in my day (read: the ‘80s) we had special tasks and chores, assigned by
the Paranti to keep us out of trouble. Mostly, this consisted of
pulling weeds and cleaning out the basements and attics of elderly
relatives who smelled of moth balls. We won’t even discuss what the
attics and basements smelled of.
Even if you could get out of
these onerous duties, shirking by one of the usual excuses, like
contracting Mono or breaking a leg, there was still one task you could
be set to. You could do it sitting down. You could do it from your sick
bed. There was no way to avoid—
stamp and envelope licking.
Stamp and envelope licking. To a kid, a month is a long time, but
inevitably, every 30 days or so, Bill Paying Day arrives. Millions of
children, oblivious to the fact that it was the first, or the fifth, or
the fifteenth (depending on your particular parent’s set of Bill Paying
Guidelines, as established in the International Standards for Bill
Paying and its easy-read companion volume Bill Paying For the Rest of
Us) would leap from bed and get in a few hours of mindless play before
the dreaded call from the porch came. “Sweetheart, come in the house
for lunch, and then, you can help me do my bill paying.” Oh horror. The
injustice. Has another month passed again?
In you would walk,
head down, shoulders slumped forward, only to see it, the kitchen
table, piled high with opened mail, folded letters waiting for their
foray into the world, and the worst torture device of all: the stamps.
would sit down at the table, waiting, stomach churning, sweat pouring
off your brow, while the parent wrote out checks. Each check was piled
on a slip of paper torn from the bottom of a letter and handed to you
with an envelope, already addressed.
You would stuff the
envelope. You would hold open the flap with both hands, each gripping
the edge as if the envelope might suddenly leap away from you and
scuttle across the table and onto the floor. Tongue out. Eyes closed.
or right-to-left, it didn’t matter. Personally, I was an edge-to-center
licker, because I couldn’t handle an entire adhesive strip at once.
Then, the Foldover and Flop maneuver, where the newly sealed envelope
is flipped face up on the table, ready for the second licking
A stamp was separated. It was applied to a
stuck-out tongue. Then placed, carefully straight and right side up on
the envelope’s corner. A minute or two of waiting, before the next
check was written, and the process began again.
Oh sure, there
were those smart asses who used a damp sponge to seal their envelopes,
and apply their stamps, but nothing really compares to the seal made by
the saliva of a kid who would rather be doing anything else, even
cleaning an old Aunt’s basement, than licking stamps and envelopes.
parents always rationalized this torture. They no doubt convinced
themselves that they were doing us a Big Favor by teaching us to pay
bills on time. But that’s a lie. They hated the taste of envelope glue
as much as we did. And well they should have! They spent their
childhoods being forced to lick envelopes for our Grandparents.
had its hazards, of course. Several years’ worth of licking stamps will
deaden the tastebuds of anyone, and there is always brain damage, and
the other side effects common to anyone who eats glue on a regular
basis. But it had its advantages, too! Your tolerance for Things That
Tasted Nasty was way above average, and schoolyard machismo was
determined by whose tongue paper cut was the biggest.
in this technologically advanced age of ours, we have self-stick
stamps. The envelopes are usually Lick-n-Stick, but often they’re
Pull-Tab-n-Stick instead. Sometimes, the bill comes via e-mail, or
Straight-to-Credit-Card, and there’s no bill to send back at all. The
result is that millions of American children are missing out on special
bonding time with their parents.
At the Post Office today, a
kid was looking at the stamps. “Mom, these are all self-stick. Don’t
they have any of the kind you lick anymore?” “I don’t think they make
them anymore.” “Awww. Man.”
You see! They like it! Forget
about how bad it was when you were a kid. Your kids will love it. So
spend time paying bills with your kids. I’m calling the Post Office to
ask that they bring back the glue-backs.