"Dear sir (you cur):"

and other letters from, to & about Natty
Bumppo, who tells off the IRS and other
bureaucrats, the insurance companies,
the coupon traffickers, the electric com-
pany, the manufacturers, the merchants,
the railroads, the sleazy one-night motel
owners, his clients, the other lawyers, the
judges, the media, the many women who
have left him, and even his well-meaning
friends — and some of them have the
nerve to write back, with equal venom.
A collection of the nastiest (and funniest)
letters ever written. 287 pages

ISBN 0960489452

$14.98 postpaid (U.S.)
(first class, air mail)

send check, cash or money order to:

Borf Books

international prices

Latest example

Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210



Wholesale and multiple title orders

"Dear sir (you cur):" excerpt

International prices: Postpaid to Canada $16, rest of world $18 (first class, air mail). 

Monica Rogers January 17, 2004
Customer Service Manager
The Courier-Journal
Louisville, Ky.

Dear Ms. Rogers:

Thank you so much for the personal invitation, by your letter dated January 15, 2004, to renew my subscription to the Courier-Journal.

You say that you can no longer offer me a discount, but perhaps we can negotiate. My daily mail subscription to the Courier-Journal has failed to arrive at the local post office on day of issue – since I began keeping records of such things last August 30 – on August 30, September 13, 15, 17 and 27, November 14 and 21, and December 26 and 27, 2003. For a fair average, let’s forget about August 30 and take the period September 13, 2003, through January 13, 2003. That’s eight days in four months – or two days a month – the Courier-Journal (which I paid for in advance) has failed to arrive here.

When the newspaper fails to arrive in my post office box, I have to go across the street to buy one at Wood Bros.’ Cee Bee store, for 50 cents. That’s a dollar a month, on average. So, perhaps you could offer me a “Daily Only” rate of $18.43 a month instead of your standard $19.43?

Wait a minute! I just ran a calculation: If I go to the Cee Bee every day (except Sunday) for the Courier-Journal, it will cost me an average of only $13.03˝ a month (and less than that when I am on vacation, or ill, and unable to go to the Cee Bee, not to mention the post office). So, perhaps you can offer me a “Daily Only” rate of $12.03 a month instead of your standard $19.43?

Please advise before Ground Hog Day, when my subscription is due to expire.


Natty Bumppo

February 2, 2004

Dear Mr. Bumppo:

I have received your letter of January 17. I apologize for the delayed mail delivery you have experienced over the last five months. I understand the frustration you are experiencing, however, I am unable to offer you any type of permanent rate reduction for your account at this time. Although I cannot offer you a reduced rate, I would like to retain your business. I’d like to provide you with one month of complimentary service.

If this is agreeable to you, please let me know so that I can credit your account accordingly. My e-mail address is . . . or I can be reached by phone at (800) . . . . I appreciate your business and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for subscribing to the Courier-Journal.


Monica Rogers
Customer Service Manager
The Courier-Journal

[Undated; received March 5, 2004]
ACCOUNT CJ 2766099
DUE DATE 3/21/04

The amount due is your outstanding balance for papers received to date. Balance must be paid in full immediately. This is your final statement.

The Courier-Journal
We appreciate your business!

March 9, 2004


The Courier-Journal would like to provide you with home delivery service of the newspaper. However, our records indicate that a balance currently exists on your account for services rendered and your service has been temporarily suspended.

According to our records, the balance owed on your account is: ($23.74). Please remit the balance owed immediately. Once your payment has been posted to your account, we will resume your delivery service.

Enclosed you will find a self-addressed, return envelope for your convenience. . . . Payments can also be made online . . . .

In closing, thank you for having allowed us the opportunity to serve you.


Monica Rogers
Customer Service Manager
The Courier-Journal

March 12, 2004

Dear Ms. Rogers:

I don't understand. I do not subscribe to the Courier-Journal.


Natty Bumppo

End notes:

1. The newspaper actually quit arriving at the post office on March 9. So I drove across the street from the Post Office to the Cee Bee, only to find that they didn’t have any Courier-Journals. They didn’t even have a Courier-Journal vending box any more. It had been stolen the week before (I advised them to suggest to the Sheriff that he investigate the Courier-Journal mail subscription department.)

2. So I had to drive on down the street to the local Minit-Mart to get my paper. And I had to reassess the cost of buying it at a store or newsstand: Three-tenths of a mile further. Six-tenths, round trip. At the IRS deductible rate of 37 cents a mile, that was another 22 cents on top of the 50-cent newsstand price. That brought the average up to $18.78 a month for the daily. Not as good as the $13.03 a month average price at the Cee Bee, but still better than the $19.43 a month for mail subscription, and still more dependable – I thought! But . . . .

3. Three days later – March 12, the day I received Ms. Rogers’ dun of March 9 – the squeeze was on: The newsstand circulation of the Courier-Journal in the County had been cut to six: Three copies to the Minit-Mart, three copies to Hilltop Chevron. (And the Sheriff told me he was getting “the runaround” from Louisville prosecutors in his effort to get a search warrant for the Courier-Journal subscription office, for the vending box stolen from the Cee Bee.)

4. But it's on line, as are the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, and the Manchester Guardian, and Salon, and . . . . And I was getting around town a lot more than I used to, renewing acquaintances, making new friends. All in all, it wasn’t so bad . . . .

“April Hammond” November 5, 2003
MBNA America
Wilmington, Del. Re: My MasterCard account

Dear “April Hammond”:

Thank you so much for your unsigned letter of October 29, 2003, and MBNA’s continuing cus­tomer “service” on this issue. Yours was the fifth unsigned letter I have received from MBNA on this billing dispute, from a fifth different person (if, indeed, “Natalie S. Ire­land,” “Erin Cullum,” “Carol Pierson,” “Demetrias Faulkner” and “April Hammond” are real persons to begin with, of which I have some reasonable doubt*).

With all restrained rancor, I must say that MBNA simply does not “get it. In all this volumi­nous correspondence you have failed to answer my one simple question: Who is this merchant that has attached a $39.95 charge to my MasterCard account? You have given no real name, no address, no telephone number, and no description of service or merchandise to substantiate the charge.

Here is what I will do: I will continue to pay the current authentic charges to my account and regular authorized monthly charges. I will take the rest of my credit card business to another bank. And I will not pay the $39.95 charge posted by “DECISION ONE CORP.” or any late charges or finance charges tacked on to my account as results of that charge. You may sue me for all that.


Natty Bumppo

* Footnote: This letter brought yet another unsigned letter from MBNA (saying, essentially, nothing) over yet a sixth printed signature, “Portia Tyson,” dated November 11, 2003 – and, on November 15, a cancellation of my credit card by MBNA, without notice (I learned of the cancellation in a panicky e-mail from my internet service provider stating that its billing was not credited). – N.B.

Sallie L. Krawcheck, Chairman & CEO Smith Barney
W. Thomas Matthews, President & CEO Global Private Client Group
Salomon Smith Barney Inc.
New York, N.Y. March 13, 2003

Dear Ms. Krawcheck and Mr. Matthews:

Along with monthly statements from Salomon Smith Barney received this week was a small insert signed by “Sallie L. Krawcheck, Chairman & CEO Smith Barney,” and “W. Thomas Matthews, President & CEO Global Private Client Group,” stating, in pertinent part:

Dear Client:

As you are probably aware, Congress is currently considering a proposal to eliminate the effective double taxation of dividends . . . .

We at Smith Barney think that this proposal could . . . be of great benefit to our clients. As investment professionals, we urge you to voice your support for this proposal to your representative in Congress.

It is quite simple to do so. On line, go to www.trcdividendbenefits.org and e-mail your representative.

Out of curiosity I went there. It is a “Price Waterhouse” site and, indeed, it is quite easy. See the enclosed printouts. Note that once you get “in” to your own Congressman and Senators’ names (merely by typing in your zip code), you are invited to “Create a personalized communication to your Members of Congress” (emphasis added).

And there, already neatly typed for you, is a five-paragraph letter to your Senators and Congressman complaining about the “unfairness” of dividend taxation and comparing it to the “death tax” (one of the fairest taxes ever devised by any government, it has always seemed to me: “You can’t take it with you”). The only thing “personalized” about this letter is the sender’s signature: You can’t add or subtract a word. How easy can it be to get “personal”?

Fuck this.

I am highly offended that any of the money I have sent to your firm over the years – my own and, much more, my clients’ – is going to support the further division of the rich from the poor. This is our nation’s biggest problem, and Salomon / Smith / Barney / Global / Price / Waterhouse is making it easy for us to make it worse.

It is offensive enough to me personally to have received this crap from your firm, but what disturbs me even more is the thought that all your ignorant customers, too, are receiving this, and thinking, “Duh! Oh! Yeah! Duh! That’s double taxation! Gee! That’s not fair! And it’s this easy to protest? Well, hell, yeah! I ain’t rich myself, but I WANNABE! Here, Mr. Congressman, is my two cents’ worth!” (but actually Price Waterhouse’ and Smith Barney’s).

It’s that kind of ignorance that leads the hoi polloi into the belief of the righteousness of a war for oil found under other peoples’ sands, and that brings unto us bombings of world trade centers. I don’t care if it’s “double” taxation, or triple taxation. All I know is that if the filthy rich do not start contributing to the health and benefit of the world a little more – whether through taxation, philanthropy or self-denial – there is not going to be any world left for them to rape and pillage. Ask Osama bin Laden.

The income taxes one pays depend for the most part upon the income bracket he or she is in, not on the source or nature of the income. Poor people in the lowest bracket, whose only income is Social Security and dividends, already do not have to pay tax on dividends. It is at least disingenuous, if not outright mendacious, to say, as the Price Waterhouse web site does, that eliminating the tax on dividends will “help senior citizens,” with the implication that the tax preys most heavily on aged destitutes struggling to get by. Your plea, like the ridiculous and enormous tax cuts engineered by the favored son in the White House, is designed to aid the well-to-do, and only the well-to-do. It is every bit as ridiculous and mendacious as suggesting that estate and inheritance taxes preyed on poor family farmers.

Your politics stinks. Keep it to yourselves.


Natty Bumppo

James S. Secrest Sr., Esq. January 22, 2003
Attorney at Law
Scottsville, Ky.

Dear Jim:

Thanks for your letter. My current ire is directed at the “West Group” (formerly West Publishing Company; you remember them). I trust that you remember also the old days, when we bought law books. I still buy books, for Kentucky statutes. But some slicker from West convinced me several years ago to subscribe to West’s CD-ROM service for Kentucky Decisions because, in addition to the “books” I would get on disk, I would get a connection to “WestLaw. I took the cheapest route, which allowed me to connect to WestLaw only as needed, for an additional per minute charge each time I used it (plus telephone toll; no "free" 800 number there).

But with all the cheaper and even free stuff coming out on the internet, about the end of 2001 I found even that monthly charge, by then up to about $80, exorbitant for my needs. And I had a disk with Kentucky Decisions up through 53 SW 3d. So I canceled.

At my age and stage of practice, I do not have to do legal research every month. But the last time I tried, about a month ago, I couldn’t read my disk (er, that is, my machine could not read the disk). I was thinking, “Hmmm . . . did West use my connection one last time to go into my computer and disable the compact disk reader for ‘its’ disks?”

No, no; nothing that invasive.

West called me last week to offer me a “Come back” package, without WestLaw but at “half price” ($43.50 a month, which means “full price” has risen from $80 to $87 in a year. It began at $42.50 in 1995). I called back with a query this morning (yes, you have to subscribe for at least a year), and then I asked why my last disk from my previous subscription could not be read.

“Oh!” said the chirpy little woman’s voice on the other end of the line. “Those expire.

“Oh!” I replied, jollily. “It’s West’s little marketing trick. Thank you for the rip-off.

So volumes 889 through 999 of SW 2d and volumes 1 through 53 of SW 3d, which I thought I had “bought” (and for Christ’s sake paid enough to buy, at $80 a month), I no longer have.

Guess what? I don’t have volumes 1 through 87 of SW (1st, not 2d, not 3d), either, and never did. What I do have, in their place, is a nearly complete set of “Kentucky Reports” (including Hughes, Sneed, Hardin, Bibb, T. B. Monroe, Dana, B. Monroe, W. P. D. Bush et al*), supplemented by a full set of “Kentucky Opinions” and 16 volumes of “Kentucky Law Reporter.

Ancient books, these. They date to 1785, and the oldest in my set were printed in 1869. Some are in good shape; they may even have antique value. No, I am not going to exhibit them on PBS’ “Road Show. The important thing to me is that they are books. And I still have them. And I can still read them.

I never did read the boilerplate contract West sent me on the CD-ROM package. No doubt there is some fine print in it suggesting that, in effect, I was “renting” or “leasing” the books, not “buying” them. But that sure isn’t how they were “sold.

Would you be interested in representing the plaintiffs in a class action against the West Group? You’d have “difficult clients” – mostly lawyers. Maybe all lawyers: The libraries may just keep up their subscriptions without question.


Natty Bumppo

* In the old, old days, before West took over with its “Southwes-
tern [now “South Western”] Reporter” series, and even before
the George G. Fetter Printing Co. of Louisville, Ky., and its suc-
cessors took over with numbered “Kentucky Reports,” the vol-
umes were named, not numbered, for the court reporters who
compiled them.

The New Yorker September 11, 2002

Dear Editors:

I look forward each week to reading Hendrik Hertzberg’s editorials in Talk of the Town for the reporting, the clarity, the keen insight, and the occasional brilliance. “Bloomberg Butts In” (Sept. 9), unfortunately, could have been written by your average fifth-grader.

First the reporting. Hertzberg mentions the ban on smoking in California bars, but fails to mention the creative and massive civil disobedience to it – not by the poor, who cannot afford lawyers (or cigarettes either, any more), but by the Uppies.

Hertzberg calls the enormous cigarette tax “the real death tax” and dismisses its overwhelming discrimination against the poor as helping them more than it hurts them because it is saving their lives. This is paternalism at its grossest. I expect to see an editorial next week in favor of requiring waders in the Hamptons to wear water wings. Let’s prohibit sky-diving and skiing while we’re at it.

Then Hertzberg assumes that “a smoker is simply a person who would like to quit smoking. He makes that assumption not just for himself, but for all of us (“as anyone who has ever been or known one can attest,” were his words).

I have “been one. I quit three years ago after 37 years as “one. I didn’t quit because I wanted to. I didn’t want to. I quit because I had to. With my childhood asthma returning, I found that I could no longer breathe and smoke too. Would Hertzberg praise and congratulate my asthma for enriching my life? Perhaps we should visit anthrax upon those who still can afford to smoke, to do them the favor we are doing the poor with Hertzberg’s “real death tax.

I don’t particularly miss smoking (I merely see myself as a different person now). But neither do I regret having smoked all those years. I congratulate myself only on the timing of my abstention, in conjunction with the Clintonian and Bloombergian “death taxes. (What used to be called the “death taxes,” by the way, were the estate and inheritance taxes. They never touched the poor, and they barely grazed the middle class. Wonder who was in power when they were repealed?)

I know a lot of smokers who don’t want to quit, but are being forced to, by their government, which is enriching itself in its process of yet another soaking of the poor for their own good. The departed Thomases – Paine, Doubting, and Jefferson – surely are rolling over in their graves. The present Thomas can afford to smoke, and has the power to decide whether others can.


Natty Bumppo

Kentucky Educational Television September 10, 2002
Lexington, Ky.

Dear KET:

I thought I might have been a little late with my annual contribution this year, and here are the reasons: Kentucky magazine and your program guide quit coming to my post office box; and you keep sending these solicitations out throughout the year. I don’t mind getting a reminder in the mail about the time my annual contribution is due; but when I am continually bombarded by money-grubbing junk mail, I tend to pitch it in the nearest waste basket (they have a huge one right at the sorting desk in our little post office). Perhaps, I thought, that’s what happened to the real KET renewal notice (my subscriptions to Harper’s and the New Yorker tend to lapse, from time to time, for the same reason).

Anyway, after a few months without your program guide, I researched my payables archives and found that, indeed, I had not missed my annual contribution. I gave you $35 in January of 2001 (check No. 2677, 1/11/01), and another $50 in December (No. 3086, 12/11/01, with “Annual contribution” typed on the memo line). But in my confusion, and in hope my subscription to Kentucky magazine and your program guide would be renewed, I sent you another $50 on August 22, 2002, by check No. 3420, dated August 21, 2002.

Then, about two weeks ago, I read in a newspaper article that your entire programming schedule was being reconfigured; that almost everything would find a new time slot; that most of the “Kentucky-oriented” programs would move to KET, and that most nationally oriented programs would move to “KET-2. This caused some distress here, as the nationally and internationally oriented programs tend to be our favorites; and we live in the boondocks, and we don’t get “KET-2” here (perhaps you did not realize this, but not all intelligent people in Kentucky live in Louisville and Lexington).

Anyway, we did not feel the pinch until my wife went to tune in her favorite program, Nature, at 7 p.m. (Central time) Sunday evening and found, in its place, some stupid British comedy. She ran to me in distress. I could give her no immediate reassurance, as my program guide subscription seemed to have been canceled. But we do have the internet here in the boondocks, and I found by your web site that Nature has been moved to 8 p.m. (Central time) on Saturday (and that Nova, my favorite program, has been moved to 9 p.m. Saturday).

This was distressing news to me, but devastating news to my wife. She is a Polish immigrant. She does not understand much English (and certainly no British comedy. Come to think of it, neither do I. British comedy is rather like British food, is it not?), but she does understand animals; and she watched Nature faithfully every Sunday evening. In fact it is the only television program she has cared to watch most weeks.

The problems with 8 p.m. Saturday are that (1) it is past her bedtime, and (2) Saturday night is jazz night on our public radio station. There is no other time to listen to jazz on the radio here in the boondocks. And my wife understands, and likes, jazz music, too. She even likes to fall asleep to it on the radio on Saturday nights. I do too.

Please either (a) give me my money back, or (b) send someone down here to train my wife how to tape-record Nature every Saturday night without having to be there at the machine to push the buttons at the time it comes on. (If I were you, I would choose the former; it would be much easier. Have you ever tried to teach a Polak anything?)


Natty Bumppo

Vertrux Office Products September 6, 2001
Garden Grove, Calif.

Re: Taco Bell syndrome

Dear Vertrux:

I telephoned you this afternoon to place an order. A robot advised me that all sales agents were busy, and asked me to hold the line. I held the line for 58 seconds and was about to hang up when an apparent human being answered, saying, “Hello, this is Liz; can you hold a moment?”

No, I cannot! ” I yelled – to no avail: I was on hold again. I hung up.

It has become rather clear to me that you do not want my money.


Natty Bumppo

P.S. If you fax or telephone me in reply to this letter, I will file a
petition in the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Colorado to grant a furlough to the Unabomber.

Harper’s June 17, 2001

Dear Editor:

Of all the claptrap (Letters, July) inspired by David Foster Wallace (“Tense Present,” April), the clappiest by far (unless I have overlooked some subtle irony, as another writer accuses Cristina Nehring of having done in her review of Adam Gopnik) was Greg Felton’s railing over the split infinitive.

What Mr. Felton seems to fail to realize is that, although there are reasons of style and emphasis not to split infinitives, there is no structural reason not to split an infinitive in English – his reference to Noam Chomsky’s canard notwithstanding. Chomsky’s concern over “structural ambiguity” actually is one of style and meaning – i.e., of syntax – not of structure.

And if Mr. Felton finds the phrase “to better understand” ambiguous, God help him in his reading (Good heavens! He might even need a context!). The converse phraseology, “to understand better,” is at least as ambiguous, if not more. Does it mean to gain a better understanding, or does it mean to understand the word or concept known as “better”?

The structural issue is this: In most other languages, an infinitive is one word (e.g., “esse”); and it simply cannot be split (without destruction).

In English, mirabile dictu, it can. One reason some famous writers reared in other languages have adopted English for their craft is its flexibility of expression – not for linguistic pollution, but for nuance. And it appears that Mr. Felton and his ilk would deny them (and the rest of us) some of this nuance.

Nor is Mr. Felton’s argument for following the infinitive with the adverb all that persuasive (“to go boldly”). Who says (besides Mr. Felton) that the adverb must come last for emphasis? One other language with which I have some familiarity is Polish; and, in learning it, I was instructed that word order is left largely to the speaker or writer, depending on the emphasis desired; and that to emphasize a word or phrase, you place it last in the clause – or first.

The particular split infinitive “to boldly go” is, as Mr. Felton indicated, a pet peeve of linguistic puritans (including many a “SNOOT”). I would agree that this awkward phrase is a bit of a malaprop, and I would submit that its very awkwardness has given it an emphasis beyond Mr. Felton’s wettest dreams. My hat is off to whoever wrote it.


Natty Bumppo

The Courier-Journal May 1, 2001 [published May 9, 2001]
Louisville, Ky.

Re: “Souter’s Folly”

To the Editor:

The Hon. Mr. Justice David Souter has taken a lot of flak – and
deserved, and earned – over his opinion that it is lawful, and con-
stitutional, to arrest, and handcuff, and incarcerate, a soccer mom,
in front of her children, for failing to buckle up.

But in all the outrage over “Souter’s Folly,” I have seen no com-
plaints over the statute making it a crime not to wear a seat belt.
Such “Big Brother will protect you if you don’t protect yourself”
coercion is every bit as unreasonable as being arrested for not do-
ing it, and just as gross an invasion of privacy as a prohibition of
contraception or abortion.

Some have expressed dismay that the usually “liberal” Justice
Souter voted with the Supreme Court’s four Neanderthal men on
this one. But isn’t this what “liberals” do? Attempt to protect us
from ourselves, with “water wings” statutes such as the seat belt
and motorcycle helmet laws?


Natty Bumppo

“Shareowner Services” October 9, 2000
“Reorganization Department”
Box 64858
St. MN 55164

Re [per your “re” caption]:
Reliastar Inc/212/NATHANIEL J BUMPPO/312244

Dear “Shareowner Services”:

I received a letter from you dated October 6, 2000, asking me to
mail you some stock certificates “Of Reliastar/NWNL,” and to tele-
phone 800-468-9716 or 651-450-4064 if I had questions.

I had a number of questions; so I dialed both numbers and, with
each, got a branched button menu conducted by a robot. With
some difficulty on each (easier on the second, because by then I had
learned how the game is played) I reached an option to speak with a
human being (I guessed that was what was meant by “shareowner
representative,” although I have some doubts now, after my experi-
ence) only to be left interminably on hold.

I want you to know that I do not play this game. If you want me
to ask my questions by telephone, you may call me, at the number
above, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Central time, as in
St. Paul, Minnesota) Monday through Friday. My telephone usually
is answered by a human being. When it is not, a voice mail device
will take your message without your having to press a single button
or dial further (you will not encounter any branched robot menus);
and a human being will return your call promptly if he is convinced
you are not a telemarketer.

I get the feeling, from your letter, that there is some issue regard-
ing some stock I may hold in the Reliastar or Northwestern National
life insurance company. If there is an issue, I, too, would like to re-
solve it. But I will not attempt to resolve it with a computer or a tel-
ephonic robot.

And I have a preliminary question before we get to those suggest-
ed by your letter: With whom am I corresponding? There is no
company name in your letterhead or in the return address on your
envelope, and your letter was not signed. This question is of no
small concern to me, as the letter asks me to mail you stock certifi-
cates that, for all I know, may have some value.

If you telephone me, please check first to make sure you are a live
human being with a voice. If you write me again, please see that the
letter is signed, by a real person, with a real name, and, if in behalf of
a corporation or other firm, with identification of that firm.

Thank you. The lines are open.


Natty Bumppo

J. Scott Harper, CLU/CFP July 25, 2000
TransAmerica Life Companies
Box 27769
Austin TX 78755

Attn.: Melissa de la Rosa

Re: “Trendsetter Super 10” etc. term life insurance

Dear Mr. Harper / Ms. De la Rosa:

Well, thank you so much for the most interesting fax!

When I received your original solicitation a week ago, it looked
too good to be true (and, of course, it was!). I discussed it imme-
diately with my broker (“Read the fine print,” he said) and my
brother (“Ha! Ha!” he said. He works for TransAmerica, by the

The solicitation indicated that I, at age 60, if reasonably healthy,
could buy half a million smackers of term life for only a little over
fifteen hundred dollars a year. Your faxed quotation, however,
indicates a premium in excess of thirteen thousand dollars a
year. “Hello, Earth! Coming in to land . . . .

Please indicate, on the form provided below (return to me;
photocopy acceptable), the nature of the anomaly:

___ No 60-year-old man – not even a lifetime teetotaler
and nonsmoker – is healthy enough to qualify for the
stated premium! Get real, Buster!”

___ classic bait & switch

___ typo.


Natty Bumppo

cc: FTC, SEC, e pluribus unum

WKYU-FM Public Radio April 6, 2000
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green KY 42101

Dear WKYU:

I was grieved to hear on your air waves Wednesday of the death
of your announcer Bill Hanson; and so was my teen-age son, who
does not even like classical music.

And then – within hours – your obituary turned into another
WKYU-FM fund drive
. How crass can you get? Do you think
it makes a difference to couch this abject request in terms “In lieu
of flowers the family requests . . . ”?

Can you not let the poor man rest in peace? My God, he gave
his life to radio: Must he give his death also? Has it not occurred
to you that he might have been tired? That perhaps even the reas-
on he died is that he was tired? of fund raising? of radio, even?

You want some more money? You can cancel my subscription
to your monthly program guide, that will save you a buck. You
may remove my name from your membership rolls. I will rejoin,
and give again generously, when you quit fucking whining for
more money.


Natty Bumppo

[Author’s note: Re-reading this, after it was printed, I decided
that, although it was quite suitably vitriolic, it was just a little
too mean in spirit to mail. So I did not mail it. Here it is, for
public viewing only. N.B.]

Kroger May 15, 1999
2710 Scottsville Rd.
Bowling Green KY 42104 Attn.: Manager

Dear sir or madam:

You may have heard that there was a bit of a commotion in your
store about 7 p.m. Friday, May 14. It was I.

At checkout the cashier held up two vegetables: “What are
these?” he asked.

In fact, they were onions. “They look like onions,” I said (my
wife had put them in the cart, but she was off browsing cosmetics
while I paid the bill, as is her wont. By the way, this is not an ex-
ceptional occurrence at Kroger – a cashier’s not recognizing a veg-
etable – rather, it seems to be the norm).

“Do you know what this one is called?” asked the cashier, hold-
ing up one that was dark red in color.

“I would call that,” I said, “a ‘red onion.

“The other appears to be a ‘white onion,’” I added, gratuitously.

The cashier scratched his head, pored over his chart, punched
some buttons. He puzzled over the vegetables for several minutes.
Although there were several other employees standing about, wait-
ing to bag the groceries, he did not send any of them to run a price

“If you don’t know the price,” I said, “you’re supposed to give
it away for free.

The cashier chuckled nervously, as if to acknowledge a joke I
had made. But I was serious. And my advice was correct, as I
shall point out.

