When I first started out in cartooning, it was as a gag cartoonist. A gag cartoonist, for the uninitiated, is someone who draws single cartoons without recurring characters, usually just one picture with a caption. The gag cartoonist creates his or her cartoons and collects a batch of them–around a dozen at a time–and sends them, unsolicited to an editor at a magazine. If you are lucky, you get an envelope back with some of your cartoons returned and a letter from the editor telling you the magazine is buying one or more of your cartoons—and maybe even a check.
That’s how I got addicted to the mail. Back in the day when there were hundreds of magazines that bought cartoons, I would send out dozens of envelopes, keeping the unsold cartoons in circulation among different magazines. Every day the mailman dropped off his delivery was a day I might find a check in one of those envelopes.
If I was home, I’d check the mailbox several times a day on the off chance that the mailman was not on his usual schedule. After a while, I got used to the routine: how long each magazine took to respond if they were going to reject your work, or how long it would take if they were going to buy something. With experience, I developed a sort of internal clock. I could tell that the time to hear back from Saturday Evening Post or Playboy or Good Housekeeping was approaching. As the internal clock neared alarm time, my mailbox checking would increase in frequency.
For a long time, I had a post office box, and I’d check the mail in the morning on the way to work, at lunch time and on the way home. If I was particularly anxious about a batch, I might even check the mail on the way to lunch and on the way back. I was pathetic.
I no longer submit cartoons on spec since becoming a syndicated cartoonist. And so my mail addiction was cured…or rather, I should say, I became a recovering mail addict. Because many years later, email came along.
First it was the siren call of “You’ve got mail!” from AOL (even typing those words brings with it a longing that’s hard to describe). That phrase began to stir feelings that had been pushed deep to the recesses of my brain. Pavlov would have been unsurprised by the results. I began to respond to that phrase with virtual drooling and became anxious to hear it as my mail addiction reared its ugly head again. I gave up AOL for regular email, and had a program that did not tell me when I had mail whenever it arrived. Sanity was restored.
Until I got Mac OS X.
Its Mail app has a pleasant little bing whenever an email arrives and it checks the email on a regular basis. The little bing was the abbreviated substitute for “You’ve got mail!”
Bing! I immediately stopped whatever I was doing to check my email, only to find that I had untold sums of money available to me from a Nigerian benefactor or I could cure any number of male shortcomings with a click of a link. I was an email Zombie. Having already beaten the monkey on my back a couple of times, I knew what had to be done. I opened the Preferences and disabled automatic notifications of email.
I’ve been email clean for a few years now.
But somewhere in a basement or a garage in Silicon Valley, there’s a computer geek devising another way to unleash a new monkey.