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1995dec23. Telegrams and Why, I Guess, They Suck.

[research: Todd Matthews & Jay R.]

I’ve recently taken a shine to a woman with whom I am acquainted. I have not told her this. As a novel way of broaching this topic with her (although we, meaning you, all know that she knows, because all women know before men because men just don’t know, and I kind of knew that she probably knew, but what we, meaning I, don’t know is if she’s, you know), I thought about sending her a telegram. Something like

“Wouldn’t that be the bee’s knees?” I thought to myself. While explaining this with very little overt exertion of pressure to my crack research team (Homeslice Pop-Culture Investigations, Ltd), they were immediately on the case and on the phone with Western Union. WU has come a long way since the first telegraph transmission in 1794 (Paris, to Lille, France, a distance of 126 miles. One can imagine that telegrams of lesser distances were implemented, but they didn’t make any of the history books I have, and, once again, I do not hesitate to say that I can only do so much in a Missive, or, more succinctly, you get what you pay for). Here’s how a telegram used to work. You would go to a telegram place (say, Western Union), hand-deliver your message and the address of where the message was to be sent. Then they would get on their little telegraph machine, and tap your message in Morse code along with routing codes (one would imagine). The station nearest your destination address would eventually receive the message (“Sent to Chinese a potter’s wheel, good luck”) and send a cute lil’ Western Union courier (wearing one of those darling hats; of course, back in the early 1800’s, it may have been tri-cornered. I try not to think about such things) to hand-deliver the message to the address. It’s 1995 now. There are phones. There is Fed Ex. There is the Internet. Western Union now mainly functions as a money transfer service, but there are still telegram services. Oh my yes. There’s an “Opiniongram,” a “Mailgram,” and the standard “Telegram.”

An “Opiniongram” consists of 1-20 words that you feel you must send to an elected official. This service costs $9.95. Each additional 20 words tacks on $3.50. I believe this service is made available primarily for prisoners requesting pardons at the eleventh hour (“In my opinion, I think you should SAVE MY ASS from the gas chamber, a lethal injection, or the chair, whatever they've got cooked up for me, no pun intended” would cost you $13.45, for example. At this point, I would assume, money would be no object). Actually, as it turns out, our elected officials, in their infinite, free-franking privilege wisdom, have assigned different levels of importance not to the messages contained therein, but their mode of arrival. A telegram is the gold standard, a letter second-best; a phone call is considered to be 1/100th of a letter, and email, 1/1000th of a letter. Perhaps voting should work like this. For example, if you walk to the polling station, which is actually pretty easy, your vote counts as 1/1000th of a person. But say you rent a limosine and a trailing conga line ... your vote would really count! Once again, the opinions of the rich and stupid are valued over those of the masses.

A “Mailgram” is 1-50 words that you’d like to send to someone else through the United States Post Office, and costs $18.95. I’m sure all of us, at one time or another, have had the desire to write someone but regarded the execution thereof tiring and laborious. Now, you can just pick up the phone! I’m sure there’s an additional charge for more words, but the crack research team was interrupted by my comical phone book readings (one HILARIOUS example: “Hey! Here’s ‘Taxidermy'!”).

The hallowed, historic “Telegram” is 1-15 words that are delivered to your desired party via the telephone. This will set you back $16.95 (16-25 words $23.95). If you’d rather have it hand-delivered, that’s an extra $13.95. It will be delivered by a non-hatted third-party courier service (like those maniacal DHL boys, for instance). Well, doesn’t this just Suck. What a pathetic shell the Telegram has turned out to be in these modern times. Clinging to its last breath, the Telegram demands premium payment for the redundancy of its existence, and can’t even offer the novelty of a hatted messenger boy you can kick around if the news is bad.

In a way, I emulated the modern-day telegram delivery process with my crack research team, barking orders over the phone which were then relayed to the Western Union operator who was on another line. However, my crack research team refused to ask the operator about “Theragrams” or “Teddy Grahams.” Perhaps I don’t pay them enough.

If I ever got a telegram in the mail (or over the phone) from someone, the first thing I would think would be “neat!,” immediately followed by “what an idiot.” So I sent Dominique a Strip-O-Gram.

