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River Town Chronicles: My mail lately has me seeing red

I used to love going to my mailbox. It was a journey of maybes. Maybe The Atlantic Monthly would accept my short story. Maybe a forgotten great aunt had died in Dubai and left me her yacht, condo and a cool billion. Maybe someone had written me a letter on real stationery in real ink.

Lately, however, I’ve received some real clunkers, worse even than the usual detritus: the litany of bills; my wife’s cellophane-suffocated cooking magazines; coupons that conspire to expire the day before I present them; pre-approved credit cards that need scissoring before trashing; and the innumerable “Or Current Resident” recyclables.

Take the ivory envelope sporting a “Neptune Society” return address. Didn’t Neptune rule the sea, carry a trident and resemble something out of “The Little Mermaid”? Maybe a free scuba lesson or a Bahamas vacation!

Then I noticed at the bottom, “Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE.”

Huh? Cremation? Was this a misspelled dairy giveaway? An Oberweiss ad?

“Dear Richard,” Neptune’s letter began, assuring me “more and more people” were choosing cremation over “traditional funeral arrangement – and the numbers are increasing every year!”

How could I argue with those statistics, proven legitimate with an exclamation point? “It just makes sense!” Neptune screamed like an excited cheerleader.

But wait! There’s more! A contest entry form enticing me to “WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION.” Although part of me burned (haha) to enter, my adolescent side, convinced of my immortality, pooh-poohed it.

Just when thinking the mail couldn’t worsen, a Halloween-orange envelope arrived, addressed to me, announcing, “RED LIGHT PHOTO ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM.”

“Great!” I thought, “now I’ll know which intersections to avoid.”

Ah, the naiveté of the ignorant!  Instead of a camera placement map, RLPEP, courtesy of the village of Wayne, sent photographs of my son Jay’s car and its license plate.


“Wait, wait!” my mind stammered, falsely accused. “I wasn’t in Wayne at 11:30 p.m. on June 22!”

Wayne didn’t care. Could have been my dog, Chewball, driving. All Wayne wanted was its C-note. “This notice is NOT a uniform traffic citation. Payment will not impact your driving privileges or insurance.”

“There was no one around,” Jay, complained, as I would have. “This is so ridiculous.”

“Most people agree,” I said. “The Tri-Cities have rejected the program.”

Those cameras are wannabe traffic cops with no in-person context to weigh the circumstances. Towns using them remind me of biblical money-changers who, under a beneficent guise, cannot disguise their greed.

Tell me about one Wayne resident enjoying the revenue from RLPEP who, at night, with no cars in sight, comes to a complete stop at a red light before turning right, and I’ll tell you a fairy tale. Hypocrisy lives in any town with the program.

I’d like to feed the village of Wayne’s scary, orange, presorted, first-class mail, photo enforcement envelope’s contents into Neptune Society’s oven, but that is reserved for things with a soul.

• Rick Holinger has lived and taught high school in the Fox Valley for more than 35 years. His poetry, fiction, essays, criticism and book reviews have appeared in numerous national literary journals. He founded and facilitates two local writers groups. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing. Contact him at

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