|The really big breaks are always unexpected. In this morning's mail, I got what at first appeared to be a bulk mailed advertisement of some sort, but when I opened it—consider the odds against anyone opening a piece of bulk mail—I found that a leading insurance company had awarded me a FREE INFORMATION CERTIFICATE (capitals theirs).
It is every inch a document. Its edges display the ornate green embroidery that frequently appears on money. (Some day botanical science will breed a fern whose leaves form this pattern, and florists will call it "Banker's Lace.")
What compelled my attention was not the abundant officiality of the piece, nor its imposing craftsmanship—no doubt the work of an honored tutor of Treasury Department engravers, retired after designing the $50 bill but enticed by the insurance company to return to his board for one final masterpiece.
No, what really struck home was the shock of being offered free information about insurance.
Think how much you usually have to pay for information about insurance! Consider how difficult it is to obtain an agent to come to the house or office and discuss your insurance needs—unless you are one of the elect who has three fraternity brothers, a cousin, and two neighbors who sell insurance.
"We're jammed up," they always say when you call the insurance office. "We're running three weeks behind on emergency calls. And you just want to buy an ordinary life policy? Can't see how we can fit you in before mid-February."
How we have all wheedled and begged for an insurance salesman to stop by and show us where we have failed to plan sufficiently for retirement, sudden illness or accident, college educations, and permanent disability! How we have flattered, cajoled, and pleaded to have an agent show us how to provide for our loved ones and to finance the reconstruction of our homes after fire, vandalism, wind, hail, and falling objects.
And then, like a merciful adjustor racing to the scene of fire, theft, and collision, the mailman arrives, and I am suddenly entitled to FREE INFORMATION!
But wouldn't you know it? Just when the golden opportunity arises, the chance to find out how I can buy low-cost protection and family security with full guaranteed benefits under a unique, exclusive plan—and to find out free—my mind goes blank, and I can't think of a single question that I want them to answer.
I guess the old urge to get something for nothing makes fools of us all.
(Saturday Review, 1968)
"If Instead of Apes
We Had Come from Grapes"
is a book of light verse
written and illustrated
by Alan Van Dine