm for which he never worked.
We have Reader's Digest partly to blame for PCH's sweepstakes. It was in 1963 that the Digest, now the world's most read monthly magazine with a circulation of 17 million and 70 million readers, came up with a highly successful sweepstakes that inspired PCH to develop its own version four years later as a means of drawing attention to magazines. Who can forget a greatly enhanced version in the late 1980s and those live recorded moments featuring the Prize Patrol, lurking on American streets, and not conclude the towering excitement was an early version of reality television? All those balloons, flowers, champagne, and big checks are impressions not easily diminished by time.
Sayer's reassuring note largely concentrates on why PCH is so happy to give away so much money. It probably comes with the territory that any Prize Patrol Executive Director would become excessively inclusive and it took Dave but five paragraphs to declare palship by signing his first name to a communique with two references to my full name while interjecting seven yous, one you'll, plus a your in addition to making it clear I don't have to buy anything to win. It was a promise later fort of rescinded.
Deception, no doubt accompanied by an awareness that a large percentage of this country's citizens continues to be victimized by a lengthy and severe dumbing down, has alway been part of Publishers Clearing House's sales ethics. Something of a breakthrough occurred in 2000 when, without admitting any wrongdoing, the firm settled with 23 states for $18 million. Key to the settlement was a forced inclusion of a "Sweepstakes Facts Box" and disclaimers thast tell participants "Buying Won't Help You Win" and "You Have Not Yet Won." The firm also was ordered to maintain a Do Not Contact list for those wanting nothing to do with PCH. Things got a touch more expensive the next year when it took $34 million to settle with 25 states and, for the first time, acknowledged "harm done in the past by deceptive practices." Settlement agreements during the next 11 months were reached with 40 states.
State settlements appear to be a sweepstakes minor irritant to PCH. In September of last year, contempt charges of violating the 2001 Agreement were reached with 33 for a paltry $3.5 million, a sum likely found encouraging by PCH. Each settlement has produced more ground rules seemingly still trespassed judging from what arrived in my mail. Certainly, the spirit of ground rules corrections has been violated; one wonders if PCH has the kind of corporate sense of humor capable of giving rise to a yearly internal sweepstakes game within the game enabling home office types to buy in-house chances on the number of state settlements to be made plus the dwindling chump change fines since the new century began. Corporations, as we've been told by George Romney, are people and there are something like 400 employees headquartered in Port Washington, NY. Conspiracy theorists are probably wondering if there is any connection between a doubling of lobbyists during the glorious George W. Bush years and greatly reduced PCH fines meted out for obvious obfuscation and whose murkiness remains a hallmark of written chicanerey.
I couldn't help but notice an enclosed Official Entry Validation & Order Form. Implicit is the declaration that my current PROVISIONAL ONLY status will remain just that unless I affix my Mega Prize 10-diget number contained on the FINAL WINNER SELECTION LIST ADMISSION NOTICE. If my submission arrives by November 14, I make it to the final round should my number be selected. It used to be simple before this winnowing process was deemed necessary. The odds of winning as much as a mega prize of $1 million plus $5,000 a week for life are something like 1 in 1.75 billion, an increase of 23% from a year ago. The odds have always been contention's bone with the 2007 chances, announced by PCH, as "1 in 333 million."
I kind of like the free postage envelope enclosed. I don't recall such assistance before but, the passage of time and the fecklessness of my past responses may be to blame. With the government critical of the continuing word games played by PCH, there is possible blatancy in a suggestion on the envelop0e that it be used to "enclose your official entry validation & order form and mail." Critics wise to the ways of nuanced literature will deplore an ampersand certain to put lawyers to work.
I do miss all those magazines that Publishers Clearing House sold in the early days. What came in the mail the other day makes one wonder why the word "Publishers" remains in the firm's name. It's one thing to flog a classy publication like The New Yorker, it's another to shill for such products as an NFL Football Monkey complete with your choice of team logos; a heart-shaped birthstone pendant with two pairs of pierced earrings, an irresistible 32-melody wireless digital doorbell (tunes include "The Yellow Rose of Texas, batteries not included) and three sets of glittery Santa window sticker that come with three snowmen stickers if four payments of $2.99 are made. I counted 83 advertisers participating in what normally is associated with cheesy local mailings heavy on pizza parlors, automotive specials and sex shops.
It wasn't long before I learned these people never give up. Deep within the PCH envelope contents was a "Fast Cash" bingo card adjacent to eight sticker chips that, somehow, gave me a matching row of numbers and the opportunity to slap the card on the back of my Official Entry Validation & Order Form and make me a $50 Fast Cash Winner.
I also stumbled upon an even greater opportunity that might win $100. It seems that Bellingham resident Robert Sanders is on the LOCAL PRIZE WINNER SELECTION LIST, provisionally (there's that word, again) eligible to win the SEATTLE-TACOMA TV area major prize of $1,000. TV stations KOMO-TV, KING-TV and KIRO-TV are guaranteed to be alerted to my windfall. Of course, the entry must be validated by 11/14/11 or the provisional eligibility will be REVOKED.
It's tempting to inform PCH that Bellingham, located 100 miles north of Seattle, is not part of the Seattle-Tacoma area. Also, I don't believe either KOMO-TV or KIRO-TV will be interested in me and my $1,000 prize. That's particularly so should they learn Brian Williams will announce the name of the mega prze winner on the NBC-TV nightly news of November 30.
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