Dear Fun Person:
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 93 23:04:32 PDT
Subject: Dear Fun Person:
From: vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU!bostic (Keith Bostic)
OBSERVER: How Shall I Dear Thee?
By RUSSELL BAKER
c. 1981 N.Y. Times News Service
NEW YORK - A friend, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, is "somebody
you can go to the well with." Not for an instant would I consider going
to the well with Times Square. I certainly wouldn't invite Times Square
home to meet the folks. Truth is, whenever I see Times Square on the
sidewalk I cross the street to avoid it.
Why then do I receive mail addressed to "Dear Friend of Times
Square"? For the same reason I get mail addressed to "Dear
Fellow Angler" and "Dear Decisionmaker." Because America is undergoing
a salutation crisis, that's why.
The severity of this crisis is indicated by the "Dear Fellow
Angler." I was flattered by this form of address at first, thinking it
embraced me in the brotherhood of sharpsters who know how to work the
angles. It has long been my hope to be greeted as "Dear Fellow
Finagler," thus winning membership in that class for which the
income-tax laws are written. "Dear Fellow Angler" seemed like a step
toward this goal.
Closer reading, however, showed I was being addressed by the
Izaak Walton League, whose idea of a "dear fellow angler" is someone
who hooks fish. As one who has not fished since the age of 8 and plans
never to fish again, I was puzzled.
Being addressed as "Dear Decisionmaker" was downright
nerve-racking, since my paralysis at decision time is notorious on six
continents. Could this letter be from some cruel master of sarcasm who
knew I sat home biting my nails all weekend because I couldn't decide
whether I preferred to see "Stir Crazy" or "The Devil and Max Devlin"?
No. It came from a complete stranger, in fact a large
corporation ("our sales now exceed $500 million"), which wanted
to sell me its payroll, accounting and financial expertise.
Each of these letters had three things in common. All were from
complete strangers, all wanted me to pass some money their way and none
of the letter-writers knew my name. Examination of a two-week
accumulation of money-seeking mail revealed a fourth characteristic.
The people sending these please don't even know whether I am male or
"Dear Sir or Madam of the Press." This is a plea for publicity
for a new book. "Be a columnist and report facts!" it commands. The
fact I want to report right now is that I am not a madam of the press.
While I'm at it, let me advise a certain charity which lusts
after my bank account that I am not "Dear Friend of the Arts" either.
Lord knows, I have tried to be a friend of art, but art has snubbed me
for years as a common drudge who sold out to Grub Street. It's too late
to extend the hand of friendship into my wallet now, arts. I know who
my real friends are.
They do not include a certain large institution in Utah which
hails me as "Dear Business Friend." I never make business friends.
Years ago Uncle Charlie advised me, "Never mix business and friendship,
boy. That way you'll never have to cut a friend's heart out."
Uncle Charlie also warned me about becoming an investor. "If
you become an investor," he said, "sooner or later you're going to be
wiped out like all those buzzards in 1929, and while you're waiting to
go broke you're going to have to put up with a lot of mail addressed to
'Dear Investor.' "
Now I get the mail even though I have followed Uncle Charlie's
advice. "Dear Investor," says a letter from Wall Street trying to lure
me into the gold business. I am concerned about these ill-informed
salutations. Naturally there is a letter that catches my eye.
"Dear Concerned American," it begins. But no, it is not about
the salutation crisis. It comes from a complete stranger who wants me
to buy his novel about the Red menace. Apparently he cares not a whit
about the salutation menace, although it infects the highest levels of
For evidence, I submit Sen. Daniel Moynihan's newsletter. It
begins, "Dear Yorker." Does Moynihan believe he now represents York,
Pennsylvania? More likely, I think, he has an acute case of
salutationitis which produces severe inflammation of the prose style
when the sufferer attempts to compose a mass mailing.
It is everywhere and spreading. An insurance-company scribe
writes, "Dear Policy Holder." Can anyone imagine a policy holder being
dear to an insurance company in any but the crassest sense of the word?
"Dear Collector," begins a vendor of small statuary to a man who has
never collected anything in his life but matchbook covers. "Dear
Environmentalist," writes a nature-lobby amanuensis to a man who has
deliberately chosen to live in New York.
A wordsmith for a magazine publisher begins with "Dear Civilized
Friend" (my idea of civilization's finest achievement is the 1969 Buick
Electra), and a letter from a public-television station starts out with
"Dear Viewer." Why not "Dear Moneybags"? The gun-control lobby that
addresses me as "Dear Potential Handgun Victim" at least knows that I
am still alive, which is more than can be said for New York magazine
wondering why a subscription hasn't been renewed.
Its author begins, "Dear Silent One." I have received two
copies of this letter. They will be forwarded to my late grandfathers.
© 1993 Peter Langston