Office Space

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Bought – A Cautionary Tale

in Life

I’ve bought a lot of dumb stuff over the course of my life. I’ve spent too much on too little. I’m certain the sugar-water industrial complex has erected a statue in my honor somewhere near Atlanta. I bought DVDs I’ve only watched once, I purchased books I’ve never read, I’ve paid for cigarettes, and yards of margaritas…

But there is one purchase I made that is dumber than them all. The most boneheaded purchase I ever made that haunted my early twenties, and introduced me to the wide world of collections.
People still used telephones that were connected to their walls when I moved out on my own in the late ‘90s. These telephones were used mainly to accept calls from telemarketers – people who wanted you to refinance your home, or sell you things you didn’t know you wanted while you were in the middle of dinner. Some of these telemarketers were better than others.

I got used to taking these calls. I denied most of them. But there was one time I let my guard down, and ended up as a guy who can’t say that he never bought anything from a telemarketer.

Magazines. This guy sold me magazines. What seemed like ten subscriptions – free – for six months (and then $75). I couldn’t get over on this guy, I mean, how could I not want ten magazine subscriptions for free (for six months…and then $75). I was powerless to this line of reasoning. I caved and got magazines. Popular Mechanics, US News and World Report, FHM, Rolling Stone, The Nation… they kept coming in my mail. Before I knew it, I had stacks of them all over my house. Plus, I had the housekeeping habits of any 20-year-old man, so it became a real fire hazard.

From US News and World Report, I learned that Pope John Paul II didn’t really believe there was a place called Hell. From Popular Mechanics, I learned, like my grandfather learned before me, that someday we might have flying cars. From the experience, I learned that magazines ultimately collect into piles of trash, and that you should cancel free trials if you really have no intention of paying once the trial ends.
About seven months later, when the stack of unread magazines on the table next to the front door was nearly eye-level, the calls began.

Apparently due to some fine print I didn’t read while talking to the guy who sold me the subscriptions, because I didn’t pay, I was responsible for the full cost of the subscriptions to the magazines, instead of the special offer price. So instead of $75, I now owed more than $200.

I didn’t even want the magazines anymore. I wanted to cancel these subscriptions. Unfortunately, it was after the trial period had ended. The phone would ring, “Don’t answer it!” I’d implore my roommate. We’d hunch down and peer over the easy chair, watching the answering machine and waiting for the harassing message to pass.

Finally, the calls stopped coming. So did the magazines. I thought I stared them down, and they blinked. I thought I was out of hot water, and that the salad days had returned. I was wrong. The phone calls started up again, only they were from law offices, they said they were going to sue me. I didn’t know if this meant I faced debtor’s prison or what. I wondered, if I did get sent to debtor’s prison over these magazines, would it only be for like three days? Anything less that five days, and it might be worth it. I was a pizza delivery guy in a bad part of town, so $200 was a lot of money. The prison sentence couldn’t be that long for $200…

My last defense was to say that I never ordered the magazines. That they just started coming, as if they were bequeathed to me from a distant relative who felt I needed to stay up-to-date on current events. The man from the law offices told me that they would check their recordings, and if I was right, they’d leave me alone, but if it turns out I’m wrong, they’ll have “no mercy” while taking me to court. I felt powerless in the face of this, and I agreed to pay them. As a result, I ate unclaimed takeout pizzas from work for two weeks.

Written by our good friend Matt Berg. Check out his band Some Friends of Mine –they are awesome.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil November 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I fell for almost the exact same scam and it took me years to get it all straightened out. I’m so glad that telemarketing is pretty much a dead industry.


Ryan November 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm



francis November 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I got scammed by something similar… CDs. I used to get 1 CD per week and have to send it back otherwise I’d get charged the full price (which was like $20).


Ryan November 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm

haha.. I remember that.. they’d send out those booklets with a bunch of pretty pictures of CDs… so tempting..


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