So, I discovered the meaning of life. Or at least, that's what my eager customers are led to believe. You see, two or three times a month, I post a listing titled "The Meaning of Life" to various auction sites. I couple it with a sappy picture of a sunset or rainbow and a description that reads "All views are subjective. Results may vary." Most people wouldn't bat an eye at such a ridiculous listing, but there are some gullible folks out there that take the bait. When the bidding ends, I usually take home anywhere from $5 to $12.
After I've received my money via Paypal, I ship out the item. What is the item, you might ask? Well, I scribble down an inspirational quote or life lesson onto a piece of paper and mail it out in your standard, letter-sized envelope. The quotes are usually from famous writers, historical figures, or the Bible. Some of them include:
"If light is in your heart, you will find your way home." (quoted from Rumi)
"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But People will never forget how you made them feel." (quoted from Maya Angelou)
"It's never too late to be what you might have been." (quoted from George Eliot)
And that's it. One stamp, a drop in the mailbox and my work is done. It's as simple as that.
You might call me a scammer or a con-artist, or perhaps even a plagiarist - and in truth, you are correct. I'm taking advantage of the naive people out there who are probably just looking for a sense of purpose in life - all so I can make a quick buck. But I'd like to think most people know it's fake and purchase it just to see what I'll send them. Besides, I'm a bachelor right out of college. As long as I can make a small dent in my phone bill and eat a packet of ramen each night, I'll sleep just fine.
As you might imagine, I receive quite a bit of hate-mail. I've learned to ignore angry emails and private messages on the auction sites. As soon as I see that it's from one of my customers, it gets deleted. I do, however, receive the occasional snail mail. It's unavoidable, as my PO Box is listed on all of the envelopes I send out.
It would be pretty easy for me to toss these letters in the trash with the rest of my junk mail, but I never can. Something about receiving a physical letter from someone, good or bad, compels me to read it. Anyone who takes the time to write one deserves to have their voice heard, even if I don't really care for what they have to say.
The more and more letters I receive, the more and more amused I am by them. To paint a better picture, here's a few of my favorite quotes from the "fanmail" I've received over the years:
"You're nothing but a glorified fortune cookie service."
"You'll rot in hell for the sins you've committed. Mark my words."
"You're a real f***ing piece of shit, you know that?"
It's reached a point where reading these letters has become the highlight of my week. I've even tacked up some of the better ones on a cork board in my bedroom. You might think that's sick and a little messed up, but I think it's hilarious.
Not all of the letters I receive are bad, though. There's one guy by the name of "Big Red" (like the gum, I guess - that's all he ever writes above his return address) who mails me constantly. He sends me inspirational quotes in exchange for mine. I assume he's a repeat customer who actually enjoys paying for and receiving cheerful messages in his mailbox every now and again.
The first quote Big Red ever sent me was "The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." from Mark Twain. Though there was nothing else in the message, this was a great first impression, as Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors. The quote was much appreciated. As such, I hung it up next to the hate-mail on my cork board.
Another thing that's great about the quotes Big Red sends me is that I can re-gift them to my customers. It saves me time from looking for quotes online. It's true that I could send out the same quote more than once, but that just isn't my style. I like to think that there's a good chunk of people out there who enjoy the sayings I send them and who might actually be repeat customers, like Big Red. If so, I've got to have a little variety.
Some of the things Big Red sends me, however, are not re-gift material. Some quotes he sends are morbid and depressing, and other times he'll send me small packages containing little trinkets that I have no use for. It's a little weird, but I figure the guy is depressed and just needs a friend. Maybe the quotes he bought from me were the only thing he had to look forward to each morning. Perhaps the things he sends me are his way of saying thanks. To me, it's validation that what I'm doing isn't completely sleazy.
But here's where things get weird. Today, I received another envelope from from Big Red. I actually smiled when I pulled it out of my PO Box. His letters and gifts were just as much, if not more of a highlight to my week than the endlessly entertaining hate-mail. Upon opening the envelope, my smile vanished.
Inside was a photograph of me, taken up close through my bedroom window. On the back of the photograph was another one of Big Red's quotes:
"You look so alone. Where's the meaning in your life?"