Invisible Mikey: Most Evil Job Ever

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by Invisible Mikey

Some of my readers urged me to write about another odd job I held once, but at the time I deferred because it was an unusual experience of real evil, the kind that swims in the dark river of sludge beneath all capitalism. I did it because at the time I wanted more income badly.  However, no one needs money badly enough to do this.  It was the desire for money that seduced me into doing it.  It was the desire to have a clean soul that got me back out.  For eighteen months, I helped make INFOMERCIALS.  (You may scream now.)

When I went to interview, I was still a “human search engine” by profession (seeOddest Jobs Ever Pt 4).  The interview was in a nice condominium which should have been a red flag, but my curiosity often wins in these situations.  The initial job was billed as “office manager”.  There wasn’t an office, and the manager was a nice old lady doing the books.  I had done simple bookkeeping, so I thought I could handle it.  How much commerce could be taking place in an apartment?  I could sense that the old lady and the man who interviewed me didn’t get along, and you would need to in such a close environment.  The man who interviewed me was gregarious, charming, enthusiastic and nicely dressed.  I didn’t see the horns and tail.  They must be removable.  (Eerie music cue goes here.)

Evil Man #1 told me an extraordinary story.  I’m now sure he has used it many times and polished it over the years.  He showed me news clippings about how he had been accosted by young robbers, and how he had talked them out of it by offering them jobs and a way to become legitimately rich.  The articles were vague about exactly what the jobs were because they were fake articles.  The incident never happened.  This was the smoothest liar I had ever met, but at the time I had no idea.  Evil #1 told me he (along with a partner) produced INFOMERCIALS, and told me straight away that they make more profit than any other kind of TV, and he asked if I would be interested in learning how from the ground up, and that the “office manager” job was really more of a personal assistant to the producers.  Would I consider fifty thousand a year to start?  Of course there would be rapid salary increases as I learned the ropes.  I said yes, trying not to give the Gomer Pyle “Goll-eee” inflection to it.  (Now you may imagine the image of a cartoon lollipop with the word SUCKER on it appearing over my head.)

When I came to work the next Monday, I met Evil Man #2, the other producer.  Unlike Evil #1, this man was pensive and nervous, but he smiled nicely and shook my hand with confidence.  Evil #2 excused himself and left, and Evil #1, who was still on the phone, motioned me to him.  He asked the caller to hold, handed me a check for 70 THOUSAND DOLLARS (!) and asked if I would mind going to pick up his new Jaguar from the dealership nearby.  He said “Don’t scratch it”, with an easy smile and went back to his phone call.  I walked to the dealership, gave them the check and drove the car back.  (Goll-eee)

Evil 2 asked if I would like to go with him to the attorney’s office and learn about contracts.  He drove a new Cadillac.  On the way, he explained that in this company Evil 1 was the “go” person and he was the “no” person, and that’s why their partnership worked.  He also complained that the last showmercial, one of the original powdered diets, was slowing down in sales after $12 MILLION DOLLARS profit on a $10k investment.  (gah-aAAh-Leee)

The lawyer was in Beverly Hills in a small private office building.  His office was furnished in chrome and dark wood and looked like a movie set from The Firm.  The lawyer’s suit looked very expensive.  He spread out the pages of the contract and we sat at the long conference table to begin work.  This show was the first one ever produced about a teeth-whitening gel you could use at home, with trays that fit over your teeth.  There were contracts for the inventors of the product, the Dentist who would be endorsing it and the fulfillment company, the ones who would manufacture, package and ship the orders.

Beginning that day, and over the next year I learned how completely you can screw people using ambiguities in a contract.  Each time the lawyer and Evil 2 came up with a new way to phrase something more impenetrably to increase the company’s likely percentage while reducing what had to be paid to the others, the two men would smile with delight.  It’s what they lived for.  All those things you have heard about “fine print” are true, and much worse than you imagine.  It’s a matter of intent.  If the contract writers have no conscience, and their moral position is that whatever profit is gained by any means according to a legally-binding contract is automatically deserved BECAUSE BOTH PARTIES AGREED TO IT, then there’s no limit to how much money can be made.  Thousands of dollars in profit from pennies of investment, plus you use the contract to (in effect) steal another’s work.  This is how the music business typically operates, and it’s what I meant when I used the term “rape me” contracts in previous articles.

Every successful showmercial falls into one of three categories based on the vulnerabilities of consumers: GREEDVANITY or HOUSEWARES.  Infomercials that are truthful can not possibly profit to the degree that ones that lie will.  To maximize profit, promise more, not less.  When you buy, you have entered a contract for purchase.  You are bound by the terms in the fine print.  Money-back guarantees can easily be written in a way to make it hard for a customer to get their money back.  For example, require that the item be returned unopened.  Hardly anyone will do that.  Or you can provide a number the customer must call to get a code for returns.  That number rings an answering machine that will put you on hold (with music) for as many hours as you would like to hold.  No, it isn’t fraud.  You agreed to call and get the code.  We didn’t agree to provide it.  We still get to advertise a money-back guarantee. (neener neener)

