Creamsicle Dick and the Reading of the Classifieds
By Cameron M. Burns
Author’s note: some of the email addresses and phone numbers in this piece have been slightly modified (using Xs) to spare the authors of these real advertisements unnecessary attention. I have kept the typography exactly as the original.
People of the Rocky Mountain West like to think the terms that define them probably include strong-willed, independent, self-starter, initiative, entrepreneurial, and clever. That might be so, but if you ever sit down with a newspaper published anyplace between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Polebridge, Montana, and start reading the classified ads in local newspapers, a few more terms will spring to mind, as I will shortly demonstrate.
My serious “reading of the classifieds” in as many newspapers as I could lay my hands on and time allowed began in late 2010. The previous summer, my wife, Ann, had started doing sudoko, apparently to mellow out when stressed; my mother had fired her interest. Ann would sit at our modest kitchen table thoughtfully working her way through the problems, trying to reveal the numerical pattern that sudoko is all about. But my wife’s an animal lover at heart, and when confounded by a number sequence, she’d often drift over into the classifieds, she told me later, to check the animals up for adoption. The following day’s emails from her would be filled with text like (and this one is clearly made up, but it’s close to what I’d get): “Rager: Un-neutered male pitbull male with severe aggression disorder. Great if you have a pit to keep him in….”
Every now and then, Ann would show me the ads. Sometimes I’d read them then wander back to the news. One evening, Ann delved deeper into the “classies” (as newspaper folks call them), and we realized she’d stumbled on a gold mine.
“Hey, come look at this,” she said.
She pointed to an ad in the Aspen Times, one of our local papers, offering “gold smelting equipment”; next to that was an “intelligent synthesizer”; a few ads down was a mounted coyote head.
“What the heck is an intelligent synthesizer?” I asked.
“I dunno,” Ann responded. “But we could put the coyote head on it and really mess with the neighbors. All the while smelting gold, perhaps.”
Officially, it was the September 3, 2010 edition of the Aspen Times, a fine publication where both the editor of this magazine and I have labored many hours. Other dry goods on sale that day included the following:
• A moose head being sold by a John Henry of Silverthorne for $2,950;
• Two 5-gallon glass carboys for $29 each;
• A hydrofarm reflector; and
• An Orvis Battenkill rolling duffle bag (the Battenkill is, apparently, a river in Vermont/New York whence Orvis has its origin). Those items seemed simple enough, but then there was this: muscle milk natural, vanilla crème $15 81611 Aspen unopened 2.5 lb container Kevin 845-321-XXXX.
I immediately had to wonder, what is “muscle milk natural, vanilla crème,” and is it what I think it is? Then why’s it so expensive? Another ad read: drive 6 hours behind the wheel with Jamie Maffey value is $300 sell for $200 OBO 81611 aspen superb condition only 970-355-XXXX.
It sounded as if Jamie Maffey was some kind of uber vehicle-racing person, but a google search brought up nothing. I have to guess, then, that Jamie’s just a really wonderful person, the kind you’d shell out $200 to spend six hours in a car with. There really aren’t too many people like that, so $200 was probably a bargain. I wonder how Jamie felt about it and if he/she even knew such a thing was for sale. Doubtless, Jamie found out.
My wife and I wandered the classifieds over the course of the summer of 2010, and we were always surprised and delighted by what we found. In March, 2011, I decided to knuckle down and see if our experience was an anomaly or whether the rear-ends of most newspapers really were bizarre. From a roughly one-week period in late March, here are a few things I gleaned.
Used Car Salesmen
The vehicle ads are always worth a scan, and these days they seem to be more honest than some of the guys on the lots. For one thing, many papers now offer classified ads that include photos of the items to be sold, so you can get a look at your next commitment to the carbon economy. The Aspen Times of March 22, 2011 had a few of gems that read as follow:
BEATER – 4x Toyota Landcruiser 1986 1500 4 door. Rust of course. 27800 Manual transmission. white full chains dick 303 886 XXXX hampleman@XXX.net
I’d surmise this chap’s real name was Dick “Full Chains” White (perhaps derived from a CB handle or some such), but his honesty is beyond reproach. How many budding salesmen would throw in “Rust of course” as a statement? (Though I once saw a classified ad for a car that said “Rust in peace.”) The following ad caught my eye for two reasons:
Toyota Tacoma 2010
TRD loaded w/extras. Excellent condition. 17,000K.
Auto transmission 4WD. V6 silver
Access cab. Tow package.
948-XXXX or call_john@XXX.com
One, most sellers of a vehicle that had 17 million miles on it would steer clear of pointing that tidbit out, and perhaps focus on the positive—like the fact that the vehicle still existed (as evidenced by a photograph).
