Friday, May 31, 2013

A cautionary tale in the junk mail age


My father-in-law tried to kill Byron Farquhar. 

But Farquhar lives.  Invincible, he badgers and taunts the old man.   

I offer this true story to you, Dear Reader, in hope of saving you from my father-in-law’s fate.  If you believe you can elude the Junk Mail Man, consider wisely: 

It began before pop up ads and sponsored posts, as a ruse devised by my father-in-law; I’ll call him “Nigel.”  Nigel wanted to ascertain which direct mail retailer was selling his name to other retail mailing lists, thereby congesting his mailbox with junk.   

A crafty old curmudgeon, Nigel subscribed to Forbes magazine under the fictional name of Byron Farquhar, just to see which solicitations would arrive in that name thereafter. 

At first, Nigel triumphed.  When a 3-fold petition bearing Farquhar’s moniker arrived by post, urging him to subscribe to the Kiplinger Newsletter, Nigel laughed gleefully.  “Forbes!” he exclaimed, and set about composing a letter to Forbes, deriding them for selling his, that is, Farquhar’s name to unsolicited solicitors.   

But before he could mail his complaint, a special offer arrived simultaneously for himself and Farquhar.  It included, for a short time only, 67% off the newsstand price of two journals, the Wall Street and the Ladies Home.  Neither Nigel nor his wife could pass up the savings.  

The masquerade snowballed when each plea for Byron Farquhar’s attention came accompanied by a duplicate offer for Nigel himself.    

Stalwart, and determined to follow his plan to a conclusion, Nigel established a separate collection point on the kitchen counter for Farquhar’s mail.  In short order, Farquhar accumulated a formidable stack of missives which Nigel dated and paired with their counterparts in his own mail.  

But soon, it became muddled as to whether these offers arrived because Byron, who seemed increasingly animate, had subscribed to Forbes?  Or was it because Nigel and his bride were valued and preferred customers with Farquhar as a credible tenant at the same address? 

And yes, there lurked in Nigel’s mind a darker possibility:  Farquhar lived. 

The paperwork overwhelmed Nigel.  His tracking system presented loopholes and jukes that could defy the most diligent detective.  That’s when a shift occurred in Nigel’s state of mind. 

Farquhar, he thought, must go. 

But Farquhar would not go.  He delighted in living off Nigel and his wife, slipping around the house, hiding sox and drinking the last Perrier.  He branched out in his interests garnering correspondence from credit card companies and insurance agencies.  He accepted samples of inscribed ballpoint pens and personalized key fobs.   

And catalogs!  Farquhar loved to shop!  When Nigel tried to staunch their delivery, he had to sign onto the list-blocking site with his email address.  Now his e-mailbox overflowed as well!  

Byron Farquhar!  He stalked Nigel’s every movement.  There was no escape.  

Nigel began cursing Farquhar and tearing his mail in half, shaking it at the sky before dashing it into the recycling bin.  For a while, he wrote “Return to Sender” across each piece of junk mail and dropped it into the collection box.  But the flow only swelled. 

Desperate, Nigel’s thoughts became chaotic.  Now gaunt and ashen, he took the latest arrivals and scrawled “ADDRESSEE DECEASED” across each one and drove them to the post office himself. 

But more mail came for Byron Farquhar.  And more.  Soon, Farquhar’s popularity eclipsed that of Nigel.  Nigel’s wife told him to ignore it, but ultimately, he observed her sniffing the envelopes and running her fingers along the seams.  Were they somehow involved?  A collusion? 

At last, Nigel succumbed to Farquhar’s onslaught.  A distracted and angry man with poor posture he huddles on his porch each noonday, anticipating the arrival of the letter carrier, whom he suspects of being Farquhar, or Farquhar’s minion. 

Byron Farquhar broke Nigel with the sheer force of his unrelenting persistence.  And he will break you, too, if you struggle against him.  Like me, you’ve visited a website.  You’ve clicked on a link.  You created an account.  You sent flowers, or bought shoes.  Somewhere, we passed the point of no return. 

Our snail mailboxes are crammed with junk and electronic junk flows from a tireless, infinite source.  Block it?  OK.  Delete it?  No matter. 

Farquhar is Borg.  We have been assimilated.  Resistance is futile.