I worked on shows about the teeth-whitener, a line of cosmetics, an exercise device, a set of self-help CDs (from Mickey Rooney) and the product that finally made me quit – a male potency enhancer supplement.  My salary had gone up to 75 thousand a year, because people liked me and the evil producers were trading on that.  I was running interference for the bad guys.  I knew none of these products worked, but for a while I bought into the lie, that if you agree to a contract you have no right to object unless it doesn’t fulfill the terms of that contract.  The contract never guarantees a result of any kind.  Customers can’t legally object because the infomercial says one thing and the contract says another.  The only thing with any legal weight is the contract.  Just try going into court and arguing “But on TV they said…”

The male enhancer program featured Chad Everett, who really DID say “I’m not a Dr. but I played one on TV.”  It was half water, with a small amount of a tincture made from (rim shot) WILD OATS.  The rest was alcohol.  The product and the program were aimed at men aged 40-70.  Guess what happens when you give older men alcohol in a situation where they are expecting sex?  They tend to get a bit frisky.  We had no problem getting unpaid testimonials from real customers who were given the product for free.  Viagra works better, but it doesn’t cost four cents a bottle and sell for $49.95.  Of course it came with a money-back guarantee, one requiring the men to sign an affidavit that in essence was a declaration of impotence.  Few bottles came back.

I’ve never made that kind of money since, but I sleep well.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Invisible Mikey: The Village Martinet

The On-Camera Martin Clunes
The On-Camera Martin Clunes

British TV shows are better than American ones.  I’m sorry, there’s no other position to take. They don’t try to crank out 26 episodes a season, like we do here.  When you do that, you are guaranteeing that at least 10 of the episodes will be “meh”, even if all the others are good.  It takes a lot of work to make a superior hour of filmed television.  Aside from the necessity of great scripts, the days are very long when in production, at least 12 hours, often longer.  It’s too much of a grind to survive and still end up with a jewel at the end.  The Brits have it figured out.  Make 6-8 episodes/season, so they’ll all be good.  Not only that, but it leaves the actors free to have a real life, or perform in plays or even to be in a different series at the same time if they wish.  It’s civilized.

I’m totally hooked on another series about city folk moving to the country.  It’s an ITV production called Doc Martin that’s shown here in Port Townsend but not where I used to live.  You can, however, see three season’s worth of episodes (21 shows) in full 420p, 16×9 aspect ratio at hulu.com. Because I loved it from the moment I saw it, I went back to see it from the beginning.  It fits what I wrote about in the previous article on Green Acres.  The city guy is the fish out of water, in this case in the fictional coastal Cornish village of Portwenn.

The show is filmed in beautiful Port Isaac, and is about a once-successful surgeon from London who becomes a GP in a sleepy fishing village because he suddenly can’t stand the sight of blood.  The Dr’s name is Martin Ellingham (Ellingham is an anagram of the last name of show creator Dominic Minghella), and the locals refuse to call him anything other than “Doc Martin”, which he finds disrespectful.  The doc is a surly curmudgeon, has no bedside manner whatsoever, and is constantly in conflict with the villagers, except for his Auntie Joan (Waiting for God’s Stephanie Cole), a long-time resident.  This is a dance of dominance between the doc and the locals, so in an inspired choice the show uses catchy tango music for its theme and underscore.

It’s a well-understood axiom that actors who can play comedy can play anything.  Dramatic actors are often unable to do comedy.  England’s most famous 19th Century dramatic actor Edmund Kean reportedly said on his deathbed, “Dying is easy…comedy is hard.”  Martin Clunes, who plays Doc Martin, is classically trained but was best known previously for the comedy series Men Behaving Badly.  Mr. Clunes is a warm, caring animal-lover in person, so like Hugh Laurie on House (another sensitive, cheerful man playing a grumpy genius), Clunes is brilliant playing against type.

Now that Clunes’ hairline is receding, he looks a lot like Elmer Fudd, which also makes his bad-tempered bewilderment funny to watch.  The entire village gets to playBugs Bunny and confound him.  As in Green Acres, the locals are in their own alternate universe.  The town cop is either clinically depressed or agoraphobic (different actors and characters).  The park ranger needs anti-psychotic meds.  The doc’s receptionists make tea and biscuits for patients, who often have no complaint but still come to the surgery to eat, drink and socialize.

The village school Headmistress, Louisa (Caroline Catz) is the doc’s love interest.  She consulted on the committee for his hire, lobbying against it because of his coldness.  He immediately spots an undiagnosed eye problem of hers.  That’s called “meeting cute”.  It’s a standard feature of comedy writing.  Louisa is as warm and sociable as Martin is aloof and graceless, but they are exactly matched in intellect and compassion.  It’s so satisfying to watch the obstacles they must overcome to get together.  After four seasons, they are still on-again, off-again, despite viewers knowing that their romance is destined and inescapable.  A few days ago, the renewal of the show for a fifth series was confirmed by Clunes, who also performs in a series called Reggie Perrin.

Now that I’ve come from the big city to a little village looking for a position in health care, you can see why I would identify strongly with this show right now.  My new banker is advising me who to talk to about getting in at a local hospital because, like in Portwenn, if the locals say you’re all right, you get to see patients.  Wish me luck!

The Off-Camera Martin Clunes

 This post originally appeared in one of our all-time favorite blogs.