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Post Cards From the Edge of Guilt

April 21, 1991|PAMELA MARGOSHES | Margoshes is a Washington, D.C.-based free-lance writer who has lived in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Australia.

There I was. Relaxing pool-side. With the sun directly overhead and several solicitous waiters hovering near me. I was sinking into a pleasurable stupor of sun block and mental slack when it hit me: I'd been on vacation in Australia for two weeks and I hadn't sent a single post card! To anyone. Friend or foe (pleasure or business). Kith or kin. Ma or Pa.

Here I was, leisure-stoked and luxuriating--and the rest of my family, friends and associates were 3,000 air miles away. Trapped in concrete boxes. At work. Bored, tired and restless. Aching to hear from me. Desperate for cheerful overseas mail.

I'd like to know this: Who invented the art (the de rigueur necessity) of post card sending? The Postmaster General? Just who decreed (and when?) that those on vacation are duty and honor bound to stay in touch with the very persons they're no doubt fleeing? The very persons they went on vacation to escape?

Why does an address book transform into an albatross the very moment you cross a single time zone? Why is it that as soon as you purchase airline tickets and get on a plane you suddenly remember that you've got more friends and business associates than Donald Trump had during the entire 1980s?

And so it is that two weeks into your downtime rompfest of fun and sun, terminal guilt hits you. And propels you into the nearest gift shop. To purchase megacards: Respectable cards. Non-embarrassing cards. Non-threatening, non-envy-provoking cards. Cute, innocuous, wish-you-were-here ones. Ones that won't force you to change your name and enroll in the Witness Protection Program once you're back home. Cards that entertain--but not unto envy.

You're in the gift shop and faced with 950 glitzy, glossy cards. And then it's Decision Time. Time to separate the naked men (cards) from the boys.

But the problem is: There seem to be only two types of wish-you-were-here. Rude--and more rude. Oh, and a third type: terminally turgid. The kind of high kitsch you wouldn't even send to your Aunt Maude.

Cats perched atop the Grand Canyon. Or astride Ayers Rock. Koalas with sunglasses on. Crocodiles wearing tuxedos. No-taste cards. Cards that say "Hey--I may have absolutely no aesthetic sense whatsoever, but I do care!" And all those rude cards . . .

Just how rude can you go? (Can you afford to go? Given your heartfelt desire to return to your chosen profession once you've shucked off the SPF-34 and gotten on that old jetliner back to your hometown.) Why are there so many naked men and women cards? The only naked Aussies you've seen so far were on the beach. And you only saw six of them. No matter how extensively you search, you've yet to see a single naked man or woman walking around Sydney. Or Hawaii, for that matter.

You decide to go "scenic." (And in defense of postcards Down Under, there are a lot of beautiful scenic ones.)

But which scenic card for which person? Is a post card of an erupting volcano (a leftover from Hawaii) too Freudian to send to your boss? Does it imply some kind of seething hostility toward him? And what about cute animal cards? If you send your co-worker a big, cute, lolling wombat card, would she take offense? Should she?

This is exhausting! (This is vacation?) You'd need an advanced degree in industrial psychology/psychoanalytic theory to pick just one perfect card! Hey, you think, if I was that interpersonally savvy, I'd never have to go on vacation at all! I'd never need to flee from my near and dear! I'd be content to sit in my back yard and read!

You spin the card rack, grab a couple hundred kitschy cards and run like mad back to the pool.

You're pool-side with your address book. You wipe the sun block off your hands and get down to business.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Frumkin," you begin. . . .No, too formal. And besides, aren't they now divorced? What is the former Ms. F's maiden name? Does she even want to hear from you at all?

Five hours later: Carpal tunnel syndrome is creeping into your right hand. You've got a red stripe down the left side of your face (sunburn). And you're stoned on pina coladas. Your back is aching. Your eyes are burning. Yep. Just like a day at the office (minus the pina buzz, that is). Only your office doesn't cost $250 a day. And it isn't in gorgeous Australia.

And you're only up to the "G's". . . .

"Dear Gail," you write. "Having a fab time!" (Too informal? Too folksy? Too 1970s? Who cares. You've got to get through the rest of those "G's.")

"Wish you were here," you write--hypocrisy exceeded only by ultra-kitsch. Another tuxedoed croc card bites the "out-pile" dust.

It's 7 o'clock in the evening. The sun has long set. You're alone by the pool. You're hungry. Your face is burning. Your soul is writhing. You could have spent the whole day walking around Sydney. But you've just spent it informing 475 people you flew 3,000 miles to escape that you "wish they were here."

And you just know that you're going to beat those awful, kitschy cards home, and end up at the office the very day the crocodiles with the tuxedos arrive. The day the post cards from hell are delivered.

Just who invented this concept anyway? Is it legal/moral to not send any? If you didn't send a single post card, would anyone notice? Would anyone even care?

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