Subscribing to revenge Essay: A small annoyance builds and builds until it becomes necessary to strike back.

December 03, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

Sometimes the smallest annoyances are the most vexing. Like paper cuts.

Consider those inserts stapled into magazines. Mostly they are there to sell subscriptions. Sometimes they sell CDs, other magazines, or book club memberships, or in certain environmentalist magazines, blue spruce saplings.

I tear them out, litter the floor with them. I make confetti.

People who don't have a lot of magazines delivered to their homes rarely encounter these things. They might think preoccupation with such small matters suggests an obsessive personality, or a maladjustment to life on the eve of the millennium.

Not so. These minute discomforts nudge the mind into dangerous places. The drip, drip, drip of water in the night from a faucet out of reach; the tiniest pebble in the shoe -- they are like the prick, prick, prick of the torturer's needle.

A lot of magazines come to our house: news magazines, general interest magazines, niche magazines, catalogs. We like magazines, and because my wife is a professor we are offered discounts deep enough to make it nearly impossible to refuse offers from, say, the Atlantic, Harper's, Newsweek, even Ukrainian Quarterly.

This would be perfect -- if it weren't for those damned inserts.

I appreciate that subscription cards are effective. Trade publications say so. According to the New York Times, the magazine George, edited by John F. Kennedy Jr., drew 97,000 replies on cards placed in its first few issues.

It's hard to argue with success. Nobody listens. Also, it's obvious not everybody is distressed by these things. I have just about concluded there's not much I can do for relief, other than to stop reading magazines.

There was a time when my resistance to such intrusions was more active. It was forged in those days when big utilities admonished good citizens never to fold, spindle or mutilate computer cards. I never knew what spindling was, actually. Nor was I certain what a computer card was, or how it worked. But we got them in the mail, mainly bills.

"Please don't fold, spindle or mutilate" was a pre-emptory command, the please notwithstanding. It was like those warnings on new furniture that suggest removal of the tag which the warning is printed on could lead one a new home somewhere in the federal prison system.

But I always tore them off anyway, though I turned the chair's back to the wall. Also, it felt good to send the electric bill back neatly folded with a check enclosed. But not spindled or mutilated.

The insert cards came to my attention later, and having escaped prosecution for folding, I felt more willing to deal roughly with them. Tearing them up was hardly satisfactory in my yeastier years. I was a student. There were others like me, a cadre of the annoyed. So we hatched a plot to punish one of the marketing villains who enabled this bothersome device. We chose Time magazine, a behemoth of American publishing, if not of American journalism.

First we had to identify the executive culpable, or at least, the probable executive culpable. This we did by calling Time's New JTC York headquarters and asking for the marketing department. A nice woman answered. (That was back when people, not machines, answered phones.) The nice woman gave us the name of the vice president for marketing, no questions asked.

At this point we were tempted to ask his address, but resisted that. This would plant suspicion in the nice woman's head. (It was always a woman, never a man. Men never seemed to be able to get jobs as telephone receptionists back then. Still can't.)

Having gotten the name, we turned to the phone book. We were lucky it was not a common name like Jim Smith. There were a lot of Jim Smiths in the book. No, it was an odd moniker, something like Lance Gootleim. Since there was only one Lance Gootleim, it had to be our man.

Then the game began.

First we obtained four copies of the subscription inserts to Time magazine. These we filled out with Lance Gootleim's name and address. We mailed them in over the next 10 days.

We knew we didn't have to sign them. Magazines were so hungry for subscribers back then (have things changed?) they'd process an application autographed by Minnie Mouse, or even Adolph Hitler or Vlad the Impaler. We did put a sort of squiggle in the signature box, nothing that could be traced or justify allegations of forgery.

We continued collecting magazine inserts and subscription cards. We enrolled Lance in the Book-of-the-Month Club. We signed him up for correspondence courses in business, applied electronics. We matriculated him in divinity school.

Lance joined the Rosicrucians. He received many blue spruce saplings. He sent away for items from the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- a large statue of the Goddess Isis, as I recall. He joined record clubs: He got 11 CDs for a penny. A bargain! We filled his house with art.

We then turned to the catalogs and dressed Lance in rugged L.L. Bean. We sent some nice things from Victoria's Secret. We filled his life with romance.

Our last thrust was not a kind one. We began sending gift subscriptions to Time's competitors in his name to his colleagues in the executive suite, their names obtained from the masthead. A stream of U.S. News & World Reports and Newsweeks went out.

Then we stopped, as abruptly as we began. We slunk back into the shadows. We grew up.

And how did we all feel about it? Really good, I think, just about describes it.

But now, of course, I'm too old for such adventures. I'm left with only one way to express myself:

Rip, rip. Tear, tear.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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