Postcards from the edge

Kevin Cowherd

September 21, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

Unlike most people, I have never much cared for postcards.

It has always seemed to me that people send postcards to gloat about where they are, and to make the receiver of the card miserable because he or she is not there, too.

This might be raging paranoia on my part, but if you knew the sort of people I know, you'd be a little paranoid, too.

Surely there is nothing more depressing than shivering out to the mailbox in the dead of winter, only to discover a postcard of a bone-white beach in the Virgin Islands and the inscription: "The pina colada party last night was fabulous! We went para-sailing this morning. Later, Jim wrestled a 20-foot marlin into the boat with his bare hands. Love to all, Ruth."

I guess a card like this is designed to let you know that someone is thinking of you.

More often, however, it leaves me shuffling dejectedly down into the basement, where I sit for many hours with the lights off, wondering where it all went wrong.

Some years ago, I was in Puerto Rico and came across a postcard of El Morro, the famous old fortress that looms to one side of San Juan harbor.

Some friends back home had insisted I send them a postcard, and this one had cannons and things and seemed perfectly fine.

I didn't want to write "Wish you were here!" because, quite frankly, I was glad they weren't. Getting away from them, in fact, was one reason I had hopped a plane to the Caribbean.

I also didn't feel like going into all the neat things I'd been doing, which mainly involved absorbing second-degree sunburns and losing my shirt in the casinos at night.

So finally I wrote: "There is a large lizard on the ceiling of my hotel room. A man tried to lift my wallet at the airport. Regards to all."

This, I thought, struck a fairly neutral tone and could not, in any sense, be mistaken for gloating.

The writing that accompanies a postcard is traditionally supposed to be breezy and effervescent, although because of space limitations, it often appears hurried and disjointed.

A few years ago, I received a postcard from a neighbor visiting historic Gettysburg, Pa.

On the back she wrote: "This is a famous battlefield where, well, I won't go into the whole thing. Some people were killed. Hope you're remembering to feed our fish. Love, Nan."

Only occasionally will receiving a postcard make me feel better. Not long ago, for example, I received one from friends who, in a fit of insanity, had taken their family to Disney World.

The postcard was the traditional shot of Mickey and Goofy and some of their pals (Snow White, I think, was in there and possibly Donald Duck) waving in front of the Magic Kingdom.

Staring at the card, I began to visualize a steamy, 95-degree day, long lines, babies wailing, kids screaming, ketchup-smeared french fries being dropped in my lap, money being spent so fast you might as well burn it in a steel drum.

And all I could think of was: "There but for the grace of God . . ."

One thing I've found is that people can be absolutely bizarre in their choice of postcards.

A few years ago, my mother went to Ireland, although not before threatening to flood the U.S. postal system with postcards from her trip.

Sure enough, one arrived in my mailbox a week later. But instead of a postcard of, oh, the Blarney Stone, this postcard was of a large . . . field.

It was a nice field, I guess. But the significance of the field was never explained -- either on the card itself or by my mother, who wrote: "Having a wonderful time. Is the dog still alive? Love to all."

Perhaps an epic battle was once waged on that field, I thought. Or maybe this was where St. Patrick performed one of his more dazzling miracles, although you'd think they'd at least put up a sign if that was the case.

When my mother returned home, I asked her about the field.

"It was just a field," she said.

"Just a . . . field?"

"Well, the tour bus was pulling out from the hotel," she said. "So I grabbed the first card I could find."

Which reminds me: Some years back I stopped at a place called Walt's World of Reptiles somewhere in the Carolinas.

For a couple of bucks, Walt would take a picture of you with one of his (heavily sedated) boa constrictors wrapped around your neck.

I myself didn't take him up on the offer.

But if you're going to send a postcard, that might be the way to go.

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