Thursday, November 3, 2011

So Many Heroes, Such Tiny Stamps


You don’t have to be dead to be appreciated.  Not any more anyway. 

Up until January of 2007, the US Postal Service required that a person be deceased for 10 years before appearing on a commemorative stamp.  That year, the rule was relaxed to five years deceased before such an honor.  (By USPS tradition, former presidents have always been remembered on stamps the year following their deaths.) 

But now, hoping to boost its sagging revenues, the US Postal Service has abandoned its long-standing rule that stamps cannot feature living people.  It’s a first.  It means that living sports stars, writers, artists, and other prominent people could take their places in postal history along with the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Marilyn Monroe. 

The postal service got into its financial bind at least in part because of the near complete abandonment of “snail mail” in favor of email.  So there’s irony in the fact that the USPS issued its invitation for nominations of living people to be depicted on new stamps on their Postal Service website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.   

Suggestions for commemorative stamps already came in via traditional pen-and-ink submissions at the rate of 40,000 per year.  Now that the electronic call has gone out for suggestions as to whom Americans think should appear on the next round of commemorative stamps, it’s hard to imagine how many ideas will stream through the newly opened automated floodgate.  Who’s going to sort through all that stuff?  Maybe that person should have a stamp! 

On-the-street interviews and my own informal survey drew ideas for honorees from across the spectrum:  Michelle Obama for her work on childhood obesity.  Charlie Sheen, “an American icon.”  (Uh, winning?)  Lady Gaga for her creativity and individualism.  Jimmy Carter for his humanitarian work.  Alice Waters for all that good food. 

Steve Jobs.  Of course!  So sad that he passed before he could receive this particular recognition.  The thought that follows immediately is Mark Zuckerberg.  Life-on-earth changing guy.  Bill Gates.  His philanthropy may be the legacy that gets his face on the forty-three cent-er. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert has already begun his own campaign to become the first living person depicted on a government-issued postage stamp.  He has proposed a “Farewell to Postage” stamp sporting a photo of himself holding a smartphone with an email message to the Postal Service: “See Ya!” 

If fake newsmen are allowed, I’ll vote for Jon Stewart.  George Carlin should already have been “stamped,” along with Richard Pryor.  Other entertainers might be shoo-ins:  Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, Ron Howard, Francis Coppola, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney.   

Perhaps the opportunity presents itself not only for those living folks who already get lots of attention and accolades to get even more recognition, but also for the rest of us middle class schmos to be acknowledged for the following the rules and doing what’s right.  We make the country work.  Put a face on us and that face on a stamp, because gosh darn it, we deserve it. 

Seems like categories of honorees are called for:  Educators, of course.  It might be amusing to show a frazzled middle school teacher trying to coax a seventh grader’s homework out of a dog’s mouth.  Or how about a high school principal throwing a wet blanket at a Homecoming Dance?   

Moms!  Without question moms should get a stamp.  I’d like my mom to represent all the single moms who struggled to provide for their children.  Dads too.  Modern dads engaged with their kids.  Nurses and doctors deserve a nod for their devotion to others. 

Why not stick representatives of American life and cultural phenomena on the corner of an envelope:  Someone who danced with the stars, got lost, hoarded, picked, or remodeled.  No!  The Biggest Loser!  Perfect.

Don’t overlook the over-looked:  sanitation workers, baristas, dry cleaners, and convenience store clerks.  Postal workers themselves! 

What about those who are so often maligned?  Lawyers?  DMV clerks?  No?  Oh well. 

Today the early commemorative stamps are prized by collectors.  But back in the day, the appearance of commemorative postage stamps caused a backlash among some stamp collectors!  They balked at the prospect of laying out ever-larger sums to acquire the burgeoning proliferation of stamps.  So in 1895 they organized to blacklist what they deemed to be excessive stamps, forming the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps.  Really.   

We might need a curmudgeon stamp.