Number crunching

FIVE. To save a few billion a year, the Post Office is thinking of cutting mail service down from six days a week to five. A few billion? Letís just make it every other day, and save a few more billion. Iím trying to think of a single piece of mail Iíve gotten that was so important it couldnít have come a day later without changing my life. The phone bill came on Thursday instead of Wednesday? Heads will roll! The fifth L.L. Bean catalog of the month comes a day late? How should I vent my outrage? I needed that Canadian blanket coat yesterday! Oh, the humanities.

I donít know if the people at the Post Office have heard about it, but thereís this new technology (if ďnewĒ meant 40 years old) called e-mail. Itís like regular mail except it moves at the speed of light and you donít need a stamp, and itís faster, better and cheaper. And thereís another thing that helps a lot when you positively, absolutely must get a message to someone right away. Itís called a telephone. Iíve heard theyíre easy to use and itís almost as if the person you are talking to is in the room with you. I predict that, someday, almost everyone will have one.

EIGHT. I heard that a woman who had octuplets already had six small children at home. My mother had eight children. So did Sueís mother. But not all on the same day. They both managed to stretch it out over couple of decades. Then the older kids could help out with the younger ones; it was a system that worked, (except for all the fighting for attention, the hand-me-downs, the teasing, the cruel tricks we would play on one another, the years and years of intense psychological... but I digress...) in the era of big families and stay-at-home moms. One of our neighbors had 13 children. They named the last one Osmond Jr. We figured they had run out of names. It was also the long-gone era of names, too. Bob, Jim, Mike, Joe, Betty, Pat, Susie. Now if you name a kid Bob, you have to spell it funny, like Bhobb, or the kid will go through life traumatized because heís not unique. I canít prove it, but something tells me more Bhobbs end up in therapy than Bobs.

ONE TRILLION: When did you first hear that word? When Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer used to say ďbillions and billionsĒ that seemed to be pretty much the highest you could go. Then came a gazillion, but that just meant ďa lot.Ē I think I was about 30 when I first heard ďa trillion.Ē But a trillion means something. What was the biggest lottery prize ever? $430 million. A lot of millions, right? A billion is 1,000 million, more than twice as much. Youíd have to work very hard to spend a billion dollars. If you bought a new $100,000 luxury car every day, it would take you 27 years to spend $1 billion. It would get boring. Warren Buffet has something like $50 billion. He must be bored to death. Congress just debated a near trillion-dollar stimulus bill. I hope it works. What scares me, though, is that I might start hearing a new word. Whatís the word for 1,000 trillion?

20/20: Our library has a large childrenís section. And guess what Ė childrenís books are printed in type THIS BIG! Publishers seem to have this exactly backward. Itís old geezers like me that could use the large print. What do they think, Iím wearing tri-focals because they are so good looking? Iíll bet you 95 percent of all book buyers wear some kind of reading glasses. I know they make large print books, but why donít they make them all large print? I donít want to open a best seller and feel like Iím reading the fine print on my credit card policy.

Jim Mullen is the author of ďIt Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple LifeĒ and ďBabyís First Tattoo.Ē You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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