Main | Thursday, July 21, 2005

Propheteering

Every weekday morning, from its dozens of doorways, Grand Central Terminal spews forth several hundred thousand of the most demographically desirable consumers on the planet. From suburban Connecticut, upstate New York, and Manhattan's Upper East Side pour out the dinks, the soccer moms, the fashionistas, the literati, and yuppies and buppies and guppies.

And the marketers are waiting at every door.

On most mornings, but notably on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, commuters have to literally dodge and weave their way through small armies of street marketers handing out free goods, hawking new sport drinks, cable channels, travel destinations, and snack items.

So far this month I've been handed "Free mints!" (which have the CourtTV logo on them), a "Free subway map!" (the reverse of which has travel information about Scotland), and a handful of consumables: a new energy drink, a new flavor of Pepsi, a new Atkins-friendly brand of potato chips, and various new candy products.

All of this booty usually ends up either tossed in the next available garbage can (about 1/4 of it, by my guess) or on the desks of my co-workers, which is a pretty impressive rate of keeper-age (my term), and why the gifting marketers are there in such strong numbers.

But this week, a new wrinkle arose. I got in the elevator with my colleague Mike, who flashed me a glossy card with something stapled to it. "Today they're giving out a new protein bar or whatever this is." I nodded. Later in the afternoon, I asked Mike how it was.

"I threw it in the trash."

"Why?" I asked. "Was it made out of old Chinese newspapers?" (That's a Simpsons joke.)

"No!," he said angrily. "I threw it out because it was given to me under FALSE pretenses! That wasn't a new brand of protein bar at all. It was the regular brand stapled to a card from some CHRISTIAN group. They tried to trick me into eating a protein bar for Jesus!"

And he was right. The Christians had simply blended into the other swag bearers outside of Grand Central's doors and slyly laid their propaganda on an audience that normally would have at best, sidestepped their tracts with a dismissive head shake. I had to admit, this was a pretty slick trick.

Yesterday they were at it again, this time with chewing gum. A perky young girl, stationed at the Vanderbilt Street entrance of the station was chirpily offering "Free gum!" to all passers-by. She tried to hand me a pack of Big Red, along with a card that asked "What do we really know about Jesus?" I spotted a second carton of gum on the ground by her feet.

"If you're giving any of those away, I'd rather have the Juicy Fruit," I said, and she obliged.

When she handed it to me, I looked her in the eyes and said, "Cuz that's what I am. Just a big juicy cocksucking fruit."

Her fake smile faded, "That's great. Your mother must be SO proud."

We'll call it a draw.


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