The lost art of correspondence

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I’ve always enjoyed writing. I will admit that I’ve never enjoyed writing by hand. My thoughts move way too fast for me to get it down on paper, and probably still with the advent of the world processor.

I’ve had personal access to a word processor since around 1989, with my first personal computer. I just loved copy, cut and paste. I used that everywhere to organize my thoughts with writing. No more starting over when I goofed with pen or typewriter. I could backspace, too. I could literally move things around wherever I wanted them, and I didn’t have to duplicate my work. Writing became a joy with the word processor.

My first published works were letters to the editor at the local paper. I was conservative back then and living in Orange County at the time. I got quite a few letters published in the Orange County Register and I even made the Letter Writers Hall of Fame one year. I was also invited to join one of their roundtable things, and somehow, something went wrong in my brain, and I said, “no”. But I always enjoyed seeing my letters in print and have clipped every one of them.

I enjoy correspondence. I enjoy knowing that I’m sending a statement about something important to me, to someone else, someone that I can identify. Correspondence is supremely rewarding, especially if I get a response.

The most rewarding business correspondence I’ve ever written was when I was working for a retirement home so many years ago. I was the IT guy for one of their many locations and they had a printer that stopped working. So I investigated how best to repair that printer and found that an exchange for a small sum would work.

It was a Hewlett Packard ink jet printer and it had served a long, long time before finally giving up the ghost. I ordered an exchange printer and they sent it, but they forgot something: the shipper, the label to put on the box to return it. I followed the instructions to send email to get a shipper (that’s what we used to call those labels back then). No response. I called many times, and got the run around where it seemed like I was getting somewhere, but wound up nowhere further than before.

After 4 weeks of this ping pong, I got a notice that they were going to charge the company credit card x-amount of dollars if we didn’t ship the now defunct printer. I must say that I was moved.

So I wrote a letter to the president of HP, Carly Fiorina. I was resolute in not letting my boss pay anything until we got this resolved. And I forgot about it, until one day, I got a call. It was the executive assistant to the CEO of HP. She asked if I was the person who wrote the letter. “I am,” I said. She told me that I had written one of the best complaint letters she had ever seen and that she was going to make sure that we got a shipper so that we can ship the old broken printer back to HP. I was high for a week after that. That is just one reason I love writing.

Writing correspondence is immensely useful for personal business, too. About a week ago, I received a call from a debt collector. I had no idea what she was talking about, but she said that she didn’t have the right address, and that an incorrect address might be the reason why the bill was never paid. I gave her my address and told her that we’d pay it as soon as we get it.

But there were a few defects with the statement we received. The date of service was missing. And I discovered that I wanted to see the original statement because we present our insurance card for every visit and I didn’t see any “amount you owe” that corresponded with the amount demanded by this debt collector.

So I wrote back to the collection agency with paper, envelope and stamp, and let them know about the defects and what I would like to see before I would even begin to consider paying them. I wanted a copy of the original statement, showing the original billing address. And if they can’t do that, then there will be no payment. They didn’t send it to the right address, probably because they billed the wrong customer. I don’t really know. But if it comes down to a date of service, I’m going to ask them to show me the video of me and my family, there, on the date of service. They have cameras everywhere, so they must have footage (I know — it’s all on disk, not film or tape), of me and my family walking through their office.

But there is something else that I like about correspondence: paper trails. Lawyers love, love, love paper trails. I used to work for an attorney. “If you want to give me something to read that you wrote, don’t put it on my desk. I’ll never find it.” That kind of attorney. Anyway, I like paper trails, too. Debt collection agencies don’t like it when their targets have paper trails.

So in my letter, I told the debt collection agency, that I want everything in writing and there will be no more phone calls to discuss the debt. They’re taking notes on a computer. They’re recording the call. They have all the advantages. But if it comes down to court, I want something in writing that I can show the judge. So there will only be written correspondence until this debt is resolved. I draw a nice bright and hard line on that one. I was willing to buy new stamps just to make this happen.

That is how I am when I want to resist. No phone calls, please. If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t count.

Then there is working with say, electricians. I have these dome lights in my house. They have two bulbs in them. In my zeal to save electricity, I replaced every compact fluorescent bulb with LED bulbs. But after months of use, one would go dim or dark, and the other would shine brightly. So I wrote an email to an electrician that installed ceilings in two of the bathrooms in the house. I even included pictures. He’s not responding, so I wrote another email to the contractor who built our basement. He hired an electrician, too. Happily, the problems I see upstairs are not downstairs. I might even present the home builder with a bill later on if this proves to be an expensive issue.

And then there are the people who claim to represent me in Congress, Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee and Chris Stewart. All of them are right-wing members of Congress because Utah is a Red State, don’t you know? Anyway, they all can’t wait to cut Social Security to ribbons and leave us to fend for ourselves, even if we paid taxes for Social Security benefits. But curiously, they don’t seem to support the idea of teaching real financial literacy in public schools. I guess you can’t have a donor class unless the poor and the middle class are so ignorant about personal finance that they blow their paychecks every month.

So to each of my Congress critters, I asked them about that very subject. I asked with some preamble, “You are a member of Congress and you claim to represent me. Do you represent my interests when you seek to destroy Social Security and all other safety net programs? Do you agree that All Americans should be raised with the skills, power and know-how, to save 64% of their income for an early retirement?”

The answer I’m expecting? “Thank you for your letter and for expressing your concerns. Although we think that self-sufficiency and saving money are important, our donors would be very upset if you had the time and the money to participate in politics like we do. Have a fine day.”

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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