No Junk Mail: Practical Suggestions from a Credible Source

Dear Consumer,

I deliver printed advertisements for a living here in Toronto, a job I stumbled upon during a brief period of unemployment. "Why not?" I thought. It's not terribly glamorous but I like my job. It has its perks. I am a physically-active loner, so said perks include a lot of exercise and listening to music and petting cats that are sunning themselves on lawn chairs. Also, I am lucky: my boss pays for twelve-hundred dollars of health benefits per annum. Do you know how amazing that is? Once you've paid for a month of much-needed Pilates classes or physical therapy out of your own pocket will you understand what a gift - A PRECIOUS GIFT - health benefits are.

So I bust around town on my bicycle towing flyers in a backpack (anywhere between ten and fifty kilometers per day), and then hand-deliver about three hundred of them to the mailboxes of expensive houses in affluent neighborhoods, every day (anywhere between two and ten additional kilometers per day of walking). This can take anywhere between two and six hours. I like doing it because it can be good therapy if I am able to get it done without incident. I can sing quietly or jog between houses and get my heart and lungs going. I do, however, run into problems. These problems are all communication-based, so I'd like to address each of my points to you - friend and possible flyer-recipient - so we can avoid further disputes. As you will surely see, our brief relationship need not be difficult. For me to do my job quickly, competently, and efficiently requires you to put yourself in my shoes for a minute. One minute. The following is a list of practical suggestions to - if nothing more - keep civil any further exchanges between us.

Placement of mailbox/slot/receptacle: Go stand outside of your house, on the sidewalk. From here, can you see your mail receptacle? Take off your glasses; how about now, see it? If you cannot see it, I cannot see it. Now stand at both the left and right corners of your property: can you see your mail receptacle from both of these places? If you cannot see it, I cannot see it. This is problematic for both of us. If you have utilized signage indicating that you do not want printed advertisements, I won't know about it until I walk onto your property and approach your house, which will annoy me, because it accounts as wasted time for me, and I am not into wasting time. I have other shit to do today (and every day). The mail receptacle is at the side of your house? No problem: just give me a sign that it's there. An arrow will suffice quite nicely. Proceed immediately to "adequate signage".

Adequate signage: This is the big issue folks. This one - signage - is the clincher. I've seen it all: 8-point-sized printed stickers on the half-inch top edge of a mail slot reading NO JUNK MAIL, crumpled paper signs on doors where the graphite has worn off from rain, NO JUNK MAIL on a sign nowhere even remotely close to the mailbox, signage - not at the bottom - but at the top of forty stairs I have had to climb to see, signs that toddlers have written with pictures of trees on them but are obviously illegible, expressly malicious signs that say things like "we don't need your ads, you slag", people who think they're funny by making a mailbox that says "flyers please!" which has a hole at the bottom that empties into a garbage can. Now pretend you're me: you've already biked several kilometers to get to the area you're working in. You are most definitely sweating, even though it might be raining and cold. You're up and down stairs every minute. You're very tired. Do you really think you're going to take any of the aforementioned scenarios with some kind of homeowner empathy? Maybe a hearty guffaw? Do you really think - at the top of forty stairs - you'll take it WELL? I sincerely suspect not.

Friends, there are friendly considerations, there are outright insults, and there are rules. Do not insult me, as I will not take kindly to it. Insult me, and I will enforce the rules, because I can. Rule one: If your signage is inadequate, and you are getting a flyer. Rule two: If your signage is insulting, you are getting a flyer. Rule three: If I cannot see your signage, you are getting a flyer. Rule four: if you do not have a mail receptacle, but make no sign to indicate this fact, you are getting a flyer. Call my boss and tell him you got an advertisement you didn't want. Go ahead. Know what I'll say when he asks me about it? "I didn't see any signage". Do you know what will happen? I will make a point of blowing snot out on your flowers the next time I walk by. I will be walking by again because - ultimately - I will still be employed, delivering printed advertisements. Revenge!

