the free gift
So I'm driving through Clifton, New Jersey
the other day when I come to a stoplight. I'm behind some punk in
a Honda, who I'm sure is a horrible driver--as are all people that
own and operate motor vehicles in New Jersey. Some awful noise is
emanating from car. It could hardly qualify as music, but I'm sure
the 18 year-old Sam Goody employee that sold this ass his $18.99
CD full of awful bleeps and bloops represented it as such.
Now, we were hardly in a residential
neighborhood. In fact, I believe this street we were sitting on
bordered a cemetery on one side and some kind of warehouse or warehouse-looking,
low-rent motel on the other. As we sat at the light (one of those
overly-long stops out in suburbia that makes absolutely no sense),
a cop made a left and drove past the Honda and myself in the opposite
direction. I watched as he drove by, always self-conscious that
I am somehow violating some Jersey law by just sitting there in
a blue SUV. When I was sufficiently sure he wasn't going to stop
and bust me for trafficking in methamphetamine or chewing gum after
10 PM (there are some weird laws in this state), I focused my attention
back on the red light in front of me.
Suddenly, in my rearview I caught site
of flashing red lights and white reverse indicators. I looked back
over my shoulder only to see the cop reversing back down the street
right towards me. I started to go over everything in my mind that
I could have possibly done. Maybe... and before I could even think
of anything, he was by me and screeching to a halt beside our buddy
in the Civic.
The cop leaned his head out of the window,
extended his arm, made a pincher out of his forefinger and his thumb,
and slowly twisted his wrist counterclockwise. The awful Spice Girls
racket streaming out of Mr. Danceteria's window was squelched in
an instant. The sound of crickets mixed with the soft putt-putt
of the pillowy white smoke trailing out of his exhaust pipe. The
cop pulled his appendage back into his car, zipped up his window
and slowly rolled away.
Listening to the trooper's tires crush
tiny pebbles beneath their mass, I realized that I had seen suburban
justice in action. No longer was the enemy a knife-wielding subway
pusher, or a suicidal, PCP-crazed lunatic with a hostage, but a
tasteless, Euro-trash music listening economy sedan owner. This
is the land where firemen actually pull cats out of trees. This
is the land where the most serious call for cops in a given month
is busting up a teenage basement party after the neighbor complains
about "that damn hippity-hop music these kids are always playing."
It's not that I'm disparaging anything
that our law enforcement professionals do, but with the whole 9/11
anniversary coming up soon, it's been on my mind. It's just shocking
the priorities that exist depending on where you are.
So I'm reading my Esquire, and
just after finishing an article about the hoo-haw man himself, Al
Pacino, I run across an ad in the back for the modern fat-loss miracle,
Damn, I thought to myself, all I have to do is mix some shitty tasting
powder into my morning glass of water and I'll instantly become
Mr. Olympia? Sign me up!
So , I took a look at the guy in the
ad who apparently turned himself from a pale, chinless blob into
some dude with a tan that George Hamilton would drool over, and
a body with more muscles than your average Phish fan has brain cells.
Then I looked closer...
First, I can appreciate that the tan,
buff guy gets the chick, while his former incarnation is left lonely
and blue (see the background?) Second, he has apparently also gotten
a job, judging by the fact he is now wearing a dress shirt and a
tie rather than some old gym shorts. I also find it odd that he
used to smile on one side of his face, and now smiles on the other.
Now, I'm starting to get a little suspicious. Did they maybe stick
the woman in the low-cut black dress in the picture to throw us
off the trail? Is it like a magician using misdirection so you don't
see him stashing his silk handkerchief in his pocket? How, may I
ask, is this even remotely the same person?
This testimonial comes from a dude named
Chris Monberg. Granted he lives in California, the land of miracles,
but he claims to have gone through this incredible transformation
in only eight weeks! I wonder if eight weeks is long enough to not
only completely change your body, but also swap heads with some
other guy? As far as I know, this technology doesn't exist just
I can't believe these companies
have the balls to make these claims. If I could sit my soft, pasty
ass down at the dining room table every morning, down a glass of
cloudy liquid and come out looking like Arnold two months later,
wouldn't I do it--wouldn't everyone? I guess that's the whole point
of these outrageously ridiculous ads. It must be nice to not be
regulated by the FDA. Snake oil anyone?
I understand that there's this new influx
of men's magazines out there. I used to subscribe to FHM,
but let it lapse after I realized it was meant for dudes who were
still going on spring break and doing bonghits in their dorm rooms.
