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Caveat Emptor!

     The screen goes black for a moment and then there is a flash of light. Roiling, angry, time-lapsed clouds appear and sweep from left to right. The mind wonders what is about to happen, when suddenly the image dissolves into a dark street scene. The street is wet and shadowy figures lurk in the distance. From far away a police light pulsates. Steam rises from a manhole cover and the streetlights are shrouded in mist. Is this the setting for a mugging? A murder? What horrible crime is being foreshadowed? 

     But wait! We are now in a bar. A man (most often) with numerous tattoos (frequently) is doing a card trick. At least we assume it's a card trick because he is shown holding a deck and gesturing to his audience, which is (usually) a cluster of young women, who are attractive, smiling, laughing, and turning toward the camera (frequently) mouthing, "What the...?"

     Yes, folks, it's an online ad for a magic trick, not a murder movie. And without actually showing the trick (most times) we see how effective this latest miracle is by the over enthusiastic response it gets. (One wonders how many takes were required to get just the right look? But the reaction is so over the top this latest miracle must be a "worker.")

     Oftentimes we are then treated to a brief sales pitch from the inventor/magician who is now in a more casual setting, his home perhaps, talking directly to us, and like the old print ads and catalogues from days gone by, he promises that it's easy to do, can be performed instantly, and resets in a matter of seconds. And here's the best part, it gets an incredible reaction every time. What could be better? You can have a miracle at your fingertips with a simple click of your computer, and best, you don't even have to rehearse or have any skills or prior knowledge to meet women, blow minds (or maybe read them), and make money to boot. For a mere thirty dollars (or what have you) you too can be that lucky guy in the bar surrounded by an adoring audience, a real miracle worker. 

     You think to yourself it's too good to be true. 

     And then you order it from your favorite dealer.

     They call these advertisements "trailers," which used to be a term solely associated with the coming attractions you saw in a movie theatre. They are obviously intended to whet your appetite, to tempt and entice you to spend a few dollars with the hope of having something new to add to your repertoire, rather than your bulging junk drawer. I confess I too have (often) taken the bait. After all, I tell myself I know that magician and the quality of his work. Or I know his name or reputation. Or, truth be told, I just fell for the ad, hook, line, and sinker.

     Who is at fault here? People have a product to sell and this is the current way to market it. The format has changed with the times but in many ways it's no different from the lines I fell for in a catalogue years ago; "no mirrors, magnets, or skill required." Granted, the hype came without the aforementioned mysterious movie montage, but there was always a wonderful pen and ink rendering of a surprised person uttering the same "What the..." in an exaggerated font. I guess you can say that I was a sucker then, and that though I'm older and supposedly wiser, I'm still a sucker.

     But isn't that what advertising is all about? Appealing to the sucker in all of us? And I have to admit that there's something wonderful about the vicarious experience of watching one of today's ads and envisioning oneself performing for such an adoring audience. Yes, it's true I'm too old to be hanging out in bars, and tattoos and piercings are not my thing. But still for only thirty dollars I can know the secret to this latest miracle, and unlike when I was a kid, I don't have to hold my excitement in abeyance until my package arrives in the mail. 

     In today's world, it's all about instantaneous gratification although more often than not the only thing that's instantaneous is my disappointment. But the truth is my disappointment is no longer aimed at the people who sold me their particular products. No, the disappointment is at myself for falling for it (again!). I console myself and lick my wounds, until the next time. Though I have to admit for a very brief moment, I felt like a kid again. There is something so seductive in knowing the secrets to magic tricks that I am drawn to "knowing" like a moth to a flame. I am a lifelong learner in that sense, except for remembering what "caveat emptor" means.

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