Unwanted enhancements

Each week a new wave of crude brochures are waiting in 64-year-old Bernadette Bonacci's mailbox, and she wants to know why.
Each week a new wave of crude brochures are waiting in 64-year-old Bernadette Bonacci's mailbox, and she wants to know why.
Posted: July 22, 2013

"ARE YOU SURE you want to see this?" asks Bernadette Bonacci, opening a bag holding the pornographic junk mail that's been arriving at her home since February. "It's disgusting."

She removes mailer after mailer of crude brochures, tucked inside plain envelopes marked "sexually oriented material." They're illustrated with color photos of engorged male genitalia being ogled by wide-eyed, topless women (one of whom uses a ruler to measure a member that, honest to God, looks like a car part).

The ads for "male-enhancement" pills, creams and potions all promise "explosive sexual encounters!" or "huge worldwide success!" or "3 inches in 7 days!"

Bonacci chuckles because, as mortifying as it is to look at this crap, she has a sense of humor.

"Really," she snorts, holding up a particularly exuberant brochure (its headline reads "Put a 'loaded cannon' in your pants!"), "who writes this stuff?"

Then she blushes and sighs.

"I don't know what my mailman must think of me," she says. "I'm so embarrassed."

She'd already phoned every company that sent a solicitation and asked them to remove her name from their mailing lists. They promised to do so.

But each week, a new wave of porny packets hits her mailbox. So Bonacci, who is single, 64 and lives a quiet retiree's life in South Philly, contacted me for help.

Oh, the delights of my job.

After some digging, I had a hunch.

Back in January, Bonacci told me, she was reading the National Enquirer and saw a full-page ad selling a religious pendant depicting a scene from the grotto in Lourdes, France, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to the devout.

"I love the Blessed Mother," says Bonacci, a Catholic.

The hollowed-out pendant allegedly contained droplets of Lourdes water, and it could be Bonacci's for the low, low price of $29.95 - or $38.90, if she also wanted a golden chain and certificate of authenticity. Bonacci chose the latter.

Within weeks, the medal - a cheesy, plastic disappointment - arrived, but the chain and certificate were missing.

She wrote the company, whose address was a P.O. Box at a now-defunct New York mailing center, to ask for her missing merchandise. It never arrived.

Within days, though, the filthy mailings started.

Coincidence? I hope so. Because the idea that some order-taker might find it funny to put a devoutly religious woman's name on a pervy mailing list, well, that's despicable.

Michael Marro didn't necessarily buy into my conspiracy theory. But he did think that Bonacci shouldn't have to look at another enhanced-male photo again.

"That's terrible - she shouldn't have to deal with that," said Marro, an inspector with the United States Postal Service when I called to ask if it's legal to mail smut to a senior citizen who never requested it.

Quick answer: It is. But the mailings must be marked as "sexually explicit" so that minors won't read it.

As if such a warning would stop some adolescents from tearing the stuff open. But I digress.

Marro suspected that the Lourdes company that had Bonacci's name and address probably put it on a "lead list" and sold it to other mail-order companies, a common and legal practice as long as customers are told that their info might be shared that way.

"You've always got to check the fine print on those order forms," he said. "The print is very tiny."

Marro, whose investigations usually involve matters concerning narcotics, child pornography, bombs, ricin and such, said Bonacci should visit her Postal Service branch and fill out a form stating she was refusing delivery of all mail labeled as "sexually oriented materials."

He didn't want her to receive any more of the junk, though, while waiting for the order to take effect. So he visited the branch on her behalf and spoke directly to her route's carriers, just to get things in motion.

Bonacci was thrilled.

"He is the nicest man," she said, after speaking with Marro by phone. "Thank God this will end soon."

Meantime, Post Office spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky, who referred me to Marro in the first place, sang the praises of two websites - www.dmachoice.org and www.catalogchoice.org - where consumers can learn how to stop the delivery of unsolicited mail.

"They're very, very helpful," she said.

If they can stop the slimy flow of porn that's been oozing into Bonacci's mailbox, they'll be more than helpful. They'll be miracle workers.

Just like Our Lady of Lourdes.

Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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