Even if this wasn't the case, it was embarrassing carrying that
glossy mag with the half-naked woman on the cover into the elevator
of my building that's filled with doctors and lawyers and French
people. I could almost feel the brain cells popping as I read yet
another article about how to get the wet look in the age of the
dry look. Besides, the only interesting parts of the magazine could
be found on their Web site.
Prior to this I had a subscription to
Details. My subscription ran out right before they left on
hiatus to "overhaul" their direction. It seems this plan
involved filling the pages with lots of men's underwear ads, articles
about toning your glutes and interviews with Bruce Weber about his
titillating all-male wrestling Abercrombie campaign. Sorry, not
in my interest pool.
So this leads me to my subscription to
Esquire. I remember this magazine sitting by the toilet in
my house growing up. Every book I read claims that it was originally
published in part in this magazine. The covers are sure not to embarrass
me in public, and the articles tend to have some sort of journalistic
or artistic slant. Overall I was very happy with the magazine's
content, and found the $9 for a year's worth more than satisfactory.
So the time comes to re-up and I wait.
They try to entice you with lower rates. They try to guilt you by
telling you that you're practically raping them. They try to shame
you by telling you that you'll be uninformed and uncultured if you
don't renew. Then they throw the free gift at you.
I remember being about twelve and ordering
my first Sports Illustrated subscription. I'm not sure if
I was more excited to get the magazine or the free football phone.
And this wasn't one of those punk football phones that folded in
half and lay on your desk like a dead trout. Nope this was the real
thing, complete with pulse/tone switch and life-sized laces. Remember?
(Mine was a Raider phone, not a Jets phone.)
It's not as if I expected anything too fancy from
the folks at Esquire. After all, I realize that this is a
monthly mag that charges a whopping $9 for a year's subscription.
I don't remember how much a year of S.I. cost in 1984, but
I'm sure it was quite a bit more. I didn't expect anything as cool
as the football phone, or even the horrendous digital logo watch
with the fake button that does nothing other than provide one more
hole through which water can invade. In fact, I completely forgot
about the free gift until a plain manila envelope showed up with
a crooked label affixed to it. I furrowed my brow, listened for
ticking, opened it, and found this:
A friggin' paper thing with a copper brad through
the middle of it. I think I may have made this exact thing in fourth
grade to show the whole ROY G BIV phenomenon. It's literally a piece
of thick paper with a bunch of outdated drinks printed on it. The
thing rotates awkwardly to show you the ingredients in classic concoctions
like a Brandy Alexander and Dubonnet Cocktail. Awesome! I can't
wait to show off my bartending skills to all my friends. It's not
as if I don't have a perfectly useful bartending guide sitting on
my shelf in case I need to figure out how to make a Gin 'n Tonic.
Seriously, you'd think a classy mag would know better.
Oh well, maybe I'll wear it around my
neck like a medallion so the next clueless bartender I run into
can get an eyeful of my cardboard friend and the secret to making
a good Harvey Wallbanger.
I'm almost positive I'm going to create
some sort of horrible abscess in my cheek that will eventually grow
into a gaping hole through which I will be able to pop ping pong
balls or those giant Gobstoppers. Why can't I stop eating these
damn sunflower seeds?
Aside from the fact that I crave salt
like a drooling Mr. Ed, I think I may have figured out why these
things are so addictive. For us neurotic, yuppie types, the thought
of putting a pinch of dirt between our lip and gums is akin to wearing
work boots with shorts and knocking up our sisters. What are we,
giant bikers with mom tattoos and our old lady ridin' on the back
of our hogs in leather vests with no shirt? No, we're white-bred
city dwellers with better sense than to stick a chunk of dirt in
our mouths. Sticking a bunch of seeds in our cheek and pulling out
the giant plastic cup gives us all the thrill without any of the
danger. We're the same people who puffed on candy cigarettes while
the real rebels smoked behind the gym and talked about stealing
porn magazines from the 7-11. It makes me feel like a tough guy.
It gives me that edge--no matter how fake it is.
There's just something manly about a
cup filled with saliva and shells. Boys spit. Women don't. During
college I remember several sunflower tutorials with woman friends.
They managed the one-seed-at-a-time technique, but mostly drew the
line at the saliva-coated ball of silt and spit cup that eventually
became the perfect target for a roommate's drunken, 3 A.M. sprawl.
