Dec 4, 2023

Quibbles and Bits: Death and Postage

Two incomplete thoughts, together again

By Ed Goldman

DEATH IN VENICE—OR ENCINO, FOR THAT MATTER—It’s official! California is not only one of the priciest states to live in but also the most expensive to die in.

This heartening news was first reported in the moribund Modesto Bee. It was picked up by one of its equally moribund sister newspapers, the Sacramento Bee. Ordinarily, a story this important might start on the front page of a paper then continue to another page. (Journalists call this a “jump.” Readers call it “annoying.”) 

Edgy Cartoon

Coffin up the details

But neither Bee has enough pages every day to squander buying extra paper on its slimmed-down budget—so when the item appeared in the Sacramento Bee it was condensed and contained in just a few column inches. 

Both Bees also have an ongoing challenge of reporting what happens on, say, a Monday until, say, a following Wednesday or Thursday. Each calls itself a daily newspaper which, in one sense, is accurate: It does get published every day. But if you’re looking for “daily” news from a “daily newspaper” you might be better off finding a way to download a CBS, CNN or NPR newscast and print it out.

Meanwhile, to compensate for its erratic and slender news coverage, the Sacramento Bee now charges print subscribers about $40 per month, or $480 per year. That’s down from a figure closer to $700 not long ago. 

So why did I go off on this tangent when you understandably assumed I was going to write about the high cost of dying in California? Because I have a strategy to suggest:

If you must die in costly Sacramento you may still be considered alive for a few days since it’ll take that long for your obit to appear in print in its daily newspaper. I’m not sure how this’ll work but I sense this may lower the price of your dying since the cost will be deferred until you’re officially dead. (Note to Oslo: Please begin prepping my dual Nobel Prizes in Economics and Journalism.)

STAMP OF DISAPPROVAL—Do you ever wonder how the decision is made to raise the price of the United States postage stamp? 

No, I don’t either. But how about, once the decision is made, how to sell it to the public?

SETTING: The offices of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Knott Worth Watt Youth Inc. (motto: “Putting skin on pimento loaf for 57 years”). 

Jen Zee, an eager young account exec, is meeting with two of the firm’s senior partners, Will Knott and Hugh Watt. (Partners Doobie S. Worth and Faye Dodd Youth were, respectively, on vacation and under house arrest.) 

JEN: I can’t, like, tell you how excited I am to be working with you two on, like, this postage stamp campaign!

WILL (Pretending to be avuncular, a persona he switched to at the start of the MeToo movement so his constant barrage of sexist comments could be interpreted as “cute”): And just how excited is “I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Jen?

JEN (Giggles): I, like, can’t tell you.

WILL (With a twinkle): Well, perhaps over dinner and 17 cocktails, you’ll—

HUGH (Who likes to sound like a French boulevardier for no apparent reason): Can we please cut the crepe, you two? (Chuckles at his cleverness.) See what I did there?

WILL: We’re just warming to the subject, Hugh.

HUGH: Yeah, well, last time you “warmed to a subject,” Will, the agency had to come up with a hefty settlement. The “subject” was not amused.

WILL (Clearing his throat to signal he’s getting serious): All right, let’s get to it. To summarize: The U.S. Post office, which nobody likes anymore, is trying to raise the price of a postage stamp for the fifth time in two years.

Looking for a Great Gift?

JEN: Do they think making the stamp more expensive will, like, make people, like, like the Post Office?

HUGH: Nothing of the sort, mon petit. Allow me to read from a CBS News dispatch: “If approved, the rate hike would represent the fifth increase since August 2021, when a Forever stamp increased to 58 cents. In announcing the latest proposed hike, the postal service said that higher rates are needed to offset inflation and ‘the effects of a previously defective pricing model.’ But critics and postal experts have grumbled that customers are paying more while getting less for their money.”

WILL: So, in other words: When people hate something, like the U.S. Post Office, rather than fix it, why not make it cost more to use it?

HUGH: That seems to be the mantra, Will. Like getting everyone used to drive-by/drop-in mailboxes then reconfiguring it so you have to get out of your goddamn car to pull the goddamn flap down on the goddamn mailbox and shove in your goddamn letter.

WILL: I’d suggest you refrain from the vulgarity, Hugh. After all, Jen here’s a veritable kid.

JEN: I, like, really $#@!^%$*!!-ing appreciate that, Will.

WILL (After a pause): Make that 18 cocktails. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).