For about two years I was a stock boy at Ben Franklin, a store named after one of our nation's most kick-ass founding fathers. I have no idea what Mr. Franklin had to do with selling arts and craft supplies, but I suppose he needed something to do when he wasn't perfecting his electricity shooting kite or helping Paul Bunyan build the Grand Canyon.
One day I was told to stock the googly eyes, STAT. To those of you not in the craft business, googly eyes are...well, they're googly eyes. Little plastic moving eyes that you glue on stuff. Say you've got a pet rock or a sock puppet. You've painted, glued, crafted the hell out of it, and it looks pretty cool, but there's something missing, some spark of life, some vital essence not there. Glue some googly eyes on that sucker, and the Frankenstein feeling of creating life out of previously inert materials flows through your hands. And they all laughed at you at the university! The fools! They called you mad? You'll show them all! Arise, my sock puppet! Arise and taste the sweet breath of life!
So the things were not without their uses, but they weren't really a hot item. People would buy a pair when they needed them for a project, then the rest of the eyes would sit on the pegboard shelf, gathering dust and staring at you as you walked down the aisle.
"Make sure you bring everything out from the back," my manager said. "There's a sale in tomorrow's paper."
"Oh yeah?" I tried to give my question just the right amount of interested inflection, letting my boss know that I genuinely cared about the inner workings of Ben Franklin and the craft business in general. Meanwhile, I was trying to remember the lyrics from "Ace of Spades" and imagining what various cashiers would look like naked.
"Oh yeah," she said. "They're gonna be buying them up like crazy tomorrow. Look."
She showed me the advertisement. Googly eyes 50 cents.
"Wait. These eyes have been 50 cents since I started working here. And anybody that would care about our ads would know how much they are. These people are in here all the time."
"Just wait," she said.
Sure enough, the next morning the old folks came stampeding in at 10 on the dot, heading straight for the googly eyes(It was always exactly 10, because they'd start gathering outside the doors about 15 minutes earlier, their agitation increasing every minute they were locked away from their poly-fil, silk flowers and precious googly eyes. At 9:59 they'd start making exaggerated gestures towards their watches and at the digital bank sign across the street. These are the people, you would think, that won World War II and beat the Great Depression.).
I was up at the counter pretending to sweep and asked a lady why she bought 4 pairs of googly eyes.
"They're on sale," she exclaimed. "They're only 50 cents!"
"What are you gonna do with them?"
"I don't know...But they're on sale!"
Figuring this was one of those Spinal Tap "This one goes up to 11," moments, I wisely kept quiet and pondered the power of advertising.