Here in Canada, there exists what is called "The Red Dot Campaign". From their website: "Unaddressed advertising has a five year lifespan. Consumers are demanding environmental responsibility, municipalities are legislating zero waste policies, and rising costs of printing and distribution (coupled with carbon taxes) will make it unprofitable. Data-driven and subscription-based communications will become the new standard. Electronic, mobile and broadcast communications will be seen as more carbon neutral". The "campaign" consists of a four-by-four inch sticker with a big red dot on it with white letters within the dot that read NO JUNK MAIL. This particular sticker is fine, provided it is visible (from the front and corners of your property, on your mail receptacle); however, there is also a stipulation in said campaign wherein people have been lead to believe that putting any red dot - and by this I mean most often a red dot a quarter of an inch in diameter - on their mail receptacle is sufficient for someone in my line of work to understand that you do not want printed advertisements. This, friends, is insulting. I cannot see a tiny red dot from the sidewalk in front of your house. If I walk upon your property and find a tiny red dot: you are getting a flyer. More to the point, The Red Dot Campaign works in conjunction with Canada Post-delivered advertisements. This is explicit in their mandate. The fact of the matter is that I don't work for Canada Post. You would do well to remember that many of the people who walk onto your property are not the blue-clad lady and gentleman posties you so love.

Let me explain adequate signage to you: first, review "placement of mailbox/slot/receptacle" as this is paramount to proper placement of adequate signage. I cannot stress this enough. Second, make a sign that says NO UNADDRESSED MAIL (PLEASE AND THANK YOU) in LARGE LETTERS, where the font color contrasts from the background. Black and white is classic and classy. I appreciate an artist who wants to go yellow and purple, or orange and blue. I love neon too, so break out your highlighter. Make a special red and green sign around Christmas! Whatever you do, make it visible to me. It's so simple. Also, be assured that employing proper signage makes it easy for you to get what you want. I absolutely will not leave you a flyer if you have made it clear (politely) that you do not want one. I don't want them at my house either. It's alright my friend, I feel you. I don't want to feel responsible for literal tons of paper waste either, despite us all actually being responsible. We'll talk about that later though.

Manners/politeness: Let's say I'm walking onto your porch, dripping sweat, my hand about to go into your mailbox. You - at that moment - open the door in your housecoat. You do not want a flyer right now, although your adequate signage isn't ready to put up yet. You know what? That's fine. You know why? Because you smile at me and you say "No thank you miss" and I say "No problem sir/ma'am, have a lovely morning". Easy. Neither of us have lost face, neither of us have ruined the other's day, and we part ways feeling just as good as we did thirty seconds ago. As I've heard before from the great thinkers of our time: manners are not there to make you - personally - feel comfortable: they are there for you to use to make everyone else feel comfortable. So if we are both using manners, we're both comfortable. It is not rocket science. Now, if I approach your house as you open your door, and you start yelling at me, or telling me to "go fuck [my]self", well, we're going to feel ugly, aren't we? I am - despite the incredible amount of sweat - still a human being, just doing my job, and I do not deserve your two-finger salute, nor your waving me off like a dirty orphan, nor your unreasonable judgment of my character. Keep in mind too that prickly comments can go both ways. I can drop a cutting remark as fast and as easily as you can. Politeness is good for both of us. Even if you're having a bad day and you want a flyer about as much as you want a punch in the face, politeness will redeem you. Try it. I dare you. I double-dog dare you. Hey, maybe if your day is going that badly you should just ask for a sweaty hug. I will give you that sweaty hug. I am nothing if not a girl who loves a good embrace.