1995dec23. Cardboard money. My serious addiction to Pepperidge Farms Goldfish Tiny Crackers® has enabled me to complete multiple sets of Goldfish milkcaps (collect all six!). Milkcaps, for those of you cowering under rocks, are small cardboard discs with images on them. These are implemented by the global youth in some sort of 90’s Marbles game mutant offshoot. They used to be called “POG"s (for “Papaya Orange Guava,” the types of bottled juice that originally yielded the game pieces), but of course someone snarfed the trademark to that one. If you can imagine a tiny Goldfish cracker engaging in he-man MTV-type sports depicted on a small cardboard disc, you’re just as insane as the marketing board that came up with this idea. These are three concepts that should have never been crossed. Someone should keep track of this heinous trend and make a coffee table book: “Late 20th Century Travesties in Marketing.”Anyone interested in acquiring the rarer “Spike!” (armless Goldfish wearing handkerchief and sunglasses, somehow playing volleyball) or “Shot!” (armless Goldfish somehow implements hockey stick) milkcaps should drop me a line to receive a true Christmas Miracle™. As an aside (is there anything that I write that isn’t an aside?), I enjoy saying the phrase “tiny crackers” immensely and try to work it into conversations whenever possible.

“To understand Nazism as its creator understood it requires that we discover something of Hitler’s real purposes, for only in terms of purpose does any human action make sense.”(1)
“Hmmmmm ... tiny crackers.”
Additionally, I received an evil skull milkcap from Juxtsuppose magazine with the following written on the back in teeny tiny letters.

P.O.G.: Pre-pubescent Organized Gambling – the POG is symptomatic of society’s desire to propagate the super-capitalistic ideas, greed and selfishness from the older populace to the younger. By instilling these raw and powerful emotions at an early, impressionable age, they are sure to be carried through to adulthood, successive generations, and so forth. The POG, by no coincidence the size and shape of a coin, is a lead-in, something to accustom a child to the concept of money. They are a status symbol – the more POGs one has, the higher one is held in regard. The gambling aspect divides the children into winners and losers, or bourgeois and proletariat, while the only constant winners are the POG manufacturers, i.e. the government/elite class. As an aside, POGS are also the same size and shape as a diaphragm. The POG as metaphor for sexual control and gender displacement – if parents even suspected!

(1) Doc, “The Heart of Hitler: Adolf Hitler and the Immemorial Message of Man” copyright 1994-95, manuscript

Update (1996jan09).

Missive reader Britain P. Woodman has forwarded this succinct definition of pogs® created by net.pundit Lazlo Nibble:

“Pogs are small cardboard discs stamped with artwork (superheroes, baseball players, pretty colors) and impregnated with a new liquified variety of crack cocaine. They are sold in comic shops, convenience stores, and street corners, the target audience being impressionable 12-year-old boys who like to “slam” them, throw them at each other, and lick them so they’ll stick to their foreheads. Several children in the US have lost eyes to this “sport.” After a year or two of exposure to pogs (or, as the banners draped across the front of every laundromat in America read, POGS), children are encouraged to move on to “harder stuff,” like Magic: The Gathering and X-Files fandom. At this point, the government just rounds the kids up and ships them to strategically located dog-food factories.

Tourism to this country is strongly discouraged at the moment.”

Update (96jun16). The Goldfish Tiny Crackers milkcap premium campaign is winding its way down; now only the low-selling varieties of Goldfish (“great regular” flavor, “bacon-n-cheez,” “sharp porcelain”) only have POG treats inside. The new premium, however, has my heart all a-fluttering. “FREE 8x10 Portrait from Photography by JCPenny: Creating Memories for a Lifetime™.” This for only TWO packages of Goldfish Tiny Crackers. By the time of the deadline (June 30 1996), I estimate that I will have had over 30 free portraits taken. Toward the end of my photo reign, I will probably start dragging in furniture and appliances from other departments, just in case my apartment catches on fire.

Insurance agent: “You took ALL THIS STUFF down to J.C. Penny’s for insurance photographs?”

Mark: “These items ... were so close to me ... [fake tears] ... especially this projection-screen TV ... and this cashier ... I must replace these things immediately ... ”

The bags of Goldfish crackers are flying off the shelves at my local supermarket.

1995dec23. Really Karen, It Wasn’t Anything.

Occasionally, a large group of my friends and myself gather for a comfy dinner at some tres chic prix-fixe elite meet-greet diner. This particular unnamed restaurant caters to a heavy lunch crowd, but at dinnertime it thins out a bit. There was one other couple there, and the eleven of us. Our entire party, naturally, goes into Immediate Cocky Mode. Oddly, so does the waitress.