Again, unlike the real stuff, shells were a whole hell of a lot
easier to clean up the morning after (and smelled a heck of a lot
The nerdiest issue behind all of this
is that I'm almost tempted to switch to real dip in order to save
myself from the incredible amount of fat and calories in these seeds.
It's amazing that as I get older I'd trade throat and lip cancer
for a trimmer waistline. Metabolism aside, I can't help but think
that one of these days I'm going to break down and actually try
one or all of the new varieties of David Sunflower Seeds, which
include such tempting (and not artificial at all) salsa, bbq, ranch
and nacho flavoring.
The funniest thing is that the seed company
has seen fit to include instructions on how to eat their seeds like
a pro. Talk about feeding an addiction. I could just see a pack
of Kools with 10-step instructions on the side:
1. open pack
2. remove cigarette
3. put it in your mouth
4. create flame from lighter or match
5. hold flame to tip of cigarette
6. suck reeeal hard
7. force smoke down into your lungs
8. hold it there (trying not to cough or choke)
9. exhale (creating rings or exhaling through your nose earns bonus
Meanwhile, I keep promising myself that
I will quit this dirty habit before they (whoever they may be) discover
that these things cause oral sprouting or bizarre spore attacks.
I have changed to those little paper Dixie cups with the choo-choo
jokes on the side in order to limit my intake and remind me that
I'm not really as tough as I think I am.
So I finally pulled the plug on any expectation
that I'll find a job in the near future. I bit the bullet and signed
up for unemployment. I've gone on the dole. I'm riding the gravy
train. It's not as though I haven't been paying unemployment insurance
for years now, but I somehow feel like this is the final straw.
This is it. I'm done. Finished. But not really.
I'm just honestly surprised how easy
it was to get money from the government. After trying every number
in my Yellow Pages listed under the New York State Department of
Labor, (and reaching half of the population of Chinatown) I dialed
up unemployment in my trusty Web browser and got the 980 number.
I went through some yes and no questions and finally got a human
on the phone. He talked to me for about two minutes, basically making
sure I was smart enough to press a one or a zero at the correct
time, said thank you and hung up.
Today I received my introduction letter
in the mail, along with a letter telling me what my weekly take-home
pay is going to be and a letter telling me a date I have to show
up at the unemployment office to talk to some poor councelor who
will have no idea what I do or what I want to be when I grow up.
I'll probably nod a lot and refuse the
styrofoam cup of stale coffee. I'll compliment him on his walrus
mustache and admire the way his vaguely country-western beige shirt
offsets his ruddy, pockmarked complexion. I can imagine a little
swearing fit brought on by a broken pencil tip or ball-point failure,
followed by a mumbled apology and a mini-diatribe about the pressures
of his job. Then another apology. After all, I'm sure rule #1 in
the UI handbook is to not complain about the rigors of work to the
newly unemployed. I'll give him a knowing squint, but will really
be thinking about the hideous freeform sculpture I just encountered
outside the Starbucks downstairs. I'll claim to be looking for a
job (which I am) and claim that nobody has called me back to offer
me a job (which they haven't). He'll sigh and check the second box
from the right with every question I answer. Then he'll look up,
give me the once over and turn the paper over and scribble something
illegible to anyone but him and one remote viewer in an unmarked
room in a CIA field office in Quatar. Despite the axiom that guys
in lifts and bad rugs are inherently untrustworthy, I sheepishly
ask him what he wrote down. He slowly turns the sheet of paper back
over and mumbles a very suspicious "nothing." Now I have
a dilemma on my hands. Do I call him on it, or do I just let it
go? The guy could have been reminding himself to pick up some arugula
on the way home. He may have just remembered that Josie Bissett
starred in the TV movie Baby
Monitor: Sound of Fear. I go with the more realistic scenario
that he thought I projected poorly or came off as snobby in my monochromatic,
eggplant t-shirt and v-neck sweater combo. Maybe I am completely
unemployable. Maybe he has recommended that the governement rescind
their offer for free money. I have a lifestyle to maintain, dammit!
"Um, so I saw you write something down. I mean, your hand was
moving and ink was, well, coming out and everything..." He'll
probably straighten his papers, knock them together on the desk,
and dismiss me with a "Good day Mr. Hipster." I'll obsess
over his note for the next week until my check shows up, and then
I'll come to the conclusion that I'd rather sit at home sweating
out my future than be stuck in one that provides no hope.