2.47 Junk Mail

When leaving for work a few weeks ago, I checked my mail. There he was in my mailbox again: bald, insincere smile, jacket thrown over his shoulder. It was one of those flyers for a real estate agent that uses only awful primary colours in the design. Beside his waxed and shiny head, it read: “Michael Coleman has sold over 50 units in your development! If you’re looking to sell, Michael’s your man!” No, Michael’s not my man. But he was consistent. I’ll give him that.

Every week I received a flyer from Michael Coleman and every week I ripped up the flyer, tired of his smiling face. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I would get a call from a man with a heavy Russian accent: “I am Vladimir and I own moving company. If you want to move, I have two very strong young men to help. Call me, I move you.” I guess I had to move eventually, but why was it necessary for him to call me every month? Mr. Coleman seemed to have the same approach: I had to sell this place eventually, could be next week or it could be in twenty years, either way, his flyer would be there.

In the United States, junk mail kills 2.6 million trees every year. If you average out the total amount of junk mail volume across the number of households, every household gets six pieces of junk mail each day. Marketers spend $17 billion per year on postage to send advertising through the mail and 44% of junk mail goes into landfills unopened. The average American will spend eight months of their lives dealing with junk mail.

Michael Coleman seemed not able to read. In clear English on top of my mailbox, I have a sign: “Please no junk mail or flyers.” Mr. Coleman must have a pretty high opinion of himself, believing his advertisement is neither junk mail nor a flyer. This alone would encourage me to not use his services – everyone respects my desire to not get junk mail. Everyone except Michael Coleman. It was for this reason that he stood out – the sign is a pretty good system and being in Canada, most people respect the ‘no flyer’ zone. But not Michael Coleman.

I decided to make a statement. I wedged the most recent Michael Coleman flyer right between the top of my mailbox and the wall. In order to open the mailbox, you would see that I already had a flyer, so I did not need more. My statement was: “I do not want your flyer! Stop!” A little passive-aggressive maybe, but that’s my style. My statement fell on deaf ears.

I started keeping his flyers and they started piling up. Every week the same thing: “Michael’s your man!” He was really starting to bug me. They must have flyered late at night or very early in the morning because I never saw anyone. Until one day when a man smoking a cigarette was running up and down the stairs to each unit, a pile of flyers in his left hand. I staked out by the window, waited for him to deliver one to my mailbox. He was not Michael Coleman, the flyer man had a fully coiffed head. Michael Coleman gets others to do his dirty work.

I followed the flyer man through the development as he delivered his propaganda. I hid behind trees and around buildings. When he was finished, I nonchalantly followed him out of the condo development and down the street. He crossed and approached a rundown strip mall, entering through a door with a sign that read: “Michael Coleman Real Estate.” The sign was neon and the ‘Cole’ part of his name flickered on and off.

Through the window I saw the flyer man talking to someone I could not see. He placed the flyers on the desk and in turn, received some cash for his hard work. The man behind the desk turned around: Michael Coleman. He resembled the man on the flyer, but a sullen and shrunken version. Photoshop and airbrushing was obviously used in the flyer. He looked tired.

The flyer man turned to leave and I wandered down the strip mall, wondering what to do. I was not the confrontational sort. I watched the flyer man disappear into the urban environment and another idea hit me. I wrote down Michael Coleman’s address, went home and made my own flyer, using a mysterious looking photograph. Where did the trend come for real estate agents to include their headshot on all their promotional materials? I’ve seen for sale signs outside houses where the agent posed with his dog, others trying to look cool in sunglasses and many laughing like someone just told them a joke.

I started delivering my own flyers once a week to his office. Ones with my face on them. All week I chuckled when I thought about it. I sure showed Michael Coleman. I laughed myself silly at the genius of my plan. Laughed, until I received two flyers from Michael Coleman the following week. I matched him, sending out two of my own flyers a week, but it occurred to me that the only winner in this was Canada Post.

I sent out spam emails to his address and made robocalls using an amplified voice that said: “Michael Coleman, cease and desist all flyer deliveries. I will not stop until you do.” My cause grew bigger as I believed I was doing this for the good of all my neighbours.

And still the flyers did not stop. I received one that had a message written in black marker: “Meet me at my office. Tuesday. Midnight. Come alone. MC.”

I approached the strip mall with apprehension. The front door to his office was open and I stepped in to the smell of mildew. Michael Coleman sat behind his desk waiting for me.

“What do you want?” He asked.

“I want you to stop flyering,” I replied.

“Are you selling your condo?” He asked.

“Not for the foreseeable future, and not through you,” I replied.

“That’s harsh,” he said.

“This is a harsh world we live in,” I said.

When did I start talking in cliches? We sized each other up.

“Okay,” he said.

He wrote down my address and said I would no longer receive his flyers.

“Not just my unit, but everyone’s unit,” I demanded.

He stopped writing. Looked at me, leaned back in his chair.

“Are you an environmentalist?” He asked.

“No. I’m a humanist,” I replied.

“This is my business,” he said.

“How much business do you actually get from the flyers?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said. “Maybe you’re right, maybe I should just forget about it. Lots of money to print those flyers.”

“Maybe you need to reexamine your business model,” I said.

“I don’t have a business model,” he said.

“Maybe that’s your problem,” I said. “No more flyers.”

“No more flyers,” he said.

We shook hands and as I walked home, I thought about how much easier this confrontational thing was than spending weeks sending out my own flyers, making calls and writing emails. I crossed the line, I was no better than Michael Coleman. But at least I still had my hair.