I will give you another excellent example of good manners, taken from the best day I've ever had doing this job: I was on my last twenty flyers, it was warm and sunny out, I was sufficiently hydrated, and I came upon a man and a woman sitting on their porch drinking a cup of coffee and not glowering at me. Now usually I employ what is called "Andy's Rule"; Andy being my coworker in the printed advertisement experience, and my friend the rest of the time. Andy never approaches a house that has a person on its porch. Andy avoids the possibility of rudeness. He is an epic man, and Andy's Rule is good for one's sanity. Eliminate the possibility of rudeness, and it follows that you eliminate rudeness. Unfortunately, I am not as smart as him. I get "feelings" about people, which are often wrong. In this case, I approached the non-glowering couple and said "good morning" and smiled. They said "good morning" and smiled. I explained to them my purpose in disturbing their morning coffee to which they said "no thank you", but wished to engage me in conversation about other things. Before ten minutes were up, we knew each others' names, we knew where the others' birthplaces were, I knew how much door-to-door real estate agents were offering them for their house, and I had helped them choose a paint color for their front door (a lovely sage green). I said goodbye and they waved me down the street and I went home feeling as light as a feather. Isn't that wonderful? That as strangers, we can carry on little conversations that are friendly? I want us to get along, if the choice is there. Right?

Dogs: In most parts of the civilized world, dogs are still regarded as food or something to kick. Only here - in the most privileged society on earth - are dogs "companions". I - in theory - have no problem with dogs. Hell, I like dogs. Canada Post has rules about dogs: if your dog is outside on your property, you are not getting your mail that day. You will not get your mail for as many days as the letter carrier walks to your house and a dog is simultaneously on your property.

Dogs are very simple animals. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not have human feelings. Dogs have dog feelings. I know, I'm blowing your mind right now. Dog feelings can resemble human feelings like "loyal" and "protective", but their dog-way of expressing these feelings is - in some cases - violent and insane. Ninety percent of the dogs I simply walk past - inside or outside - bark and growl like someone lit their tails on fire. They go apeshit. It sucks. You should train your dog not to bark at people who walk past your house. In essence, it makes you look like an asshole. One woman  told me that my job is stupid and I should quit because - I kid you not - "it upsets dogs". Let me put that another way for you: I should quit a job with flexible hours, lots of exercise, time to be alone and outside, decent pay, and health benefits because… it upsets dogs? Listen: I am not giving up any of that for anything. I will not give up a PAID-FOR yearly dental checkup because your dog barks some. It's very silly indeed to think that. I don't care if your dog is inside the house and spraying bark-spit on the window and ruining your curtains and scratching your door. That's your problem. That is also your dog's problem. It is - and let me be clear about this - NOT MY PROBLEM. So if your dog is losing it when I walk up the driveway: handle it. If you let him out on my account, and he attacks me, I will make it a very large problem for you. In addition, it may make me mad enough to send you to fist city, which I'll have no qualms about when the situation reaches that point. I'm sorry if you don't like being punched in the face for being hateful vis-à-vis your dog, but that's what it will come down to. Mark my words.

Property considerations: Here in Canada, we have four gorgeous seasons, one of which is winter. Icy, snowy, beautiful winter. Don't think so? Go listen to Calypso music and look for a job and some real estate in the Caribbean then. I'll stay here with Vivaldi, my fingerless gloves, and a warm cup of cocoa. Let's talk about stairs and sidewalks in the wintertime. If you wish to think that no one walks up and down your stairs or on your sidewalk while you're out - in any season - you're wrong. Many people, every day, walk onto your property. These people are trying to do their jobs and get off your porch as fast as they can without killing themselves. In the wintertime we have to slow our pace out of respect for the season's implications, but also because some of you do not sand or salt your stairs and sidewalks. I don't know, maybe you have crampons on the bottoms of your stilettos and loafers, but not everyone does, and since you now know I'll make very large problems for irresponsible dog-owners, know also that I would do the same to people who cause me to slip and break an ankle. Winter rule: if I fall and hurt myself because I slipped on a surface you are - by law - responsible for keeping walkable, you can be sure that I will be making very, VERY large problems for you. Be a dear and let people do their jobs without injuring themselves, please. Your garden and grass are other respective considerations: I have been and sometimes still am both a "landscaper" and a "gardener". The difference between those two jobs is that one focuses on mowing grass and should never be allowed to touch a garden, and the other focuses on gardens and should never be asked to cut grass. Being an expert, I will tell you that IF I cut across your grass, it is because (a) your property is really big, (b) doing so will cut my working day in half, and (c) your grass will not be compromised by my stepping lightly across it. Are you one of those people who gets upset about people walking on your grass? COOL IT. If you want healthy grass, you can start by not running a gas-powered lawnmower and/or rusty, dull push-mower across it every week. That's step one. Start with that, then we can talk about the harm my running shoes do (which is none). Grass is worthless: you can't eat it, it has no medicinal properties, and - quite frankly - the only thing it is good for is to lay in and run your bare feet through. Try it some time. Next, IF I cut through your garden - which only happens when the option of taking the long way around is really a long way around - understand that I know where your irrigation system is (and I will not step on the sprinkler heads); I understand how much of everything maintaining a garden involves (and I won't damage it); and I understand that if I were to blatantly trample your geraniums, you're well within your rights to yell at me. I would never, ever do such a thing. To reiterate: I may STEP OVER your boxwood hedge to get to your mailbox, but I will never STEP ON it. Just trust me. I know it's hard, but try. Ask yourself: why would a grown woman specifically come to your neighborhood and wreck your plants, quite possibly while you're home? It doesn't make sense. If she is amongst the hostas, come outside, wave at her, and ask her to just bend down and pull out that stubborn clump of crabgrass while she's in there. She'll probably do it since you asked so nicely.

