While flipping through a stack of early 90s Marvel comic books, issue 25 of The New Warriors, to be exact, I came upon a full-page ad for “Things You Never Knew Existed …,” but the beauty of it was, they were all things you definitely knew existed. On an individual basis, these things were all pretty unextraordinary, things like sea monkeys, baseball cards, a rubber snake, and a Star Trek Next Generation pin, but taken as a whole, it painted a rather disturbing portrait. It read like a one-stop shop for aspiring psychopaths. Sure, customers could order harmless novelty items like smoking golf balls and snapping “ouch” gum, but you could also fill your basket with police badges, chrome plated handcuffs, and a laminated private investigator card. There’s a spy book camera, super listener, pocket spy telescope, and spy sunglasses. You could learn to hypnotize yourself and others. There’s even a diver’s knife. And for when you needed to make it weird, they even had leather fingerless gloves. The company who placed the ad, the Johnson Smith Company, was based out of Florida, and I was surprised to learn that they’re still in operation, but rather than placing ads in comic books, they now have a website, titled what else but Things You Never Knew Existed…. The Johnson Smith Company still sells hoky junk like gag lotto tickets and fart extinguishers, but they’re also an online source for books and DVDs about the illuminati and the new world order, as well as the male g-spot. Their best sellers are a Donald Trump coffee mug that reads “Finally Someone With Balls” and a t-shirt that reads “The 10 Commandments Are Not Multiple Choice!” and suddenly their fake vomit and poop soap don’t seem quite so funny.
For a short period of time, my brother and I sold cheap stationery and Christmas cards for the Olympic Sales Club. The colorful ad reproduced en masse in the pages of comic books and Boys’ Life Magazine boasted cash and prizes, and the free catalog featured items like keyboards (26 items) and jukeboxes (55 items) and BMX bikes (85 items), but my brother and I were too lazy to extend our sales pitch beyond immediate family, and so we usually topped out at a combined ten items sold, meaning our meager commission was typically no greater than five dollars each, because we were incapable of sharing a “hot numbers” solar calculator (9 items) or latch hook set (10 items). Our membership in the sales club surprisingly lasted for several years, thanks mostly to the Olympic Sales Club’s dedication to filling our mailbox with new catalogs and order forms, although my family’s enthusiasm for purchasing chintzy wrapping paper, just so my brother and I could pocket a few bucks, quickly waned after the first year of our entrepreneurial endeavor. As a parent myself now, I can’t help but think that Captain “O,” the handsome, muscular mascot of the Olympic Sales Club, who resembled an off-brand Captain America, has got to be the absolute worst superhero of all-time. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to think of Captain “O” as a nefarious supervillain. Armed with attractive, full-page ads in comic books and other publications aimed at children, and with the assistance of his loyal telemarketer sidekick Peggy, Captain “O” lured ambitious kids into their very first sales scheme, with promises of “famous name prizes” or unlimited cash ($1 per item sold). So, rather than simply handing over $5 each to my brother and I, my mom, stepdad, and grandparents were coerced into paying more than ten times that amount on unwanted stationery and envelopes, and if that doesn’t sound like a villainous plot, I don’t know what does.
It took weeks to build up the nerve to ask my mom if I could place an order from the gag gift catalog in the back of Boys’ Life Magazine, and then it took even longer to convince her to let me order the items I wanted. Actually, there was really only one item I cared about, the x-ray specs, but I padded my order with several other inconsequential items, like itching powder and a rubber bug in a plastic ice cube. The x-ray specs were the only thing I wanted, truly needed, but I tried to downplay my hormonal desperation. The black and white, postage stamp-sized ad promised the ability to see bones through skin, but we all knew what the x-ray specs were really for. My mom knew what I wanted them for, too, and she was hesitant to order them for me, despite the undeniable fact that they were fake, but she apparently felt compelled to not endorse my desire to commit what would probably now constitute a felony. Alas, she eventually caved, and she mailed her check to the address listed on the order form clipped from the page of the magazine, but only after I gave her the cash to fully reimburse her for the cost of my purchase. My order took months to arrive, in a shabby brown envelope, and when it finally did, it seemed as though this gag gift company based out of Florida had pulled the cruelest gag of all, swapping out a horny boy’s x-ray specs for an eye patch. … It only recently occurred to me that this was possibly my mom’s own doing, her passive aggressive way of using irony to teach me a lesson. Either that, or I just simply wrote the wrong item number on the order form. Being in the fifth grade at the time, that’s probably the case, but me being me, I’ve always been compelled to inject menial shit with greater meaning than it has.