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This year, I'll be presenting my friends with the same gift we employees used to receive from the grateful catalog company: a nice warm handshake.

By C. D. Payne

LIKE MILLIONS of other Americans, I'm an alumnus of McDonald's. Back when I was flipping burgers for high school pocket change, I discovered that this preparation dramatically reduced my fondness for said sandwich. After two weeks on the job, I couldn't look a burger in the buns.

Don't get me wrong, it was a superb burger for its modest price of 15 cents. I was just sick of them. No doubt makers of candy and doughnuts feel the same, although in the case of the latter confection I don't really see how that's possible.

Fast forward a decade or so.

Now I'm writing copy for a well-known San Francisco catalog company that sells electronic gadgets and pricey executive toys. It's my job to write the product description that sends you screaming to your phone with your credit card to order that nifty combo golf putter and tanning lamp. The pay is better than McDonald's and I get much less grease splattered on my tie.

But again, overfamiliarity breeds a problem: Now I can't bring myself to buy stuff. Especially the stuff people like to receive as gifts around this time of year.

After 15 years in the catalog game, I got sensitized to hype.

Consider how I used to write copy. Sometimes all I had to work with was a blurry Polaroid of a prototype and the phone number of an engineer in Taiwan who spoke English about as well as I spoke Chinese. So how did I write my 600 words of benefit-rich sales copy?

I made it all up.

Yup, it's a dirty little secret only we copywriters are supposed to know. That's why I approach the purchase of gifty-type stuff with fear and loathing.

Hey, I'm not cheap. I'm just skeptical.

"A revolutionary new breakthrough!"

Sorry, I think I'll pass.

"Certain to thrill everyone on your guest list!"

Care to submit that claim to the Federal Trade Commission?

This year, I'll be presenting my friends with the same gift we employees used to receive from the grateful catalog company: a nice warm handshake. Everyone appreciates a little human contact and there's no gift-wrapping required.

On second thought, maybe I'll splurge and get some gift certificates from that popular burger chain.


Sebastopol writer C. D. Payne's first novel, 'Youth in Revolt,' is being dramatized this month on Germany's SWR2 radio.

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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