Waitress (noticing a severe lack of menus): “You’re going to have to guess what the food is today. If you get it right, you get it free. Also, we’re out of glasses. If you’d like some water, please hold out your hands.”
Guy: “What’s your name?”
Waitress: “Guess.”
Guy: “Fred.”
Waitress: “It’s Jane. No, it’s really Karen.”
Guy: “Okay, Really Karen, I'll have the minestrone ... ”
The other couple leaves. Now things really go to pot. Everyone starts singing kindergarten songs, including the waitress. At one point, she sits down at the table to talk about “her life story.” One member of our party gets up, goes into the kitchen, and gets her a glass of water. The waitress gives the bill to us via the traditional “duck-duck-goose” method. Really Karen then takes us on a whirlwind tour of the restaurant, including the deep freezer.
Gal (whispering to me): “You’re going to ask her out, right?”
Me (whispering back): “DUHHHHHHHHHHH.” [whispering “DUHHHHHH” is strange]
Really Karen gets a big tip. Almost 50%. I get her phone number, and FLOAT out of the restaurant. Really, ask any meteorologist about that night. The next day, I called the number. Or rather, tried to. It was wrong. Way wrong. The prefix doesn’t even exist for the area code she gave (save cellular phones). A few companions who caught wind of this distressing development urged me to RUN to the diner to make sure the number wasn’t just written down poorly.
“I mean, she was so cool! Why couldn’t she just say no?”
I have spoken with several women on the subject, and giving out wrong numbers is very common, especially amongst waitresses. I can imagine that some men are rather persistent in this arena, and giving out a wrong number becomes an automatic reflex to rid themselves of vermin. Not that I think I’m vermin, but I’m sure a wrong number would get rid of a liquored-up businessman efficiently. Not that I think I’m a liquored-up businessman. Am I a liquored-up businessman? This deserves further investigation.

I was content to leave this as is; no need to actually return to the restaurant to verify. But one particularly PERSISTENT (ah-ha!) male (ah-ha squared!) member of this very missive list who also was in the restaurant with me that night could not BELIEVE that this was the case. The bastard was playing devil’s advocate. Let’s call him “Pal.”

Pal: “I mean, maybe it’s like a TEST! She’s seeing if you’re REALLY interested in her.”
Me: “Or she’s found some loopholes in the stalker legislation and will be ready with the authorities when I arrive.”
It’s like throwing good money after bad. He started to quiz me about the number, and determined that IF you switched the area codes, the prefix was in Ypsilanti (pronounced “Ypsilanti”), home of Eastern Michigan University. It connected me to a health center.
Pal: “She’s a student at EMU! She mixed the number up with her parents! It’s gotta be!”
Me: “You want this worse than me.”
Pal: “Don’t cost nothing.”
Damn. Repo Man philosophy. I wasn’t going to do it until he said that. I will be returning to the diner in short order.

Update (98feb01).

The wrong number was a mistake. She gave me the right number, but then said she had a boyfriend, but if I wanted to talk, that'd be fine. She never returned my calls, so that’s the end of that.

1995dec23. I recently (read: “within the last six months”) had a rendezvous with two of the nation’s finest tactical consultants, Ray and Jennifer, at a steak-oriented restaurant called “Damons.” Damons has been designed with the avid TV watcher in mind. Four large projection screen TVs face the main dining area. All the TVs are showing sports; one TV is showing a rollerblade-hockey match, which is in stasis while one of the players twitches in pain on the ground. “Pass the fries!”

There’s a small box with an antenna on our table. Ray explains that this is used in conjunction with an on-screen trivia game. An ad on the trivia game’s monitor is for Cuervo Gold: “On a bad date?” Hrmmmm. “Get plowed! Party ‘til she’s cute! Cuervo Gold goggles!” This is a bad ad, unlike the ad for Cuervo 1800, which simply says “wicked fine.” Makes me suddenly want to become an alcoholic.

The trivia game starts; Ray enters our team name (“WORTHY”) into the tabletop box. We’re competing not only with people in this restaurant, but thousands of other losers scattered across the United States and Canada. Technology, bringing people together. Another high-ranking contestant in this establishment is named “F-SPOT” and has a small mark next to his/her name. This person cares enough about the competition to have registered their name earlier.

The three of us form a triangle of educational power and quickly overwhelm the other contestants, except when I start screwing off. There is a momentary fight for the number one position with F-SPOT, but F-SPOT tailspins into the number four slot. We emerge as TRIVIA CHAMPIONS. Nationally, however, we placed 532nd. I guess we shouldn’t have been trying to eat at the same time. This restaurant also, unfortunately, has a DJ, tucked in a corner by one of the projection-screen TVs.

“And the big winner this round was WORTHY, topping out with 32948 points ... “
“Shut up!”

The post-game interview with Ray is candid.

“How do you feel about this win?"
“I’m jizzing my pants.”
“Can I quote you on that?"
It is done.