Words for sale

Aug 20, 2003

These are the magazines I currently subscribe to:

The Atlantic Monthly
The New Yorker
National Geographic Adventure
The New Republic
Island Scene
New York Times Magazine
The Economist
Seed

This morning, as I was stacking the past few months’ worth of these magazines, I had an intuition that the door-to-door subscription hawkers would be by soon. And sure enough, just as Anna and I were about to leave the apartment for our afternoon swim, the knock came. Two young men were at the door.

“Hi,” said the talkative one. “We’re part of a communications contest. It helps us with eye contact and personal communication skills. It’s for kids who won’t go to college.” So the spiel started – I’d heard it before, and I knew what was coming. “The top points scorer wins a trip around the world. Have you been to Australia?”

Yes, I sure have. “Then do you want to be our guide?” he quickly came back. He was smooth. And then he whipped out the list of magazines. I took the laminated list – it’s much improved over last year’s paper – and in one fluid motion glanced at it and returned it to him. Sorry, pal, but I’ve got a kid in preschool and we’re already fundraising for her school. “Oh, is she your daughter …” he began, not hearing me say the magic word, No. Sorry, I said, I can’t buy any magazines from you. Good bye.

From the list above, you’ll know that I’m swimming in printed words. Last night I spent a few hours with the latest Atlantic, reading about modern-day high-seas piracy and Rupert Murdoch, a pirate of another sort. I’m addicted to quality magazines, but I can’t afford (time or money) another subscription now, especially on the eve of another semester of graduate school (see my current academic courses at anton.zuiker.com).

At the pool, I thought back on my own lame attempts at door-to-door salesmanship. I was horrible, too shy and timid to persuade strangers to give me their money for the product of the moment (raffle tickets, cherry-scented shampoo, Grit magazine subscriptions). My grandparents usually came through so that I at least made the minimum quota. Now, I have to start shilling wrapping paper, cake walk tickets and grocery store vouchers to help raise funds for Anna’s preschool, My Morning Out. I might as well start honing my spiel: “Hi. My darling daughter goes to preschool, but I’m too busy reading magazines and writing medical journalism articles to get a job to pay her school fees. Won’t you please buy some wrapping paper?”

Anton Zuiker

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