One day recently, waiting to check out at the supermarket, I found an ad in a homemaker's magazine that promised this new life: CRASH DIET ONLY $1. LEARN THE SECRET OF HOW THEY DIET ON TV. LOSE 5 POUNDS OVERNIGHT. For a dollar I'd be a new "me," the ad promised, and I'd always wondered how "they" dieted on TV, perhaps losing weight even as you watched them.
The ad showed a photo of a girl who must have been a barmaid in the Midwest in 1959. She was slim, of course, and wore what looked to be a roller-skating outfit, with short skirt and knee-high leather boots. The boots are mandatory in back-pages advertising, unless the young woman is wearing a bikini, which occurs often. The ads are awesome if the girl wears both a bikini and knee-high boots. Those ads usually call for more than a dollar.
Within a week I received a booklet containing my secret crash diet. "No-pill, no-exercise, one-day reducing formula. Wake up—and you have lost 5 pounds." The diet consisted of eight ounces of cottage cheese and black coffee (no sugar). Breakfast, lunch and dinner were the same. Before retiring I was to drink eight ounces of prune juice. "That's all there is to it!"
I did lose five pounds. Lying in bed on the third day, recovering from the effects, I had lots of time to look through the booklet that accompanied the diet.
In addition to the two-paragraph crash diet, there were tables of sample menus for later on. But most of the booklet consisted of ads for other products. The basis of nearly all mail-order business is the step-up technique, in which the product ordered, often at amazing savings, is merely a come-on for other, more expensive items. The centerfold of my diet booklet, for instance, was an ad headlined "How To Turn Up Your Digestive Furnace And Burn Flab Right Off Your Body!" This time the price was $5.98, for a book by a doctor ("medical ethics forbid that we reveal his name"). And rightly so, since he probably advocated the use of a blowtorch. The booklet also contained ads for such curious things as a "How To Pray And Grow Rich" manual, blemish cream, blackhead removers, sauna suits, waistline trimmers and "Miracle Bullets" (a vitamin-mineral tablet with "royal jelly"). The idea was that after you'd lost five pounds overnight from the prune juice, you'd be ready for more sophisticated products to produce that "lovelier and healthier you."
Answering an ad in the back of a popular monthly, I received a booklet, "500 Moneymaking Mail Order Ideas," which turned out to be useless unless you ordered a further book, "How Mail Order Fortunes Are Made"; and one of the techniques explained in the latter was the step-up, or come-on. At any rate, I was recovering nicely from my diet and had only a few bad moments when I remembered an instruction from the booklet under the heading "Eat More Slowly!" The booklet suggested that I get a mirror and a clock and watch myself eat, while timing the performance. The thought of watching prune juice and coffee and cottage cheese in one's own mouth, while the clock ticks away, still produces shudders.
But undeterred, I leafed through one of those men's adventure magazines that have articles like "How To Get Big Bass With Handguns," and "I Was Attacked By Killer Bees And Lived!" I found an ad that would surely improve my body, get me in shape and recharge my spirit. It showed Mazola-sheened bodies of musclemen, their veins like blue tunnels, their waists slim as babies' wrists, their shoulders bigger than VW bumpers. "Our files show that thousands of readers like yourself want to build bulging muscles and achieve real power like their favorite athletic champions." You bet, that's more like it, I thought.
A British weight-lifting champion answered my questions about how to build big muscles:
Q: What does it take to build large muscles?
A: Basically, it takes exercise.