When I was a younger boy, around 11 or 12, I was given the investment opportunity of a lifetime. I was personally asked if I wanted to join a very exclusive club. I was raised to believe that membership has its privileges, so I jumped at the chance. It was called Columbia House Records and Tapes. They offered an unbelievable deal where I could send one American penny and receive thirteen records and/or tapes of my choosing through the U.S Postal Service. They even went so far as to allow you to check a “Bill Me Later” option in case you couldn’t come up with the initial penny for your down payment. But you knew your finances were bound to pick up soon and you would have more pennies than you knew what to do with.
A neighbor of mine approached me with this fantastic, too good to be true offer. Having an insatiable love of music, as well as a penny, I immediately accepted the challenge and filled out the proper paperwork. I ordered cassette tapes because they were the wave of the future and I do love being hip. The albums I recall getting are Ozzy Osbourne’s “Blizzard Of Ozz”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”, Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” and Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” . I wish I could remember them all, but it was thirty years ago. There might have been a Cheech and Chong tape too. I scotch taped the penny to the appropriate “Tape Penny Here” location on the postcard, because that’s what you did, and then waited for my loot to arrive. All the while, I was worried the penny had been stolen in transit and I would be denied access to this exclusive club for non-payment of dues.
Remember when everything you bought off tv or in the back of an old copy of OUI magazine said “Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery”? That was painful. As a child with little to no comprehension of time, 4 to 6 weeks was a fucking eternity. It’s two to three fortnight’s, for the love of old-timey terminology. Every day was spent waiting by the mailbox. Or asking if the mail had come yet. Or if anyone had seen the mailman today. Or masturbating. It was a horrible, sexy way to live your life. At the mercy of the mailman, and his whims. And hormones, and their whims.
Finally the day arrived when the mailman stopped at the McMorrow house with a delivery for little Billy McMorrow. I excitedly accepted my package and bid the mailman good day. As I rushed into my bedroom to start enjoying the fruits of my laborious waiting game, I passed my father in the kitchen.
Dad: “What’s that?”
Me: “It’s my tapes from Columbia Records and Tapes. I sent them a penny and they sent me thirteen tapes”
Dad: “Did you read the fine print?”
Me: “What’s fine print?”
Dad: “You fuckin’ moron.”
As it turns out, to receive the thirteen records or tapes for a penny, I had agreed to buy another 8 records or tapes over the next two years at “regular club prices”. That was like between $15-$20 a record…or tape. In 1982 that was a considerable amount of money for a pre-teen boy to be carrying in the hip pocket of his husky sized Levi’s corduroy jeans. Alright, they were Lee corduroy jeans. Okay, Osh Kosh B’Gosh.
Every month you would get a postcard in the mail that would have an Album of the Month on it. You were supposed to check a NO box and mail the card back if you didn’t want to receive the album. Because that makes more sense than checking a YES box and sending the card back. I don’t think I ever actually mailed the card back and every month they would send me a new tape, that I didn’t want and refused to pay for. Hey, I was not old enough to legally enter into a binding contract for services rendered, and I shouldn’t have to return Olivia Newton-Johns “Physical” because of Columbia House Records and Tapes inability to comprehend simple legalese. That’s their problem.
They never did take me to court, although I did get a number of sternly worded letters threatening legal action. Like they were going to garnish my allowance. Or take all my desserts. “I’m just a boy, I don’t even know where to get stamps to mail the postcard with, Your Honor” is what I would say to the judge if they took me to court. Then I would cry. Like a confused and slightly hungry baby.
Shit. I hope the statute of limitations has passed on this.