Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Precipice Bayberry September

Not to mention arsenide, constrain, psychoanalysis, choral, foxhole, bare, hypothalamus, circulant, brittle, Angeles, charity, wind, Margery, librate, dialect, empty, obsolescent, humble, coinage, temple, cormorant, frown, admixture, centrifugal, depute, christen, core, cationic, ostracism, Carroll, Aubrey, executive, bisexual, drunk, inhibitor, culvert, Bonaventure, lease, hale, nervous, aristocrat, bestseller, clot, fuselage, pleasure, salivate, volunteer, joke, Lowell, mastery, ancestral, bystander, bracket, efferent, sidle, accompany, credo, aurora, sprang, businessmen, circuitry, eclogue, hum, Taft, whup, snigger, Birmingham, fungi, dichloride, cornmeal, alleyway, Arlen, urbane, bosonic, depredate, lighthearted, stone, wolves, alike, cicada, infrared, hexameter, Parr, inveigle, grillwork, parachute, checkerboard, combinator, clamber, portent, and ringlet. So there!

I don't know why, but I get the biggest kick out of these seemingly-random words in spam emails. I don't understand the purpose of all the words and names, but at least everything in this spam is spelled correctly (though I had to add punctuation and capitals), so unlike the usual run of spam. Some of the combinations spark the imagination, as well, such as "ancestral bystander" or "grillwork parachute" or "bestseller clot." Like the names of indie bands: Live at the Warfield, Choral Foxhole opens for Eclogue Hum and Infrared Hexameter!

But aside from the entertainment of random word generation, I have often wondered why people bother with spam. I understand that it costs absolutely nothing to generate and is therefore an economically attractive advertisement; but I wonder, what is the rate of return for this form of sales pitch? In my experience, spam and telemarketing are so universally reviled that it is difficult to imagine the target audience that actually responds positively to such techniques. What, I wonder, is the percentage of recipients who click on these links and graphics saying "Oh, yes, I do believe I can add inches to my penis with a pill (even though it's physically impossible to do such a thing, unless you taped the pill bottle to the end of your penis, your size is as immutable and hereditary as the shapes of your bones and the placement of your hair follicles)," or "Why, I would simply love to send all of my bank-account routing information to some anonymous person claiming to be the relative of a deposed African despot so as to help him launder his embezzled funds!" or "By jiminy, I really must see Paris Hilton having sex with a herd of goats!"

Of course, I can imagine people being interested in buying prescription drugs without a prescription, but I wonder at their naïveté in thinking that the licensing-mad US Government would allow a legitimate company to sell prescription medication without a prescription, and that the only way they'd get away with it is to offer placebos with fancy names. And do people really believe that the powerful cable companies would actually allow the sale of a mechanism that unscrambles pay channels? Do they not realize that the media industry controls the government? It's one thing to tap into physical cables, with the help of a disgruntled or greedy cable-installer, Comcast and AT&T can't guard every hub and employee, but I doubt very seriously if anybody could get away with manufacturing and selling these gizmos in public... unless, of course, they didn't work.

Well, I suppose hope springs eternal, and all that. And I actually do know people who are attracted to doing things on the sly, getting around Big Business by hook or by crook, involving themselves in an amazing amount of labor to avoid paying a few dollars into The System. And then there are people who believe you can get stuff at the Dollar Store that is just like the stuff you could get at Sak's, who think that the only difference between brand names and generics is the packaging, who believe that with enough persistence you really can buy unexpected antiques and real jewelry and original paintings at garage sales for reproduction prices.

But then, you know, people like that are likely to sign up for things; wouldn't it be more efficient to only spam the people who want the bargains and the go-arounds and the cheats? I know my sister is always signing up for coupon programs and "get such-and-such for free" gimmicks and stuff like that, she's a total easy mark. But not I. When I was five years old, my Grandpa Manners taught me something that I never forgot: There's No Such Thing As "Free."

When I was little, one of my favorite pastimes was going through the car wash... it was so much fun, back in the days when you could still sit in the car while it was going through the wash, safe and snug inside as the windows were bombarded by hot suds and hot water and hot wax and great cylindrical brushes and those cool moppy-curtainy things. One day we were at the gas station, where I read the sign over the pumps that said "Free Car Wash," and started pestering Grandpa to go through the wash, even though the car was quite clean, just because it was free.

But he explained to me that it was only free if you got a fill-up at the full-service pump (the fine print), and so you would end up paying at least the same amount of money in the difference between the self-serve price and the full-serve price while filling his twenty-gallon Chrysler tank: the purpose of the free car wash was to get you to spend more money on gas. He even wrote it out for me on a piece of paper, there would be a difference of four dollars and some-odd cents between the gas prices, and the car-wash by itself was only three-fifty (this must have been, what, 1972? Now a car-wash is twenty bucks at least, and don't even think you'll get it for free with any fill-up... you can't even get it for free with a complete lube and fluid change).

For some reason, that moment and the explanation really took root in my mind (I even remember which gas-station it was, the Shell on Piedmont and Pleasant Valley, it's still there), and I have viewed the word "free" with suspicion ever since. When someone says "free" to me, my first question is "what's in it for them?" And the answer is usually pretty close to the surface, if only you look.

Like those "eleven CDs for a penny" programs, where after you get the first set of CDs you are sent one or two wildly overpriced CDs that you don't really want (a dollar or two over general retail, and then with shipping and handling added on... note that it's always "shipping and handling," which is more than the mere postage) every month for the rest of your freaking life, and it's harder to cancel your subscription than to legally change your gender. By the time you cancelled your subscription, you've spent more on the CDs, including the eleven-for-a-penny ones, than you would have spent on the whole lot at Tower.

