COLUMN

Paying for a good squeeze

Charles Gordon March 9 1987
COLUMN

Paying for a good squeeze

Charles Gordon March 9 1987

Paying for a good squeeze

Charles Gordon

COLUMN

You could never get blood from a stone, no matter what. Blood from a stone was the symbol of the impractical, the unattainable. No matter how hard you tried, no matter how deserving you were, no matter how much money you had, it didn’t make any difference. “You can’t get blood from a stone,” they always said.

But man never gives up, never stops trying. Now, at last, it may be here. Blood from a stone. You may not be able to get it yourself, but someone could get it for you, for a fee.

Isn’t that wonderful? Think of the problems that could be overcome if blood could be squeezed from a stone. It would be great to have more blood around. Not just for vampires either. And just imagine how valuable bloodbearing stones would be.

You could make a fortune buying up blood-bearing stones. You could make a killing on the stock market buying, then selling, blood-bearing stone futures. Someone would write a book about you. You would become a hero of modern capitalism, and he would become a best-selling author. All because of blood and stones.

Progress in the field is being made in several areas. A telling sign is that money is being charged for goods and services that were formerly given away, thus earning only goodwill. Airports that now charge small fees for the use of baggage carts are examples. When blood is finally extracted from a stone and the extractors are accepting awards for their efforts, they will pay tribute to modern airport managers.

They will also honor the proprietors of the cable television and pay television industries, who have figured out a way to charge viewers for channels whose output consists entirely of commercials.

Many doubted this would work. Skeptics were convinced that viewers would demand something like programming on channels they were paying money to receive. The skeptics thought cable and pay subscribers would revolt at the discovery that they were buying only the advertisers, while the advertisers were, at the same time, buying them. “That would be like paying for paying,” the skeptics said, adding, “You can’t get blood from a stone.”

When mining stones for blood is a great success, thanks will also be due to the shops that repair audio and vid-

eo devices. For years they cheerfully gave free estimates of repair costs in the hope of getting business. Now some of them have developed the idea of charging for the estimate if the customer decides not to have the repair done or have it done elsewhere. In other words, he is paying to find out how much he would pay, assuming he decides not to pay it.

While repair shops have been innovative, the banks, as always, lead the way. Historians among you are more than familiar with the story of how the banks popularized the credit card, gave it away for nothing, then, once people got used to the idea, began charging for it. Around then, blood flowing from stones was an observable phenomenon in the banks, it is said.

To their credit, as it were, the banks have not been resting on their laurels. Over the past few years a wide range of charges have been placed on a range

What do baggage carts, credit cards, pag-TV converters and Martina Navratilova's left shoulder have in common?

of once-free services. Need some new cheques? That could cost you. Using a withdrawal slip instead of a cheque? Might be a slight charge for that. That $2 debit you were asking about? That’s because you regularly transfer money from one account to another.

Any minute now the bank will begin renting you the pens with which you make out the cheques to pay the interest charges on your bank credit card.

While you wait for that, think of some other unlikely money-makers. Martina Navratilova’s shoulder is one. Her left shoulder, to be precise. Navratilova is a tennis player, a left-handed tennis player, which makes her left shoulder the more visible when she is photographed after unleashing her powerful serve. There is a little patch on the left shoulder of Navratilova’s tennis outfit. The patch carries the logo of ComputerLand, which pays $266,000 a year to be there. This shows that consumers are not the only ones financing the blood-from-a-stone extraction process. Advertisers, clever people one and all, are helping out too.

Curiously, Martina Navratilova’s

right shoulder is, for the moment, commercial-free, like pay TV was once predicted to be. The Porsche company, a maker of automobiles, dropped the right shoulder rights. So it is there if you want it, an advertising vehicle like no other.

It would be interesting to talk to the folks over at Porsche and find out why they and Martina Navratilova’s right shoulder parted company. Did they somehow conclude that selling cars off Navratilova’s right shoulder was like getting blood from a stone? Did sales slump, due to simple market forces? Was Navratilova, through no fault of her own, forced to shoulder the blame? And what are the folks at Porsche into now? Billboards? Bus cards? All-commercial television?

Have they moved to a racing-car driver’s helmet or his left knee or his car’s right front fender? Or have they simply moved to another tennis player? Have they moved to Jimmy Connors? Was it Jimmy Connors whose left shoulder belonged to McDonald’s hamburgers? Or was it his left breast pocket? Or was it Jimmy Connors at all? Whoever it was, his shoes belonged, quite properly, to the shoe manufacturer, and his shorts belonged to—well, it’s hard to keep track.

The people involved in stone-blood research obviously do keep track. They know, somehow, that tennis fans, when they view Martina Navratilova’s follow-through, think of nothing so much as their need to go out and buy a computer. Their method of getting there, now that the Porsche is off the right shoulder, is anybody’s guess. Paralysis of indecision is a distinct possibility.

Some day soon you will want to get away from everything being for sale. That sudden urge to escape may come when you turn on your television set with the built-in converter that requires another converter to enable you to watch the all-sports channel you paid good money for—and see a prizefighter lying bloody and unconscious on a canvas inscribed with the Budweiser logo.

Around that time you either take off to go live in a tent on the steppes somewhere, or you decide to try to get in on the action yourself. If that’s what you want, there is something you should know: they can’t guarantee they’ll get blood from a stone for you, but there will be a small fee anyway.

Charles Gordon is a columnist for The Ottawa Citizen