I had a lot of old ladies on my mail route. I loved my old ladies. They were everything I aspired to be: old but still upright and fairly pliable.

I’d do favors for my customers that they didn’t realize weren’t part of the job. Well, the woman who asked me to intercept a letter from her boyfriend and deliver it to her office instead of her house so her husband wouldn’t see it—she probably had an inkling. But mailing packages for my old ladies or bringing them stamps? That’s not really something I was supposed to do. I stood in line like everyone else because the lines were long and full of grumpy people and I didn’t want to cut in front by engaging the clerks from behind the counter. I’d do it on the clock if I had time but sometimes it was my own time.

The thing about procuring stamps for my old ladies was they were very particular about it. They wanted the religious Christmas stamps. They wanted the flower stamps. They wanted the Elvis stamps. The young Elvis stamps, dear. Sometimes the clerks were out of the stamps they wanted and I bought the next best thing, but then there’d be trouble. “I don’t want to put the LOVE stamp on my bills,” they’d say. I tried to be sympathetic, but in my heart I thought I stood in line for fifteen minutes for this? and Please, don’t let me get so old I care about which stamps go on my bills.

So the other day I needed stamps for my Christmas cards. I send out about a hundred of them. And I did not want to go stand in line for a half hour at the post office with all those germy people and their germy packages. Then I realized: the drug store sells stamps at cost! Yes. I walked to Walgreens.

There’s something about stamps, though. You really do care which ones you buy. I always went for the cheerful secular holiday stamps and not the Holy Madonna And Child stamps. Right? I got to the counter at Walgreens and said “What kind of stamps do you have this year?”

She slammed a book of American flag stamps on the counter.

That’s it?

That was it.

Well, shit. I kind of remember when the flag made me feel proud and fluttery. I was little though. Now if someone is flying an American flag on their truck I know it represents everything I find morally repugnant. Patriotism on the cheap repels me. Ever since a flag-lapel pin began to be a requirement for running for office, fifty years ago, I’ve withdrawn from it a little more. We’re number one? Really? In what categories? This is too small a world for patriotism. I love what America is supposed to stand for but it was always an ideal, and not one currently in favor by your louder patriots, who don’t think twice about wearing flag underpants.

But was it worth getting nine kinds of Postal COVID to get better stamps? It was not.

So there I was with a hundred flags and a leftover handful of adorable otter stamps, and a big pile of addressed envelopes. It was triage time.

There are people on my list who would be enthusiastic about the flag. (Three, to be exact.)

There are people who would charitably assume I was using it ironically.

There are people who would be scandalized by my use of the flag stamp but notice, with approval, that I stuck it on upside-down as a distress symbol. (Two.)

I didn’t have enough otters. Some of my favorite people got otters but some I thought least likely to be affronted got flags. Most of them read my blog and are now fishing the card envelope out of recycling to see if they were otter-worthy.

Right now you can get School bus stamps or Women Cryptologists of World War II stamps. Chien-Shiung Wu or Arnold Palmer. Pete Seeger or Nancy Reagan. Yes: almost everyone cares. Almost everyone with a soul is fundamentally disappointed if they go in for Ursula Le Guin and come out with George Morrison, and have to get their phone and look him up. It shouldn’t matter. But. Even when I wasn’t an old lady, when I was down to my last salamander stamp I’d be damned if I’d put it on a bill. (I framed it.)

I put my extra stamps away. “I guess I can use the flags for official correspondence,” I thought, and instantly worried: Sure, I’m an old lady, but have I become that old lady? No, I have not. I do not care what stamps go on my bills.

I pay them online.