Finally the cashier took another look at his chart, weighed the
suspicious vegetables, punched some numbers, and finished the rest
of the checkout. I paid the bill, and we left the store.

On the way to the car my wife read the receipt, as she always
does, and exclaimed, “Two-and-a-half dollars for an onion?!” The
receipt (copy enclosed) included the following:


At my wife’s insistence, we re-entered the store, with receipt
and onions. I foresaw trouble immediately, as there were about
two dozen people lined up at “Customer Service,” waiting to cash
their paychecks.

We proceeded to the onion bins. Side by side, where my wife
had picked up the onions, were two bins, one labeled “Red onions
$1.69/lb.,” the other, “White onions $1.49/lb. I have no idea what
a “pearl onion” is, but I was satisfied that what we had purchased
was, indeed, a “red onion,” and that, since it was only slightly larger
than the white onion, it could not have cost more than 65 cents.

We returned with our information, receipt and onions to the
same cashier, who was not then busy. As I had expected, he said
we had to get our refund at “Customer Service” – where the line
was still long. I asked whether he could not call a supervisor to
expedite the matter. He made a telephone call, and a woman ap-
peared, who told us — we had to get our refund at “Customer

That’s when I lost it. At that time, not only were there still ap-
proximately two dozen people in line at “Customer Service,” but
there were also approximately the same number of Kroger em-
ployees standing around doing nothing.

“Thank you, Kroger,” I yelled – quite loud, I assure you, “for
your excellent service!” My shout, in the direction of “Customer
Service,” apparently startled people; a hush fell over the store. I
seized the moment. “Thank you, Kroger,” I yelled, in a different
direction, “for your excellent service!” Still a hush, but some mur-
murs, this time (and some smiles. Apparently someone in the “Cus-
tomer Service” queue recognized me, as he remarked, “Give ’em
hell, Bumppo!”). “Thank you, Kroger,” I yelled, in yet another di-
rection, “for your excellent service!” And we left the store. With-
out our $1.84 (estimated) refund.

We have shopped at Kroger for years, spending an average of
more than $50 a week there. Except for specialty items I could not
find elsewhere, I preferred to shop at home, in Brownsville, for the
convenience (and the service, if you will), even though the prices are
slightly higher here, on almost everything. But my wife preferred
Kroger, for the prices, selection and quality; and she rules the kit-
chen, and everything that goes in it.

But now I have convinced her, too, that we should shop at
home (this was not, by any means, her first experience with a
checkout error at Kroger; and she, in a former life, was a grocery
cashier herself). That will cost you about $2,500 a year. And now,
perhaps, you, and your cashier, will understand my maxim that, if the
cashier does not know the price of an item (in this case, about 65
cents), it should be free. An occasional 65-cent gift would earn you
thousands of dollars. How many other customers, and thousands of
dollars, do you suppose you have alienated with such ignorance?

We will still go to Kroger for specialty items we cannot find any-
where else (one of which is no longer Bobboli’s pizza crusts, since
you took them off the shelves some months ago, even though they
are far superior to the ones you left in stock). But we’ll be in and
out real quick, through the 10-items-or-fewer cash-only express
line –

Unless we can’t find what we’re looking for. You keep moving
things around. Yes, I know the marketing trick: If people have to
search for what they want, they’ll see other things they had not re-
they wanted, and buy them, too. But, have the marketing
wonks run any studies on how many customers are alienated by
this tactic? There’s another 65˘/$2,500 question for you.

Mom and Pop, we’re back!


Natty Bumppo

P.S. On the enclosed copy of the receipt, I have deliberately ob-
literated the code identifying the cashier. Don’t make him your
scapegoat. This sort of thing happens repeatedly, with other per-
sonnel. It’s not the cashier’s fault he was poorly trained, and
dealt a customer-unfriendly system.

And you can stuff those “Kroger Plus” cards, while you’re at it.
I never wanted one, never had one. It is another offensive “mark-
eting” tactic. Dollars are the currency of the realm. If you want
to give me a price break, do it in nickels and dimes, not in plastic.

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