Summer is a big celebration season for me. Five members of my family celebrate birthdays during these hot months: all three children, my father and my mother. Not all of these events require gifts (not since the Great Schwartzberg Family Gift-Giving Compromise of 2003), but they all require cards. At about $3.50 a card, that's nearly 25 bucks spent to have complete strangers write about how close I feel to my loved ones. The expense is roughly equivalent to six gallons of gas, 12 ice cream cones, or half a decent New York City haircut.
The price would be okay if the people who wrote and approved American greeting cards spent a little time here on Planet Earth. But can you remember the last time you picked out a card and thought: "Gosh, this expresses my feelings perfectly!" More likely, you scanned a bunch of cards, put most back, and reluctantly settled on one with few words and a pleasantly ambiguous picture that reminds you of very cheap motels.
Birthday cards are probably the most popular of all greeting cards, but why do so many of them treat aging past 40 as something that deserves sadistic ridicule? If it's not appropriate to tell your grandfather he's becoming a fossil to his face, why is it any more acceptable to say it in a card? Nonetheless, card companies insist on creating multiple greetings that basically say:
"I'm glad I'm not as old as you are!"
Sympathy cards frustrate me even more. Why do so many sympathy cards rhyme? A sad person needs a rhyming sympathy card like a happy person needs a sunburn. They expound on life and loss in a way that make Chinese fortune cookies read like Shakespeare. I also suggest sympathy cards catch up with the times:
"So Sorry To Hear You Were Job-Eliminated"
"Condolences on Your Bankruptcy"
"Sorry Those Revealing Photos Spoiled Your Pageantry Plans"
"Too Bad About Your Recent Indictment"
"Thinking of You While You Explain That Prostitute Thing"
Sometimes you'll see a perfectly good card on the outside. You think to yourself, "there could be nothing but white space on the inside and I'd still get it. What could ruin it?" Then you open it and find something so crude, dumb, or ridiculous that you have to put it back immediately. But you can't find the exact spot from which you plucked it, so you nervously place it in front of a Garfield card and quickly leave the store. It's okay -- no one buys Garfield cards.
I think we should resist bad cards altogether, and those terribly generic e-greetings, too. I'd rather hear from my long-lost Nigerian relative with millions of dollars waiting for me in a Swiss account than watch some text and dancing candles.
Start making your own cards. What does it take, really? A piece of paper, a pen, and the rare talent to fold things in half. Just write what you feel, whether it's one word or one hundred. The result is something relatively free to you, but probably invaluable to the receiving party.
When you're done, take the $3.50 you saved and buy some ice-cream for both you and your recipient. Lick for lick, ice cream tastes way better than envelope glue.