I started receiving them, oh, a couple years ago, and they haven't stopped coming. If you got my Christmas card (you did, didn't you?) then you saw one of them, in the return address corner, possibly a second one on the back as well, on the flap, a bit of insurance against mucilage insufficiently moistened or a postal worker curious to see what personal message I, or my wife, wrote inside your card. Stickers, address stickers. From non-profit organizations mostly, but from corporate giants as well, such as my auto insurance agent and a brokerage where we have an account, and some mail order house from which Dear Wife obtained pantyhose. The holidays always bring a fresh supply of labels and, usually, a reminder that tax-deductible donations for the current annum be made before December 31. These are the stickers that announce the season, or seasons — naturally, Christmas and/or Hanukkah, though perhaps another that I don't recall. I don't remember any from Easter, Kwanza, Father's Day or Mother's Day, sine die day for the Arkansas legislature, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween or Thanksgiving, though maybe they came in envelopes that hit the round file before they were opened. Many of the stickers include not only our address and name, or names — some are Mr. and Mrs., others just my name or my wife's name — but the logo of the provider, a bit of free advertising that seems justified inasmuch as the labels were free.

I started receiving them, oh, a couple years ago, and they haven’t stopped coming. If you got my Christmas card (you did, didn’t you?) then you saw one of them, in the return address corner, possibly a second one on the back as well, on the flap, a bit of insurance against mucilage insufficiently moistened or a postal worker curious to see what personal message I, or my wife, wrote inside your card. Stickers, address stickers. From non-profit organizations mostly, but from corporate giants as well, such as my auto insurance agent and a brokerage where we have an account, and some mail order house from which Dear Wife obtained pantyhose. The holidays always bring a fresh supply of labels and, usually, a reminder that tax-deductible donations for the current annum be made before December 31. These are the stickers that announce the season, or seasons — naturally, Christmas and/or Hanukkah, though perhaps another that I don’t recall. I don’t remember any from Easter, Kwanza, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, sine die day for the Arkansas legislature, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween or Thanksgiving, though maybe they came in envelopes that hit the round file before they were opened. Many of the stickers include not only our address and name, or names — some are Mr. and Mrs., others just my name or my wife’s name — but the logo of the provider, a bit of free advertising that seems justified inasmuch as the labels were free.

Free — provided you can resist the importunings of the non-profits to assist in their invariably “vital” work, and the suggestions of the commercial outfits that December’s the time for an insurance review, or an estate planning update, etc. In fact many of the stickers came from organizations to which we already had sent contributions, or businesses where we had weeks ago concluded the years’ transactions. After all, we reasoned, jointly or separately, the non-profits did indeed do vital work, worthy of a small bite of our mite. Besides, the labels save a lot of time and saliva, particularly around Christmas, when Yule cards help offset the Postal Service’s deficit, possibly buying time for some tiny post office at an Arkansas country crossroad. They aren’t as socially appropriate, certainly, as a printed, let alone engraved, return address; and handwriting would add the personal touch. So would letters as opposed to e-mails, thus the stickers are a tiny paper concession to the digital age. And what payee cares that the light or gas bill or the house or car payment arrives with the payor’s return address stuck, as opposed to scrawled, on the envelope? All they want is the money. Too, while some of the stickers are a little difficult to peel away from their pages, and occasionally come off in twos or threes when only one is needed, they always work, never fail to — stick. And with no lick. Contrast that with the inducements that formerly were the choice of some organizations and vendors — pens that didn’t write, refrigerator magnets too small to hold even a shopping list, key chains with fobs too large for pocket or purse, penlight batteries that failed to power. They didn’t work even when I licked them.

An organization that combats teen pregnancy sent not only stickers but a small scratchpad and five notecards with envelopes. Feeding America sent stickers with fruits and vegetables alongside our names. Our American Heart Association labels have, of course, hearts. Amnesty International, which campaigns in behalf of political prisoners, features not prison bars on its stickers but its logo; Human Rights Watch, which has a similar agenda, sent labels with its trademark but still others with only our address, allowing us to avoid offending any dictators with whom we might correspond. The stickers from the World Wildlife Fund are adorned with pandas, penguins and birds; another environmental organization feature a satellite image of Planet Earth. An AIDS research organization displays the emblematic pink ribbon. The Diabetes Association puts seashells on its stickers (why not a can of soda or a candy bar with a line through it?). The St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital labels feature Frosty the Snowman, while Santa Claus beams from those of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In our desks are sheaves, reams, of stickers from organizations we cannot identify or remember.

When we got some labels from the March of Dimes the envelope included a dime. We felt obliged to send a donation. A week later, a second envelope with a second dime arrived, and, yeah, we sent another check.

Another solicitation used a sharply different approach. When we opened the envelope from Oxfam America, an anti-hunger endeavor asking for funds, it disgorged only a letter which began: “Dear Friend, Here’s what you won’t find accompanying this letter: address labels that guilt-trip you into giving…”

We sent a check. We printed our return address.

• • •

Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff.