club \â€™kleb\ 1: an association of persons participating in a plan by which they agree to make regular payments or purchases 2: to beat or strike with a heavy weapon
I am afraid of the Columbia House compact disc club.
The scariest thing about the Columbia House compact disc club is that even before â€œthe evil record and tape peopleâ€ (whose business cards were changed back in â€™91 to â€œthe evil compact disc peopleâ€) have started to suck you into their world of never-ending reply cards, check off boxes and glossy magazines touting â€œthis monthâ€™s special artist,â€ youâ€™re already their bitch.
There you are, silly ensnaree, floating on air and skipping-to-your-Lou (my darling) all the way to the mailbox with their â€œNo Postage Necessaryâ€ reply card. You have already been blinded by their 12 CDs for a penny and cannot see the forest from the trees. Itâ€™s like the beginning stages of a beautiful relationship that one day will result in a bunny being boiled.
The beginning is always the honeymoon stage. Your eyes are blind to the horrors that will one day materialize in front of you â€“ whether that be an ex-girlfriend breaking down your apartment door after a mishandled breakup or a collection agency calling you on the phone to find out why you havenâ€™t yet paid for The Jim Croce Collection. The scary thing isâ€¦you will never see it coming.
I know I sure didnâ€™t.
It always starts like a game. A really fun game involving stickers and numbers and sticking the album cover stickers in spaces that say â€œstick your stickers hereâ€. These stickers are colorful and fun to look at â€“ each of them have funny, sexy, colorful pictures of musical artists and women in tight clothing and men with gold chains hanging around their necks. These are the people I want to be my friends, these people on those stickers, and I want to bring them home with me. The only way to do that, of course, is to pick twelve of my most favorite-ist stickers and place them gingerly within the boxes. Hee hee! I havenâ€™t had this much fun since Mr. Millerâ€™s third grade art class!
The evildoers at Columbia House have obviously done their research. They have appealed to the child inside of all of us by turning their advertising/order forms into a game. There are the child-like stickers, which harkens back to the days when heterosexual men and women stood proudly, showing off their eerie books of collectible stickers. There is the mysterious monthly mailing, wrapped up in plain brown cardboard, which makes us feel like everyday could be Christmas. And of course, its always story-time with that wonderful little Columbia House booklet we receive each month. There are good guys and bad guys, but who is chosen as â€œThis Monthâ€™s Selected Artistâ€ is anyoneâ€™s guess.
The game theyâ€™re playing aims so close to our inner child that I have dubbed it, The Columbia House Activity Book, which keeps us so mired down in fun and games that we hardly ever have time to look for the holes. But even when the adult inside tries to find the holes, we are very rarely successful. It is an amazing deal before our face â€“ the twelve discs for one penny, and one more for just $6.99, all the free unused stickers we get to keep for the â€œslow timesâ€â€¦ And for those really tough customers, thereâ€™s always the prepaid postcard. â€œFree postage,â€ we might say to ourselvesâ€¦ â€œCrooks donâ€™t give away free postage.â€ Suddenly, joining this club is the biggest no-brainer in the history of the world.
Congratulations. You have just made the biggest mistake of your life.
Now that you have made the biggest mistake of your life, here is where you get a choice. You can wait for your music to arrive, then dedicate your life to waiting at home for the damn Columbia House monthly magazine (which arrives three times a month and must be returned in a 48 hour window) and lose sleep and watch your marriage fall apart and memorize your local post officeâ€™s hours of business and their current rates for first class and media mail packagesâ€¦
Orâ€¦you can go to prison.
Because living in Cell Block D, where you can work out whenever you want, run the prisonersâ€™ library and hammer out personalized license plates, may just end up providing you with more free time in your life than the alternative. Sadly, if I could still make that decision now, I would be writing you from San Quentin. Because when it comes down to it, I am less afraid of dropping the soap than I am of the mailman bearing gifts from The House.
Why? Because I know that if I donâ€™t find the â€œyesâ€ box in that tiny little window of time stating that I do not want this monthâ€™s very carefully chosen selection then two weeks laterâ€¦ I will receive a package of unwanted music in the mail. And the even scarier thing about it is that although we are one-hundred percent sure that we have not ordered one damn thing from Columbia House since we received our initial bakerâ€™s dozen of music, we still have to open the damn thing up.
Oh sure, weâ€™ll try to lift the cardboard flap up just a little to see if we can see the title of the disc. Weâ€™ll examine the coding on the address and bar code in the hopes that all our experience in cryptology will provide us with a hint so we donâ€™t have to fully remove it from the package. We will sniff and bend, shake and press. But in the end, we will still have to open it up. We are curious fools, us human beings.
We know that the music inside is not ours. Chalk up another point for the thinkers at The House. They know that humans like me will be desperate to know whatâ€™s inside instead of just writing â€œReturn to Senderâ€ on it and dropping it back in the mail. The M.E.N.S.A. kids over at Columbia know that once we open the package and see the CDâ€™s theyâ€™ve randomly chosen to send us due to our very important reply card never finding its way to Terre Haute, Indianaâ€¦ we may even want to open the CDâ€™s just a crack to see, just maybe, how the music sounds. I mean, we havenâ€™t ordered anything in awhile and we still have three CDâ€™s to buy and while itâ€™s here and opened, we may want to at least make sure weâ€™re not missing out on anything, soâ€¦
The music never lives up to the hype in our brain. And now weâ€™re on the hook for the compact disc anthology: An Evening with Vanilla Ice.
And if the repetitive glossy mailings and misplaced reply cards and unwanted packages that come every two weeks isnâ€™t enough, thereâ€™s the whole math thing. The Columbia House CD club knows, deep down, that you suck at math. How else could they get away with charging you twenty bucks for shipping 3 CDs to you?
Unless youâ€™re Russell Crowe playing John Nash in A Beautiful Mind or Matt Damon playing a collegiate janitor who can crack unsolvable equations in Good Will Hunting, youâ€™ll never quite crack the code that I have dubbed the â€œmedia mail postage rates from Terre Haute, Indiana to anywhere else in the United States, taking into consideration the amount of insurance youâ€™ll need to figure in as well as registering said packages with the â€˜return to senderâ€™ service…â€ Sure, magical things like figuring out postage rates do happenâ€¦in Hollywood movies. But in the real world, youâ€™re shit out of luck.
In the world of the Columbia House CD club, it costs whatever they want it to cost to send you crap in the mail. They are always right. And you can do nothing about it except stick your stickers happily, take your Ritalin and pretend that nothingâ€™s wrong.
Now comes the moment of truth. You have been roped in by the happy colorful stickers and story booklets. You have stretched yourself thin trying to find thirteen compact discs that will not turn your stomachâ€¦ â€œI bet the soundtrack from Glitter would be great to listen to on the elliptical machine!â€ But now you are faced with the constant mailings and the never-ending reminder that you have three more discs to buy over the next two years. You think two years will take forever, but it never does. Itâ€™s always just hanging there. Over your head. Ruining your life and the lives of those who spend any time with you. Well, at least thatâ€™s how my family vocalizes the horror.
And so now, faced with having to still buy three compact discs from the Columbia House CD club, I find myself a prisoner in my own house. Afraid of the mail, afraid of what it will bring, then afraid that when it does finally come there will be a form to fill out and stick back in the mail within a 48 hour window. Afraid that even if I get it in the mail on time, afraid that I will still get some package that I will, unfortunately have to open because I will fear missing out on something really good inside. And then, when I have opened it and the perfect faces of 98 Degrees are there, smiling back at me â€“ the fear will envelop me. For I am not a guy that listens to boy bands. Iâ€™m not. I swear. That is not my O-Town disc that you found in my car. A friend left it there.
All I can really do is look to the future. To a day when I will have finally paid off my debt to the monolith that is the Columbia House CD clubâ€¦ To a day of less-fearful times when I will happily jaunt to the door when I hear my favorite mailman arriving with gifts and bills and special offers for my local Cleaners. But even as I imagine the paradise that I will someday experience, the fear starts to creep back in. I remember what a friend just told me recentlyâ€¦ About how Columbia House just started up a DVD club. Five DVDs for the price of one! An amazing deal. And a free postage-paid envelope, too. Those guys, manâ€¦ they are just so generous!
I will never get out alive.