Christmas, they say, comes but once a year and while this is good news for our wallets, it's probably a bit of a bummer for the snail-mail guys. For it's during this season that all kinds of business people haul out their paper envelopes, cards and stamps and set the air a-humming with jolly wishes. There seem to be fewer such this year, which is either a sign of the market conditions in which we live, where every little financial outlay, even postage, must be scrutinzed, or evidence that I'm less popular than I used to be.
Most evident in their absence are the lengthy, one-size-fits-all newsletters that people used to send, updating friends, family and assorted associates about the interesting doings of their clan. "Betsy has left the coven and is now celebrating her "solstice" with us, and little Harry recently was awarded the lead in his middle-school production of Annie!" Perhaps folks are using e-mail for that kind of thing now.
Still, there's a cornucopia of good stuff to enjoy.
There are the cards from colleagues that are, as always, very much appreciated. In vogue this year are pictures of kids, puppies and kitties. A fair number of holiday salutations share portraits of the offspring and assorted family mammals with absolutely no evidence of adult life at all. In this economy, the message seems to be: "You may not be interested in me personally at all, but here are my dependents. Aren't they cute? Some go to private schools or are headed for an expensive college education. The point is, I'm a human being that has a real existence outside of my professional function. Please don't fire me." Or maybe that's just my imagination.
Second on the stack are the lovely missives from people who either a) do not sign their cards but leave the printed message as sufficient to contain their best wishes or b) sign it quite illegibly and bear no informative return address. These I keep in a very special place in my credenza, for re-use next year.
There are, of course, the law, consulting or insurance firms who do a mass holiday mailing, with each member of the organization scrawling their weeny name in a corner of an acceptably deracinated card that conveys all non-denominational jollies of the season. One just came from the out-of-house counsel we just fired. Here's another from the management consulting firm that engineered a bunch of our industry's recent layoffs! So toasty.
I particularly enjoyed the tiny calendar in its faux-leather holder sent to me by my broker. The fact that we're still talking to each other means my 2008 was not as bad as some others.
But the one that most expressed the merry vibrations of this particular holiday season came from the air conditioning guy who installed the AC machines in my apartment not long ago. I'm going to call him Sidney Roth, although that is not his name. On one sheet of very simple letterhead almost Dickensian in its stark functionality, the following holiday message in 16-point Times Roman is sent to all his clients:
To: All Non-Contract Service Accounts
Effective January 1, 2009, all services will be terminated.
Our new policy for services will be "Payment upon completion of service" (COD).
Our field technicians will receive the applicable service charges while at your residence once your call is completed.
A formal invoice indicating your payment will be mailed the work day following the service visit.
As always, we appreciate your patronage.
Sidney Roth Company Services Dept.
I imagine that last bit - the part about how they appreciate our patronage? - was added by some thoughtful assistant to provide a softer touch. It doesn't seem all that sincere in the context. What I get from the mailing is a very clear image of a working man, sitting behind his scarred and battered desk, looking at a bunch of invoices that are 91 days past due. All his clients owe him a ton of money. And nobody is paying, not at least until they see how things look come January 1. "The hell with this," he says to himself. "No more free lunch."
Of all the holiday communications I've received this year, this one feels the most appropriate. Holiday schmoliday. Gotta get paid, right?