Two, that email address…. Is it like call boy? Was the seller having a brainfart when he wrote down his phone number then his email address? Sadly, we’ll likely never know. But there must have been a sale on brainfarts on March 22 in Aspen—either a sale on brainfarts or on the word “used”—as the Times also had this:
Used tires $20 Glenwood Springs. Used condition. Joe 970945XXXX carguy1@XXX.net
My mother always taught me to never buy certain things used: underpants, shoes, socks, bathing suits, mattresses, sheets, sofas, etc. You know, things of a highly personal nature. So the amount of stuff that gets used really hard—and peed, pooed, spat, or vomited on—for sale in today’s newspapers in unnerving. Ann suggested this is a result of the recent economic downturn and the fact that we’re all broke. That might be the reason for all the bad art in the contemporary classifieds, but what’s up with all the baby clothes, toys, and other items that fall into the “personal” category? Certainly these people didn’t grow up with my mother.
Under the header “Other,” the March 24 Glenwood Springs Post Independent offered:
Thick weave pre-folded CLOTH DIAPERS, Barely used, 4 dozen, asking $45 Rifle Excellent condition. 970-309-XXXX
My first thought was here’s an item that has actually had poo on it. And they want $45 for it. The nerve! My second thought was that that’s what it was going to have on it again, so no wonder the owner’s selling it. Other baby items really disturb me, though. The March 22 Summit Daily News had an item:
Baby Bjorn baby carrier
$30 Frisco Good condition. Frisco. Heidi 389-XXXX.
Bjorns are the one item that should be illegal to resell. In case you are somehow unfamiliar with a Bjorn, it’s a sort of backpack-like device that straps to your front and is used for carrying infants and toddlers around (think mommy wants to be a kangaroo and you get the idea). The child can face either forwards (toward the oncoming scenery) or backwards (towards you).
I have two daughters who were toted every which way in Bjorns. Our two Bjorns (one wore out, so we bought a second) were so covered with aged, white, glued-on vomit you could make a pretty thick chowder by dipping them briefly in hot water (we always had our kids face forwards to avoid the warm stream). Hence, my conviction that Bjorns come in two varieties: brand new or destroyed. There is no middle ground here as “Good condition” in this ad suggests.
Frisco Heidi was committing an unspoken classified-ad indiscretion to my way of thinking. I’m all into recycling, but I’m also a bit of a fan of hygiene. (Then again, I’ve seen lots of adverts for breast pumps, so maybe a milky Bjorn isn’t as much of a fourth-estate no-no as I’m prone to believe.)
While we’re in the region of mammalian output, one thing that’s always surprising is the number of dog-poo-pickup firms that advertise in the classifieds. Seems every mountain town has at least several of these companies, always with a clever name (e.g., Pooper Scoopers), and they only seem advertise in the “classies” (nothing classier than poo ads, right?). Ever seen one of these companies’ ads on a bus? On the chairlift? On the local public access channel? In GQ?
The following two ads appeared in a March 2011 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
Valley Poo Busters
PET WASTE REMOVAL
Call Today 970-456-XXXX
Bapper Doggie Doos
Full Service Pet “Spaw” in Silt
The first one is straightforward enough. (Although why would you call them just today? If you’re having a tough time managing it and need this kind of professional help, I think you’d want to call today, tomorrow, and every other day—perhaps you need a Busters franchise in your backyard.)
If memory serves, the second advert had a typo (I believe it was meant to be Dapper Doggie Doos). The change to Bapper made me think it was another dog-poo scooping company, because, when it comes to dogs, the word “doo” can be applied to either end. I hope the paper offered them a free day’s classy.
Men Seeking Women They Can Move
A lot of folks turn to the “tight and narrow” section for love. Or things that approach love. (Or things that approach tight and narrow.) The Summit Daily News had a few gems that kept recurring in March. I especially liked these two:
A Gentleman and a Scholar
Dates and Escorts for Women Only.
Need Help Moving?
I Have a 24’ Boxed Truck & A Strong Back
The scholar half of the first guy needs some help with his capitalization, and his gentleman side needs to be less sexist. Aren’t escorts supposed to be professional? Aren’t they supposed to serve clients regardless of gender? I bet I could sue when he turns me down….
Meanwhile, the moving-back guy committed the ultimate classified ad faux pas (worse than baby spew). He offered himself bodily to the greater world. Certainly, most humans are at the core good, but when you offer your spine for services against gravity, all sorts of nutjobs with bizarre requests step up to the line. That ad ran, I think, on a Saturday. Ten bucks says he was in hospital by Sunday morning.
Don’t Know What You’re Getting?
