It was a dark and stormy night in early January.
I was sitting in my bedroom trying to avoid the inevitability of serious blue-booking by surfing the Internet for the best deal on an iPod which, even within the glorious pages of Overstock.com, I would never have been able to afford.
And that’s when it happened: A pop-up advertisement espousing the value of Columbia House Record Club obscured the screen. I instinctively moved the mouse over to silence the flashing announcement, but by some ludicrous act of boredom-induced whimsicality, I allowed myself to read the offer.
“12 CDs for Free! Best Deal Ever!” it yelled superlatively from the page, its earnest insistence conveyed by a flagrant usage of capital lettering. I read on. By simply signing up, I would receive a catalog in the mail full of “thousands of popular and award-winning music titles.” I could choose 12 to be shipped to me for free (shipping not included)! A fabulous deal! A gift from the gods of overpriced music!
Since I’d already reluctantly confessed my membership to the gauche group of kids forced to go to the gym sans-iPod, new CDs seemed to be an appropriate booby prize for the technologically challenged. If I was really going to tote my cumbersome 1996 Target-brand Walkman wherever I went, shouldn’t I at least do so with the confidence of one who is equipped with the latest “popular and award-winning music titles”?
Was it not a gratuitous insult to an already excruciating social injury to be rocking out to an old Ace of Base CD I had bought in 1994?
I rationalized away that gnawing sense of cynicism and signed up. Columbia House Record Club was $4.95 to rescue me from an otherwise inescapable mire of technological archaism!
Even in my immediate elation, I was aware of the wool pulled snuggly over my eyes and I relished it. I was going to get 12 new CDs for the price of a burrito at the burrito cart and no one was going to rain on my parade. Not even the small print at the bottom of the contract. I happily signed in digital blood and awaited my loot in the mail.
Four days later, that which I had exchanged for my morality and financial integrity arrived with a fanfare that ended, naturally, in anti-climax.
First of all, the CHRC had only sent me three CDs, two of which were not the ones I had so carefully chosen from the list of “popular and award-winning music titles,” but ones that had been labeled “Overstock Collection 2004.” Instead of Simon & Garfunkel, I was left with the Gorillaz second (and even worse) album. Instead of Black Eyed Peas, I had Bruce Cockburn’s latest hits. (If the last name of that latter artist was any indication of the effect his music induced in his listeners, I could only imagine my next trip to the gym.)
The letter from Columbia House Record Club included in my package began by welcoming me to Satan’s little workshop, then went on to inform me that, in joining the CHRC, I had signed a contract legally binding me to pay $80.00 for CDs that neither I — nor, based on their status as “overstock” items, anyone else — actually wanted in order to receive the aforementioned “free” CDs. Following an asterisk to the bottom of the page, I discovered that my very soul had been summarily bequeathed to the modern-day Mephistopheles of the music industry.
There, clutching the latest Gorillaz, I shuddered with the realization that I had been hoodwinked by the Devil in contemporary corporate camouflage. Oh, sweet Faust, my unfortunate cousin, how I commiserate!
I languished in self-chastisement for a moment. How could I have committed the same mistake made by every eighth grader before he is appropriately cynical? Why had my fruitless quest for free music post-Napster lead me down the path of such unforgivable sin?
And that’s when I decided I was going to fight to the death over this one. My soul was worth more than $4.95. C’mon, it was worth a life of gilded excess and lavish martinis, at the very least.
I stomped home to write a scathing letter in which I informed the CHRC that I was not going to pay for the CDs they had sent me. With a flourish of recalcitrance innate in any little sister, I went on to insist that I would not, furthermore, be returning the CDs they had already sent me.
(I’m not sure why I took this tactic. Really, the last thing I needed was to add Gorillaz and Cockburn below Ace of Base in my already lamentable CD collection.)
But that was still not enough. I proceeded to inform the CHRC that I was a free-lance investigative journalist for the Washington Post and that I would personally disseminate information regarding the conniving design of their “club.” And that I was a lawyer and would sue them for, um, the federal crime of “knowingly propagating bad music.” And that, if need be, I would dress as an enormous full-body prophylactic and bar entry to their stores — no one wants that. That’d convince them. Right. I felt like a moral vigilante hopped up on Red Bull. Where was I coming up with this stuff?
About three days later, I received a letter in the mail in which the president of CHRC apologized for any inconvenience and invited me to keep the CDs which had been “accidentally” sent to my address.
Victory! I had wrestled with the Devil and won! I had tasted Faust’s triumph and danced in the glory of redemption! I had overcome! OK, well fine. Perhaps such histrionics are a bit much. But remember, while Faust walked away with his soul, I managed to wrangle two (bad) CDs from the clutches of the Devil himself.
Haley Edwards is the new Doctor Faustus. But blonder and cuter.