There's an entire aisle in my supermarket dedicated to greeting cards. There are so many cards it makes you wonder if people have suddenly started celebrating birthdays two to three times a year. But no, it's probably because in the same space as a 69-cent can of garbanzo beans, the grocery store can cram in ten greeting cards that sell for $3 apiece, even more, if you go for the fancy cards that talk and sing and fold like origami ducks.
The other reason for such a glut of greeting cards is that they get more and more specific over the years. Cards that used to just say "Happy Birthday" or "Happy Anniversary" have slowly evolved. From a simple "Happy Birthday" we've gone to "Happy Sweet Sixteen" to "Happy Birthday to my Grandson" to "Happy Birthday to My Niece" to "Happy Birthday to My Boss" to "Happy Birthday to My Second Cousin Twice-Removed" to "Happy 22nd Birthday, Evil Step-Mother" to "Happy Birthday to my Birth Mother."
Every category has suffered from greeting-card creep. At first there were cards for high school graduations, little money-holding envelopes that you'd slide $5 or $10 into and hand to the grateful grad. Now if it doesn't contain a crisp, new $100, you risk a shunning. And that's a hundred for each graduation — kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school, college, med school, law school and business school.
With all the anniversary cards, get well cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, Halloween cards, Thanksgiving cards, Christmas cards, Chanukah cards, Kwanzaa cards, Mother's Day cards, Father's Day cards and hundreds of other cards, you'd think there would be enough greeting cards to cover every possible social occasion. Not quite.
What card do you send to the friend who has just entered rehab for the third time? What do you send to the lovely couple that you thought were made for each other who just went through an ugly divorce after 20 years of marriage? What do you send to the parent whose kid has just dropped out of college after they've hocked the house and spent $60,000 on tuition? Obviously, they need a card now more than they did at their birthday, but sometimes you just don't know what to say. It's easy to know what to say to people at Christmas and on their anniversaries, but what do you say when you find that a casual acquaintance, maybe someone who works in your office, has just had the wrong leg amputated? "Get Well Soon" doesn't quite fit the bill. What we need are cards that say the things we can't say or don't know how to say. Cards that say:
"Saw Your Dad On 'America's Most Wanted' Last Night. I recognized the jacket over his head."
"Sorry That Nasty Judge Took Your Kids Away. But don't worry, you can always have more!"
"Saw Your Ex-Wife got a Restraining Order. Maybe it's time to start dating again."
"Hope You Win that Paternity Suit."
"Hope You Lose that Paternity Suit."
"I'm Sorry Your Dog Ran Away. I'm Sure it had Nothing to do with Your Abusive Personality."
"Congratulations on Being Selected for the Witness Protection Program."
"Heard Your Husband Was Cheating On You! If it makes you feel any better, he'll cheat on her, too!"
"The Difference between a Good Haircut and a Bad Haircut is only Two Weeks."
"We've Cut You Out of the Will! And don't bother to visit your grandmother and me as long as you're shacked up with that loser!"
"Congratulations on Your First Anniversary! Of being sober."
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org