To be sure, there are no courses in classified advertising writing (perhaps there should be), and I have never in my life seen a newspaper offer a set of instructions to would-be classified ad writers—other than a word limit and how to pay. The reporters at these papers are all provided with an Associated Press stylebook so that their copy is neat and clean, but venture into the classifieds an it’s as if a copy-style nuclear warhead has gone off. Scarier than all the random typographical rotten eggs is often the lack of vital information or of clarity—dare I say logic? On March 24, 2011, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent had this gem:
Photo $80 Basalt Good condition. 970-948-XXXX walkerandcore@XXX.com
I immediately had to wonder what the photo might be of. The seller’s long-lost Aunt Mildred? A bongo? His lawn ornament? Something vulgar? Something delightful? I personally would’ve paid $80 for a photo of something delightful but not for a photo of something vulgar—I already have too many of those. A more important question was why would you advertise a photo in the Glenwood Springs newspaper that an owner in Basalt was selling?
Then, my ever-prescient wife stepped in: “Maybe it’s a photo of Basalt.”
That might’ve cleared up some of the confusion (who, really, could say for sure?), but the reader still had to be wondering “of what in Basalt?” The seller’s long-lost Aunt Mildred in Basalt? A bongo in Basalt? His lawn ornament in Basalt? Something vulgar in Basalt (which, ironically, happens to be where I live). It appears classified ad writers seem to thrive on maintaining a high level of intrigue in their announcements.
On Thursday, March 24, 2011, I found myself scanning the Chaffee County Times during a trip to New Mexico. In the “wanted” section was the following:
Conga/Djembe teacher needed. Not very skilled yet. 395-XXXX.
Did the author want a conga/djembe teacher who was not very skilled or did he/she want one because he/she was not very skilled yet? Who can tell? And really, who cares—except, of course, the tens of thousands of conga/djembe teachers in the greater Buena Vista area looking for gainful employment. To them, this information would’ve been vital. More intrigue, more mystery. Proper command of English appears a Sisyphean dilemma for many mountain-town advertisers. Under the heading of “customer service” in the March 25 Vail Daily was an ad that read, in part:
immediate opening for
Must be English speak
PT seasonal position
Up to 24 hours/week.
Gone to the Dogs
Dogs are what got my wife and me into the classified ads in the first place, so no discussion of said media would be complete without a trip to the dogs. The only problem I have with dogs—or, more correctly, dog ads—is that they’re often quite elastic with the truth. We humans are so rotten to animals that there are as many rescue shelters in mountain towns as there are coffee shops. And the good folks running these shelters will do anything they can to get them into happy homes.
On March 24, 2011, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent had this questionable listing:
Great Dane mix. Adoption Fee. 1.5 yrs Marlow is a wonderful boy, who loves to cuddle on the couch. Loves everyone he meets. 918-200-XXXX nxgolden@XXXX.net
A great dane that cuddles on the couch? Excuse me? You mean crush the couch and “everyone he meets”? Okay, maybe I’m too skeptical. But I kept reading and came across the following gem. At first I laughed, because the item could be read as if the dog were a mix between a rat and a terrier, not a rat terrier mixed with another breed. Then, the ad suddenly went south:
Rat Terrier Mix- Tuffy is a loyal and happy little 2 yr. old. Missing a back leg and is still very athletic. Loves people, great with other dogs! Rifle Animal Shelter. 970-625-XXXX
Of course, I got a knot in my stomach, but then realized that the Marlow the great dane could probably carry Tuffy around pretty easily, and I pondered calling the Rifle Animal Shelter to suggest a Marlow–Tuffy package deal. Ann said no.
Okay, I wasn’t really planning to call the Rifle animal shelter, but I really did get sad about Tuffy. Then I read a bit farther and got really sad. That same edition of the Glenwood paper had the following (including a photo of “Eric”):
ASPEN JOB WANTED
34 year old, orphaned at 7, continually incarcerated since 13 year old child, eagerly entering work force. Honest, intelligent, always drug & alcohol free. Holds GED plus numerous vocational training certificates. Seeks hospitality/recreation related, house sitting, service, retail or other position??? Available full time, will train. Beneficial Employer Tax Credit & Fidelity Bonding! Please contact longtime advocate mentor @ 714878XXXX, gKisley@XXXXXX for information, plus official administrative contact & most compelling story of Eric’s journey.”
The classified ads in small-town newspapers represent the Rocky Mountain West better than pretty much any local peak, activity, superhuman resident, or marketing “collateral” (what a dumb-ass term) the mountain-town lifestyle sellers come up with.
In this modern day and age, every mountain town has become rather generic. They all have Victorian houses that have been restored in bright colors and cost far more than they should; nearly identical outdoor film festivals (that feature climbing, boating, skiing, and environmental issues); overpriced gear shops where only tourists shop because the locals are all professional outdoor athletes, even though their livelihoods consist of managing inheritances; a never-ending supply of dogs with names like Dakota, Kaya, Khan, and Kona; and businesses that actively welcome and offer dog treats to dogs with names like Dakota, Kaya, