In recent days, readers have been phoning to tell me they received a letter offering to make their wishes come true through the use of a magic wishing well.
Yesterday I, too, received a copy of the letter. The heading on it said, "Now 10 of your most longed for wishes will come true -- guaranteed by the legend of the Magic Wishing Well."
The letter that followed said that, according to legend, the Magic Wishing Well was located in a small village in Greece. People traveled long distances to throw coins into the well and have their wishes come true.
"Now, for the first time," the letter said, "You can have your wishes granted by the Majic Wishing Well. Just like the ancient Greeks -- you will be granted your choice of 10 wishes." All you have to do is send $1 for each wish to a man who signs himself as Kent Morrison and gives an address in Oklahoma. His letter adds, "And, the most important part, all of this can be yours without risking a penny. Have you ever seen anything so promising offered with such an unbelievable guarantee?"
As is the custom with mail solicitations these days, Morrison included a postscript addressed to those who had already made up their minds not to send him any money.
For the most part, it consisted of a repetition of the same sales pitch that had gone before, and it ended with reasons for not ordering, but for the life of me I can't think what they might be. So, if you are still not going to order your Magic Wishing Well, will you tell me why. Thank you so much."
Yes, Mr. Morrison I will be glad to tell you why I am not ordering.
I am not ordering because I do not believe in magic. I do not believe you have the power to make my wishes come true, nor do I believe that the magic waters in your magic wishing well have that power. I consider your guarantee to be, as you yourself describe it, "unbelievable," because I do not believe that you or any other human can guarantee what the future holds in store. I do not believe in Santa Claus. I do not want you to make me rich, and I sure as hell don't want to be the Santa Claus who helps to make you rich.
After you read all the negatives in the preceding paragaph, Mr. Morrison, you might get the impression I am the kind of person who doesn't believe in anything at all. I assure you that this is not correct.
I do believe that postal inspectors tell the truth when they warn that mail solicitations that sound too good to be true usually are. I believe postal inspectors speak the truth when they say mass mailings that offer moneyback guarantees often turn out to be empty promises. It takes just a few weeks to mail out a million letters, rake in a million dollars worth of reponses, and skip town. By the time, the inspectors begin investigating, they often find themselves dealing with something more awesome than a magic wishing well: a real, live human being who has vanished into thin air.
I am sure that a fine, honest man like you wouldn't perpetrate a hoax and then skip town, Mr. Morrison, but the fact remains that there are scoundrels in this world who have fleeced the public with meaningless guarantees. And since you asked me so earnestly to explain why I had decided not send you my $10, I told you.
Now you can do something for me in return. You can grant my 10 wishes without risking a penny. If you grant 10 wishes for me, I'll send you the $10. I guarantee it -- and I have been doing business at this same address since 1947.
In other words, friend, instead of my trusting you you trust me. I like it better that way because after you promise that I can try your magic wishing well "without risking a penny," you tell me I must risk 1,000 pennies. I must send you (risk) $10, and then ask you for a refund if your magic doesn't work and I fail to become the world's greatest golfer. Frankly, that part worries me, and makes me wonder who, if anybody, guarantees your guarantees.
Instead of my looking for you to get my $10 back, I think it would be better if you had to look for me to get me to pay up. Is it a deal?
P.S.: If you have already made up your mind not to let me try out the 10 wishes without risking a penny, I can't for the life of me think what your reasons might be. Will you please tell me? Thank you so much.