A Modest Sign of Recovery

08/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I am as concerned as anyone about the economy, and as a dream consultant I tend to look for signs and trends in places that other forecasters may miss. These can be dream details, strange coincidences, and increasingly, what shows up in my mailbox.

At a time when more and more people rely on email, texting, and twittering to gauge the pulse of the nation, I just step into my town's post office, with the Works Progress Administration mural still on the wall, and see what strange things the mail has brought. Using this fascinating if not foolproof method, three months ago I received a startling sign that the economy was indeed improving.

One of the most annoying trends of the cheap money years was all the junk mail that would flood my box every day. Credit card offers, worthy cause fundraising, get-rich-quick seminar fliers--it seemed like everyone had money to advertise through the mail, and they had all targeted me as the poor schlub who wanted to hear their pitch.

At the height of the boom I had return address labels sent from 25 different groups stuffed into my desk drawer, and just as soon as I finished one sheet three more would appear in the next day's mail. I felt it was my environmental duty to use these freebies instead of throwing them away, but I despaired of ever chipping away at the stack.

Then the economy went south, and those labels stopped coming. The Nature Conservancy stopped sending me their ugly ostrich labels, and last winter I even ran out of the ubiquitous Santa labels sent by some helpful charity. By January I was out entirely, and had to resort to writing my return address on envelopes by hand--something I hadn't had to do since the late 90s!

Then one day in early April, as foreclosures and bankruptcies were rising like daffodils around here, I opened up a nondescript envelope and found a little packet of personalized address labels inside. I stared at them for some time--four perforated sheets, with alternating pictures of pumpkins, butterflies, flowers and snowmen on each label--before carrying them out to my car with the rest of my mail.

These labels were sent by some insurance company, a telling sign in itself, as they seem to be one of the only industries with any money lately. I use these labels sparingly, but even still I have already used up half of them, and each time I finish a sheet I wonder whether more will arrive before I run out.

Was this a sign of real recovery, or just a momentary blip in an otherwise bleak economic landscape? I haven't heard from that insurance agency since, nor have others stepped in with competing mailers. All of which makes me much happier when I check my mail box, but worrisome when I think of the economy.

Still, I have enough labels to last a couple more months. By then it will be the fall, and who knows what the harvest will bring?