I’ve got mail
There are plenty of people who can attest to my organizational skills, although to be fair almost all of them are, technically, imaginary people.
What? They have a right to their opinion.
Let’s just say, then, that I’m selectively organized, which means the inside of my house, car, and cranium don’t count. But in certain, very specific areas of my life, I know where everything is (not socks).
My computer is a good example. I’m a relentless creator of folders, nesting and aligned according to subject matter, dates, and occasionally body temperature. I sometimes look at these little yellow icons on my desktop and imagine some future archeologist, digging in the ruins of Snohomish County and discovering an actual hard drive buried among the detritus of a long-extinct culture, including lots of socks.
They will activate this hard drive and display its contents in holographic form, and marvel at the systematic nature of a 21st-century man.
“Look!” they’ll exclaim. “This guy must have been INSANE.”
It won’t matter to me. I will be in Heaven.
And among these folders, among the collections of recipes and spreadsheets and receipts and shopping lists (you don’t keep those?), they’ll find one called Reader Mail.
I’ve written this column for 11 years. I do, in fact, have a series of folders in which every single Beacon column is carefully preserved, just in case someone wants to know what I’ve been doing with my life. There are approximately half a million words there, although to be honest a lot of them are exactly the same words.
And some of those words have inspired and provoked people to send me mail. I get a fair amount of it these days, more than I used to, although there are still long periods when I don’t hear anything at all. This bothers me, as you can imagine.
“I think no one is actually reading my column,” I say to my wife, who assures me that sometimes she does.
Occasionally I receive old-fashioned mail, carefully folded and placed in an envelope, written in a neat, often ornate style of handwriting that I associate with Ladies of a Certain Age.
I recognize this handwriting; it reminds me of letters I got from my grandmothers when I was away in college. Every time I open one of these envelopes I expect a $5 bill to fall out.
Most of it, though, is of the electronic variety, often just a few lines, short and sweet. Although sometimes not sweet at all. Those are the fun ones.
The critical, even nasty ones are enjoyable because they give me insight into human nature and the complexity of individual cognitive processes, by which I mean some of it is crazy.
I’ve written 800-plus words on my exciting adventures in lawn care, only to get mail calling me a socialist and encouraging me to go back to Russia, where apparently they don’t have lawns. It’s fascinating.
And sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a recent study in which it was suggested that even very, very old people – I believe the age they mentioned was 49 – can turn their sedentary lives around and achieve a level of fitness that might make a significant difference in their quality of life.
I noticed this because I had, in fact, reluctantly started to exercise a few years ago, when I was 49. And on a few occasions in this paper, I’ve mentioned my personal experience (seriously, only a few times. It just feels like every week).
And every time I do, I get mail from people who sneer and scoff. “Have fun being a physically fit corpse in your coffin!” they say. People are funny.
This time, though, I got several emails from men. Men who happened to be right around 49. Men who said, pretty much, “Thanks for inspiring me to get back in shape!”
You’re welcome. Although I feel compelled to mention this is not an uncommon thing for men to say.
I don’t want to generalize too much, but I have a feeling that women who live with men are good at recognizing certain behaviors. Such as the guys in their lives developing a passion for watching old episodes of “Baywatch” (“Honey, it’s a CLASSIC”), and particularly upon hearing the words, “I’m going to get back in shape.”
Women know the truth, which is that what these men actually mean is, “I’m going to get into shape like that David Hasselhoff guy.” This is not an actual shape, as it turns out, much like a polytope, which can theoretically exist in any number of dimensions, just probably not this one.
This almost never ends well, although sometimes it’s fun to watch.
But I wish you guys luck. The truth is, aside from all the talk about corpses and coffins, I can attest that even a moderate amount of exercise can make you feel a little better. It gives you something to tell your doctor when asked. It’s easier than eating leafy green vegetables. I say go for it.
And thanks for writing, all of you. Don’t forget the $5 bill next time.