FLINT - I got a letter the other day.
A real letter. On real paper. With words written on it in ink. I almost needed a cryptographer to figure out what it said because it was written in cursive, and I'm out of practice. But after three or four attempts, I got the gist:
"Dear Andy Heller, I am on a letter writing vendetta to all who don't seem to care about the smaller percentage of the world. To wit: all the companies that (run contests that require you to) enter to win (contests) by going online. This is discriminatory because over 20 percent don't have, don't want access (to the Internet.) If you cannot give me a phone number or an address to be a part of the potential winners list, then perhaps I should not be a part of your buyers list. I have talked to others and they agree - this minority is being singled out. Signed, Ralph."
I'm not sure why Ralph chose to send his letter to me. I could amplify his gripe but companies aren't about to change on my say so or his, if they do in fact discriminate against letter writers, which seems unlikely.
But I sympathize with the view that e-mail and the Internet have so woven themselves into our lives that those who don't choose to participate are left behind. Like it or not, computers and cell phones have killed letters.
I can't criticize companies for it, though. I'm as guilty as they are.
I used to get dozens of letters a week. I'd reply to each one. If I didn't, the voice of my grandmother that lives in my head would go into scold mode. These days I might get one per month. I seldom respond, as I typically do to an e-mail.
Frankly, writing a letter is too much of a hassle.
You have to find stationery, then find a working pen (never easy in my house), then write the return address and date, then order your thoughts instead of just letting 'er rip because paper, sadly, does not have a delete key.
I usually screw up two drafts minimum when I write a letter long-hand, which means I have to start the process all over. Then, even when I get cranking, I worry about my penmanship, which is awful - so awful, I print everything other than my signature.
Once done, I still have to find an envelope (again, no easy task in my house), locate the little return address stickers I get from the American Heart Association, even though I don't donate nearly as often as I should. That, in turn, makes me feel guilty. I don't need more guilt in my life.
And finally, I have to search my wallet, the desk downstairs and the pile of stuff by the phone for a stamp, which I can never find.
Which means I'll holler to my wife, who is downstairs or upstairs but never right where I need her to be, "Hey, honey, do we have any stamps?"
I shouldn't do that because it irritates her that I assume she knows where everything is. (I assume this, by the way, because it's true, whereas I can't find the chair I'm sitting on.)
I also shouldn't do it because when it comes to stamps, I know the answer: "No."
We never have stamps. Ever. Which is amazing because we do buy them. I think they run away with the scissors I can never find.
That means I'll have to go out and buy stamps, which I can't do right that second, which means I'll put the letter in the pile by the phone, which is akin to throwing it into quicksand because somehow things go in there and are never seen again.
So usually I don't bother replying to letters, and that includes Ralph's.
Sorry about that, buddy. But don't blame me, blame Bill Gates. You can do so in a letter to him, but if you do my guess is he'll never reply.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.