Sling A Thong At Six Pence, A Pottle Full Of Rye

Fred Manipulates Readers. Subtly Though. They Won’t Notice.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Fair warning: This column augurs to be dark, demented, and twisted and as a seven-year-old’s shoelaces—a lunge into the nether layers of raw festering capitalism, a naked grab for the boodle. My usual balance and nuance are on vacation, perhaps in the Poconos in a heart-shaped hot-tub.

It isn’t my fault. I think they may put peyote in the tequila here.

Dead serious: Fred On Everything logo merchandise. Coffee mugs. Beer steins. Hats. No Fred On Everything adult diapers, but those could come. Anyway the idea is to peddle you things you can’t possibly need and probably don’t want. It’s pretty much the principle of free enterprise in a time of automated overproduction. The trick is to keep you in a state of warm inattentive semi-consciousness. I thought about putting nekkid pictures on the page so you couldn’t concentrate.

On the other hand, maybe you do need this stuff. You could wear a Fred tee-shirt to work and get fired. Then you would have to move to northern Thailand to live in one of those thatched houses on stilts and drink beer and swat mosquitoes. Where can you get that much life change for $19?

Think about it. An irritating therapist would hit you for $100 an hour for years to mold you into torpid resignation to a job you hate in a place you don’t like much better. For $19 you get Thailand. How can you pass that up?

OK, OK, you ask: “Why do I need a Fred coffee mug? What, the mug I’ve got doesn’t work? Holds coffee. No leaks. Gotta little handle.”

Look at it this way. I could be selling rabid possums. You’re much better off with the coffee mug.

Now, I got two fine lines of merchandise, each with its own tasteless slogan. (Come on, read this stuff. It’ll improve your mind. Maybe I’ll put in links to porn sites.) The first one came out of my presidential campaign. Skeptics said I couldn’t possibly win, the only terms on which I’d risk it. Though I was wisely living in Mexico, on a brief foray into Washington I decided to run. That’s what Washington does to you.

I needed a slogan. I huddled in a basement in Fairfax with my closest advisers and a couple of sober people who seemed to have wandered in by mistake, and we came up with:

“Fred! Not Just Another Religion.”

Hoooo-ahh! Does that sing, or what? I have always favored understatement, and it embodied the intelligent analysis I associate with the elections.

The second tasteless slogan says, “Without Men, Civilization Would Last Until The Oil Needed Changing.” I’m trying to conciliate androgenated feminists with hairy armpits, and this is the best I can do. I always say you have to know your limitations.

Now, female readers might respond that without women men would live on piles of scuba gear and rotting sandwiches and probably die of infestation by some kind of mold. That’s true. And without women the world would be vastly more boring if more predictable. But I’m selling the mugs anyway. Some things you just have to accept as they are, and I’m one of them.

How did all of this madness come about, you ask (looking around for the porn links)? And where did I get that ugly picture?

It’s a long sad tale of fallen virtue. I used to be a happy irresponsible freelance, mulcting unwary magazines and setting a bad example for youth. Coupla years back, my crazy but dangerously smart daughter Macon and I were looking for trouble to get into. We decided to take a really squalid picture of me, maybe sleeping in a dumpster while surrounded by Jack Daniels bottles—something embodying the degradation and vice that make life marginally worthwhile. I have no idea why we decided to do it.

So we got the leather jacket and shades and the Harley cow-pie biker hat and the USMC shirt, all the credentials of social unacceptability. We ran over to Seven-Eleven and asked Apu, “You got a really nasty cheap cigar? We’ll bring it right back.” This puzzled him greatly. We put it all together and I tried to look sordid. When Macon’s convulsions subsided and she could manage a straight face, she snapped away.

At the time I was writing Fred On Everything on a site I had designed myself, which is almost as smart as removing varicose veins with a can opener. It was an affront to civilization. Somebody said it looked as if mice had lived in it. So I emailed Emily Wolfer,* daughter of a friend of mine, who understands design. I explained that I wanted a site that would appeal to winos, derelicts, and people who talk to themselves on street corners.

Worked, didn’t it?

OK. There’s a company called CafePress-dot-com that does manufaqcture-on-demand coffee mugs and beer steins and things. You send them a logo or a picture of your mother-in-law being eaten by a German shepherd or anything else that you think urgently needs to be on a tee-shirt. CafePress formats this horror and puts it on a hard drive somewhere. They must have some kind of miracle gadget that spits out logos on cups. The unwary reader goes to the FOE store online which, sure enough, sends them stuff and sends me money. It’s a concept I can live with.

Now we’re coming to the good part.

I got on the ‘puter to Emily, who did the logo and set up the store. And I realized, holy cow, among the mouse pads and bumper stickers was what I thought was half a bikini. Turns out it was a thong, which is technical for just-barely skivvies for gals.

I was stunned. I knew all sorts of people who had written books, but nobody who had written a thong. Fred On Everything bikini-looking briefs! I rose to a whole nuther plane of existence. My male friends turned sickly green with envy. They had never written a thong. The women were more cautious. Sort of, “Hmmm. Well, at least no one else I know would have one.”

Now, you may not have the disposable income to buy a mouse pad. (See? Clever marketing with subliminal message: If you don’t buy one, no one will ever respect you again.) But at least I’m not selling you a bridge. The one in Brooklyn usually goes for fifty million, I hear. Buy a tee-shirt for $19, and you save $49 million and change….