In closing, I think you want to discuss the environmental implications of my job. You're probably saying, "You deliver flyers: you're destroying our forests to sell things we don't want and never asked for. You're history's greatest monster!". No my friend, you are wrong. First of all, they're not your forests. The forests belong to pulp and paper corporations. I was a tree planter for five years. I - in fact - still am a tree planter. Aside from flyer-delivery, I am concurrently subcontracted to our fair city of Toronto, reclaiming meadows and park edges with dozens of plants and trees native to this area. I'm thickening up your green spaces whilst simultaneously offsetting flyer karma. I know an awful lot about forests and their products. I know that my five years as a "proper" tree planter (not this cushy city job) were paid for by bigwigs who lowballed my labor; planting monocultures for future generations of toilet paper. Seriously. Tree planters plant future toilet paper, not pretty forests for your grandchildren to enjoy. Because of me, little Tyler or Hannah will be able to wipe his or her ass and thereby avoid the savagery of the bidet for another day. And what are YOU doing for the environment, in your big brick house in North York, huh, smart guy? Saving the world in there, right? Quit trying to fool yourself: you're the problem. We're both - as individuals living in North America, especially - the problem. The difference between us is that I'm not lazy. The question is one of "how much money/time/effort" YOU are willing to sacrifice to see the greener world you apparently want so much. Are you willing to pay for your own grey water system in the home and workplace? Would you shell out the cash and get a composting toilet for your backyard? Would you give up toilet paper for washable cloth squares even though it'll mean more, literally-shitty work for you? Would you righteously campaign for less of everything? Would you ride thirty kilometers a day on a bicycle to get to and from work? Would you park your car and take public transit? Would you tear out your grass/garden of invasive, exotic plants and put in the time and back-breaking bending-over to grow some of your own food? Would you personally challenge yourself to contribute to what needs to be a profound and massive change in the way we all do things?

Think about this situation logically: my boss wouldn't pay me to deliver thousands of ads for his business every year if he wasn't getting any business, would he? That would be stupid. Understand that whether it's me being well-compensated for delivering an advertisement for a high-end product, or some Pakistani man who just came here from God-knows-what-horror across the world, being paid next to nothing for delivering grocery store flyers; you get them because they're working for somebody. In other words: you'll stop getting flyers as soon as the population stops needing to buy things, or as soon as you all aggressively speak up about not needing the flyers to buy things. All of this - having to play hide-and-seek with your mailbox, half-assed signage, unnecessary rudeness, threatening canines, and labyrinths of home and garden - is just muddying the water and delaying the broader concept of progress. I hope this has been enlightening for you.

Ellen Newbike