Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Let's Take Stock

There's nothing like a relaxing beach vacation to make you sit back, turn your thoughts inward, and start considering the big picture. Looking over the first 30 entries in this journal, is it possible to draw conclusions? What is it exactly that is so irritating? What are the common factors that unite all these annoyances? What, in short, is the real problem?

Well, looking over the data, I think I've found some common threads.

First is the presumption of idiocy. I seem to get annoyed a lot when people give me credit for no more brains that those of a sea sponge. When a box of Q-Tips says "Insert into ear and rub gently" or a coffee cup says "Watch Out! Coffee is Hot!", the presumption of my idiocy is just too palpable. If the box on a bar of soap said "Wow, are you a moron." it would really be just the same thing.

Now I realize those Q-Tip and coffee warnings exists because of frivilous lawsuits. Dairy Queen has to say "Coffee is hot!" lest they be sued for not warning someone. Man I wish I could get on one of these juries. I almost was, once. I made it into the Q&A phase of a jury selection of one trial where a drunk homeless man had climbed onto an elevated New York City subway track at 4 in the morning (scaling one or two fences and breaking numerous laws) and had predictably been mowed down by a train. He lost a hand and a leg and was suing the city because the train driver didn't spot him on the elevated subway track and come to a stop.

Man, do I wish I could have gotten on that jury. I would have handed that guy his hat (in his remaining hand) and not given him a cent. You know, that jury probably gave him a huge cash award. It rewarded idiocy. It catered to idiocy. The result is that we are always going to be treated like idiots and assumed to be idiots.

Then there is the lying. The way that people and marketers and friends and businesses and colleagues just lie to your face all the time. Case in point. I was in Barnes and Nobles yesterday, and saw a hardcover book with these enormous words written on the cover:

I thought, cool. Those Bourne books are really turning into a phenominon. That Ludlum might really have something there. Maybe I'll read them someday. Then I just happened to give the book a second glance a little later and saw the fine print buried under the large type face. The book cover actually says this:
classic character Jason Bourne, in
by Eric Van Lustbader
So, the whole cover of this book is one big lie. The only purpose of the cover is to impart the information of title and author, which it does - but in a manner designed to make you believe that the author is in fact someone else. They say there are millions and millions of stars in the galaxy, with possibly billions of planets. But do you think on any other planet you'll find a novel written by someone other than Robert Ludlum trying to pass itself off as a Ludlum novel? I don't think so.

And that's just the tip of the lying iceberg. How about the junk mail that you get everyday in the mailbox (not your email-box, your actual mailbox) and the desperate, cunning attempts the mail makes to get you to open it. My new favorite tactic is the "fake stamp". This is where the envelope appears to have been stamped by a human being, weilding an actual inky stamp. The stamp appears to say "certified" or "registered". Or if they're being bold "From the Office of the Burser" or "From the dept. of Check Issuance". This faux-inky-stamp will be cragged or slightly smudged, furthering the impression that an actual person stamped it. Look closely however, and you'll see the pixel marks, and the ruse is laid bare.

Another recent tactic that has fooled me a few times is where the junk mail envelope is of the kind that has three perforated edges, that must be creased and peeled back individually to open the letter. It has the distinct resemblance, therefore, to a paycheck or some other official government mailing. You see, these triple perforated edge envelopes are much more of a pain of the ass to open than a normal envelope. Your brain therefore concludes that it is very unlikely to be junk mail, as no junk mailer would deliberately make their letter so difficult to open. It's brilliant reverse psychology.

Some old tactics to get me to open the envelope have fallen out of favor. The old "You could be a winner" is pretty much dead. "Dated materials enclosed" is on the wane. "Final Notice" is very close to being a perfect falsehood, as it almost certainly will not be the final notice. (The only true perfect falsisms in the junk mail business occur in internet popup ads and in spam. "You are a winner" contains no true information except that you are in fact not a winner, and the word "Free", which means nothing except "Not Free") The old trick where the name and address appear to be handwritten (complete with pixelated smudge) hardly ever works.

The boldest, most audacious junk mail letter I ever got was a seemingly authentic letter from a Texas lawyer, addressed to my apartment but not to me, to a name I had never heard of. (possibly the previous occupant?) The lawyer then expressed relief that he had finally found me, (or rather, Judith or whoever the name was) and that if Judith would simply respond, she could finally claim her portion of the settlement of some very complex sounding lawsuit.

To make a long story short, the letter was inviting me to conlcude I had stumbled upon a letter for the previous occupant of the apartment, who apparantly was owed a lot of money but couldn't be reached, and would some next of kin or family friend please contact the lawyer, so the lawyer could have some bank account to deposit all 3 hundred thousand dollars.

All the greed nodes in my brain were stimulated to life, and I had to consciously tell them to calm down  - this wasn't real. But man, what a bold effort.

I think I'm pretty much immune now to all the common attempts to get me to open junkmail. They still get me once in a while, but it's rare. If they want me to bite, they'll have to try something really unexpected and bizarre. If an envelope said "Open Immediately: Contains Perishable Portwine Cheese" then I guess I'd have to open it. And I'd say "Damn you Poway Toyota! You fooled me again!"

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