They do the same thing with book clubs, and seed-and-bulb clubs, and then there's the Gevalia coffee club where you get a free coffee-maker (which they claim is comparable to a $50 Braun but is really closer to a $15 Oster, though it at least comes in a lovely shade of green) and then you pay for a pound of not-very-good coffee every week at Starbuck's prices (plus "shipping and handling" of course) for ever and ever.

On the other hand, there is this line between gullibility and optimism. My very dear friend Dalton sent me an email some weeks ago about a freebie program that only asks you to sign up some of your friends in order to receive free movie tickets. I have been considering it, since for every person you get to join you receive a pair of movie tickets to any movie you like... the cost seems less than the reward; and Dalton's not stupid, or even gullible (though, I must incidentally point out, he used to have a lovely green Gevalia coffee pot), he just prefers to trust people until forced to not trust them, to initially assume that people have good intentions, to give the benefit of the doubt — where I tend to go in the other direction: the moment I read the program's webpage, my first instantly-wary question was, "what will they do to us once we've joined?" Spam us to death? Call us up on the phone and ask us to buy stuff? Try to get us to sign up for more things, like term life insurance and time-share presentations and entertainment coupons? Use us in some sort of alien lab experiment? The "get a friend to join" thing always sounds like a pyramid scheme, and is even what kept me from joining Friendster for a long time. I am suspicious, very suspicious.

So, much as I respect Dalton's optimism and good instincts, I will wait a while to join until I feel fairly certain that the hidden costs of these free movie tickets aren't more expensive than the tickets would have been at retail (with snacks). Maybe all they want to do is work up a focus-group of people who like seeing movies in theatres. Or maybe they want to encourage people to go to theatres so as to get them into the theatre-going habit (like drug-dealers do... the first high is always free). But my Grandpa's voice echoes in my mind thirty years later, "There's no such thing as free!"

Captialist corporations are fundamentally immoral creatures, much like wild animals, intent only on growth and propagation without any realistic limitations (being owned by people who think a twenty-percent return on capital is a reasonable expectation), barely constrained by industrial regulation, so I am very careful about placing my trust in them.

On the other hand, you can go too far in the not-trusting-Big-Business thing. For example, you really have to place a certain amount of trust in your banking institution and the billing centers of your various utilities and services. Caroline has absolutely no trust whatever and always pays all of her bills in person, with money-orders, retaining names and receipts for fear that some random employee will screw up her account or steal her checking-account information (though, interestingly, she loves free and will go miles out of her way to obtain objects she doesn't really want just because they're being given away); I on the other hand let my service-providers have direct billing access to my checking account because not having to remember to pay bills is a huge benefit in my life, one I am willing to pay for, at the cost of risking mistakes.

Besides, my giant-corporation bank has always been very trustworthy, every time there has been a mistake or a problem they have rectified the situation with courtesy and speed. But then, my bank makes a good deal of money off me, I think last year I paid over two hundred dollars in finance charges for account fees and transfers and overdrafts. Ain't nothing for free.

But I am always willing to pay a fair price for a good product. And while I love a bargain, I never really think that I'm paying considerably less for something than it's worth... if I am willing to pay more than I'm charged, and if the seller wanted to get more for it, he or she would. Nobody sells something for less than they paid, unless they are getting a substantial tax-loss credit for it. And if a vendor can afford to sell something for seventy-five percent off, then the person who bought it at full price must have been willing to exchange that extra money for the goods or services... if not, they're getting ripped off and have only themselves to blame.

I would certainly resent my bank fees if my bank didn't do exactly what I want and offer exactly the services I need. I know I resent the hell out of the DMV for making me pay fees for something I don't want... I mean, why would I cough up annual registration fees to pay the salaries of CHiPs who pull me over and then charge me more money in the speeding ticket? And I resent state and federal taxes to a certain extent, as well, paying for government expenditures of which I do not approve. But the cost of avoiding these expenses is potentially much higher than the cost of complying. The System is a rushing rocky river, and it never pays to row against the current... your choices are to get off to the side bank (where the bears and ticks can get you) or just steer down the middle.

My metaphors are becoming a little too mixed, perhaps because I have been jotting in this entry for just a bit too long... in my usual fashion I started writing it this morning before leaving the house and have been returning to it in jabs and starts all day in between work tasks. As a result, I have quite forgotten what I started off to talk about, having meandered down a stream of consciousness to a rather unlikely and unexpected destination. A good writer always knows where to end a piece of writing. But I'll just stop here because it's 6 p.m. and time to go home.

Rum, nonetheless, exhibitor, stile, endurance, Minsky, messenger, medlar, Costa, brandywine, threadbare, ass, McCracken, abutted, cinema, pleasure, demarcate, balloon, addition, antique, deliberate, inquire, econometrica, repairman, lens, offspring, diagnosable, Uniroyal, ammonium, royalty, inhospitable, diode, fray, ordinate, inaccuracy, Morrison, fibration, arrest, bounce, gunshot, dental, melon, bobble, dapple, dam, explicable, bindery, splice, platoon, godlike, lithe, elephantine, empiric, joystick, misogyny, fiasco, Fayetteville, anamorphic, diffusive, Valois, backside, cowherd, catechism, considerate, ruinous, pontific, beauty, arsenal, mayhem, denotative, Acapulco, asteroidal, bran, compunction, kinematic, assemblage, cornet, mulligatawny, torrid, demiscible, prosthetic.


No comments:

Post a Comment