Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Free Offer! Free Offer!

Their own muse getting thin and ragged by the end of the twenties, the Burma Vita Company offered a reward of $100 every year to anyone who could submit a usable jingle for their little red signs.  That was a considerable amount of money at that time, and they would get as many as 50,000 entries. 

Once they made the mistake of buying this rhyme:
Free Offer!  Free Offer!
Rip a fender
Off your car
Mail it in for a
Half-pound jar.
Burma Shave

Thousands of people complied.  Of course, they didn’t rip a fender off the cars they were driving.  They went to junkyards and tore the fenders off rusty ruins and sent them in, or even turned up at the Minnesota headquarters in person.  More thoughtful customers broke the fender off a toy car and sent that in.  It didn’t matter.  Surprise and amusement were feigned and each customer got a half-pound glass jar of Burma Shave gratis.  Great customer service, and now an again a story in the papers about it!

February 15 I was in Excelsior for a signing and afterwards went to Leipold’s odd little store and to my surprise and pleasure they had a one-pound jar (empty, of course) with Burma Shave embossed on it.  It had been turned into a little table lamp.  Photo attached.  The shade is a replica of a child’s lampshade, printed with Teddy bears.  I am delighted.

This past Saturday we went to Madison, Wisconsin, for a “Slam” of authors.  The owner of Mystery to Me bookstore worked really hard to line up thirty (!) authors to come in Thursday, Friday and Saturday, each to get fifteen minutes to talk about their books and writing.  We were only there from Saturday afternoon, and just that taste of her efforts was astonishing in its variety.  She had poets, mystery writers, literary authors, science fiction and fantasy writers.  She had a woman who had written a slim little volume on how to to leave a long-lasting legacy even if you are only middle class (I bought that one – and some others).  It was fun and exciting.  I was the very last author and had some fear that I’d be speaking to maybe three people – but the room was full.

I had been contacted by a very old friend who lives in Madison (where I once lived and worked), and we agreed to meet at IHOP Sunday morning for breakfast before starting home.  She asked if she could bring some friends along and I said Sure – and we had ten people turn out!  I knew most of them, hadn’t seen or even spoken to them for a very long time.  It was great!

When we set out Saturday morning on this trip, I-94 through the Cities was covered with a thick layer of ice, polished to dangerous smoothness by car tires.  We crawled along, trying to put off a decision to turn back, until we got to the bridge across the St. Croix River, marking the border with Wisconsin.  About forty yards this side of the bridge, workmen had chopped a line across the road, exposing the pavement.  And there was no ice on the bridge.  In fact, the freeway was clear all the way to Madison.  Someone at water aerobics Monday morning said Wisconsin uses cheese brine to melt ice on the highways.  Maybe Minnesota needs to import more milk cows.  Or Scott Walker.

A free offer of my own.  To anyone who can come up with a book title I can use - four or fewer words, a needlework term, a hunt of threat - I will send him or her a copy of the book using the title, suitably autographed.  I've got a file folder of names, but I'm always looking for more.


Betty Hechtman said...

It's great that your trip to Madison was such a success. It must have been a relief to see that pavement instead of ice.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can work the Burma Shave info into a future book.

Monica Ferris said...

I've already established that Godwin collects recordings of old radio shows, maybe he should expand into Burma Shave.