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ADvent is here again

by Julia Sneden

Usually, the postman slips the mail through the slot in my front door with a snap and a quiet "whoosh" as the envelopes hit the carpet. For the past couple of months, however, the snap has been followed by a series rattling squeaks as he holds the brass flap open and the sound of paper ripping as the poor man wrestles with catalogues of every imaginable size and shape. One after the other, they thump and thud onto the floor. It's the holiday season again, and we are deluged with urgings to buy-buy-buy.

Magazines that are usually slim and easy to hold grow suddenly fat and bulky, with "Advertising Supplements" that are cleverly designed to be barely discernible from the editorial content. My husband grows testy as he rips out the "Card Inserts" and throws away the "Blow Ins" that make it impossible to open a page flat to read. "Merry Ho-Ho-Ho," he snarls in a voice better suited to "Bah! Humbug!"

Even the news coverage in our local paper shrinks to accommodate the ads that proliferate everywhere but the editorial page.

It's a nuisance, of course, but sometimes there are good bargains to be found, or unusual gift ideas hidden away in all those pages. We shudder to think how many trees were sacrificed to send us these ads, but we put the catalogues in the recycling bin and feel better. We also tell ourselves that perhaps they came originally from tree farms, not from our national forests — a foolish hope, perhaps, but the delusion of well-fed tree farmers helps.

Advertising is something that all of us have lived with and often enjoyed all our lives. A good commercial can be fun. I remember loving certain colorful ads in magazines when I was very small — the Elsie/Elmer Borden cows, or the impossibly homey and corny Betty Crocker ads, or even the glamorous Breck Shampoo girls (oh, to have hair like that, but even more, to have a profile like that!).

It's perfectly possible, of course, simply to ignore those print ads that aren't interesting or don't pertain to your particular needs. As for television commercials, you can always hit the mute button, or better yet go out to the kitchen and fix a snack, or take a bathroom break, or step outside and look at the stars.

The advertisements that get to me are the intrusive ones that pop up on my new computer. Microsoft has become so aggressive that I'm beginning to resent its very existence, even though I use its products gratefully (at least some of them).

Also annoying are the ads that won't close when you click the X box, and continue to flash or just sit there as you try to figure out what to do next. Usually, they disappear on their own after a few minutes, but during that time, your blood pressure has probably risen 20 points.

What is it about ads on the computer that are so upsetting? Well, for one thing, many of us regard the computer as an office machine, much the way we thought of our old typewriters. I mean, they're ours in a way that newspapers or even televisions are not. When we are using them, we are actively engaged (not like watching TV). We have a purpose. However, even though ads on computers are incredibly intrusive, sites on the Internet must find a way to support themselves, and an amount of advertising is going to have to be tolerated.

And then there is spam. That's in a category all by itself. A couple of years ago I visited a Senior site that had a place for readers to suggest Christmas gifts. One of the selections said: "Your grandchildren will love this" so, ever a good Grandma, I clicked on it. It turned out to be a really graphic porno site. I exited on the spot. I didn't find the pornography half as upsetting as the thought of the smart asses who had put up that link, no doubt screaming with laughter about messing with the old ladies.

Since that one instantly-closed visit, however, I have been inundated with porn stuff. I guess I picked up a "cookie" from that incident, one that I've been unable to find and delete. Almost daily I find ads for "free adult porn" in my email, or color photos of just about every conceivable sexual act with promises of more if only I will subscribe. I do not, of course, open any of the mail, but that doesn't seem to stop them.

There are tangential ads for gels, creams, pills, etc. to enhance sexual prowess. I am regularly offered products to enhance the size of my penis (I'm female). I wonder if those people are equal-opportunity advertisers, because I frequently also receive offers of products to increase my bust size from an A to a D cup. I haven't been an A cup since age 12, and I'm certainly not interested, at age 66, in becoming a D!

And then there are the credit-fixing ads. My credit has never been a problem; I pay my bills on time, and owe nothing on anything. However, in one week's time, I was importuned to:

  • sign up for the lowest rates in 40 years
  • refinance my home
  • sign up for affordable legal services
  • refinance my home again
  • say YES to home loans
  • refinance my home via home improvement loans or "take cash out"
  • send for a credit report for only $50
  • "fix" my credit and stop paying credit cards without bankruptcy
  • "Profit from an expert" and never again make a payment
  • lock in lower mortgage payments (don't have any)

I was also offered several chances to make millions without ever leaving my home. One email described parents who discovered $71,000 in a shoe box in their 15-year-old's closet. It seems that he had earned it in just 4 months using "an Internet scheme that was perfectly legal!" Right. That goes right along with the email that advised me to sign up for lessons in how to make huge profits on EBay ("secrets to making a killing").

And, of course, every few days there's a new "make money from your home" letter. And then there are the "health" ads. I have been advised to:

  • try a miracle pill to keep me from being "fat and unhealthy;"
  • take a supplement that "reverses aging while burning fat"
  • lose weight while I sleep; never diet again
  • try out a new machine to give me instant reads on my Cholesterol levels
  • sign up for an online pharmacy that gives things like Viagra with "no prescription needed" because of "online physicians" who give 24 hour consultations

Among other oddities, I have been offered the chance to:
  • send for information on dealing with my septic tank (don't have one)
  • buy a device that will boost my cell phone (don't have one) by 300%

And, my favorite:

  • consider buying "protection gifts" for Christmas presents for loved ones (stun guns and pepper sprays are on a "Holiday Super Sale")

O, Merry Christmas!


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