It was just a thin slip of newsprint, wrapped into that batch of advertising circulars that comes with the Sunday newspaper. But it’s going to change my life for the better, more than Parade magazine ever could, more than Dilbert, more than the handsome tool shed now on sale at Lowe’s, more even than the offer of five two-liter Sprites for $4.
Maria Duval, world-famous clairvoyant and consultant of international celebrities, is advertising what even she admits is a “strange and truly amazing offer.” I get to choose not one but seven wishes from her extensive checklist of dreams for personal bliss. I simply enter my numbered selections on the accompanying “special form for fulfilling your wishes,” then sit back and wait for a large, discreet, white envelope to arrive in the mail. According to the ad, I probably won’t believe my eyes, but each of the wishes should come true.
This offer to use the amazing powers of Ms. Duval, who’s described as a medium even though her photograph shows what I’d describe as a petite woman, will lead to “miracles” (quotemarks hers) once she performs her very special ritual. And there’s nothing to pay; everything is FREE OF CHARGE (capitals hers). I understand that I’ll never be asked for money in return for the realization of my seven wishes, not now, never (alliteration hers, skepticism mine).
Though I’m restricted to a list of 33 suggested wishes – probably to keep out the crackpots who yearn unrealistically for the betterment of mankind, or similar nonsense – there’s a lot of good stuff to choose from. For example, number one is to win the lottery within two weeks; number two is to win a big prize on an instant-win scratch card; number nine is to win enough money to never have to work again; number 18 is to never have any more money problems; and number 21 is to win lots of money in the lottery. Not all of your dreams have to involve cash, though. Number eleven will get you a new car, number 15 will make you the owner of property that you can rent out, and number 33 will enable you to stop working and live off a substantial monthly income.
Some of the wishes even involve improving your personal relationships. Numbers 25 through 30 cover this field pretty thoroughly: I can find true love at last, be madly loved by someone, marry the person I love, attract men, attract women or, possibly best of all, be on TV. I can also advance in my career if I choose number 23 (get promoted), number 24 (find a job that pays well) or number 14 (retire with enough money to have no worries). I can even waste a wish or two on cheap thrills like seeing my kids do well in their studies (number 10) or succeeding in an important exam (number 16).
Did I remember to mention the options that give you material rewards? These include winning money on horse races, winning at the casino, buying a boat, going on a cruise, or solving all your financial problems once and for all.
Once you settle on your seven wishes, you enter the numbers on the special form. There are only seven boxes on the form, to keep respondents from being too greedy and to help those who can’t count to seven. The only other details that Maria needs is the amount of cash you want if you’ve chosen wish number four, to immediately win a sum of money. This entry line has space for 24 digits, so be sure to keep your request under a septillion dollars.
I think I’ll opt for the 5-7-8-12-13-17-22 combo. This will give me a monthly income of $5,000, a house, my own business, world travel, enough money to share with my family, some wealthy friends and another house.
Following that is a brief confidential questionnaire that surprisingly doesn’t ask which of your credit cards you consider the luckiest, and what is the number and expiration date of that fortunate Visa. She asks if you have any major problems in your family life, feel like you were born under a bad star, have a spouse, feel lonely or misunderstood, or feel as if a spell has been cast on you. All these questions require a simple yes or no response, but there is a free-form field to write “the question that disturbs you most.” For some reason, she requires that this question be written “in capitals,” even though it’s a tiny, tiny piece of horizontal space. Again, I think she’s steering us away from certain unwanted responses, such as WHAT KIND OF FOOL DO YOU THINK I AM? and HAVE YOU SEEN YOUR MOTHER, BABY, STANDING IN THE SHADOWS?
Once you list your name, address, place of birth, date of birth, hour of birth and minute of birth (she tactfully omits “method of birth” and “number of minutes umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck”), you’re pretty much done. All that’s left now is to wait for a few days, and watch the mail for that large white envelope containing your secret instructions. “Read them carefully,” she writes, “and expect to see some big changes in your life after a few days.”
Instructions? This seems to imply that I’m going to have to do something other than fill out the form and wish. Nowhere else in the ad is there anything suggesting initiative on my part. What is this, some kind of scam? Are my instructions going to require some impossible effort, like “work hard” or “apply yourself” or “read the help-wanted ads instead”?
Surely not from Maria Duval, whom the ad describes as “holder of the highest honorary awards” with “more than 10,000 TV appearances,” the predictor of “hundreds of major events all around the world” who “has never failed to telepathically locate missing persons” and who has the “ability to predict the future confirmed in experiments by the greatest scientific authorities.”
Maybe it’d be worth checking her credentials from an independent source. Entries in a quick Google search also cite Duval for “preying on people all over the world after being thrown out of Australia” and sending them “annoying emails that try to get you to spend money on their worthless crap.” Another follower says you’ll be sent gifts that include a vibrating crystal, a pentagram, a mascot (I hope it’s the San Diego Chicken – I love that guy), an amulet or a talisman, which will only knock $50 or so off your fabulous riches. Others characterize her as a “parasite who preys on the gullible,” an “incessant junk mailer,” a “*&^%*&^ scam artist” and a “stupid bitch.”
So maybe this offer is too good to be true. Maybe it will change my life for the better, but only if I define “better” as “getting more mail.” Perhaps the “ritual” she’ll perform on my behalf involves contacting her telemarketer for the ceremonial sacrament of adding my name to his call list.
Perhaps the dream of getting something for nothing is merely wishful thinking. But maybe if I act now, I can still get that deal on those Sprites.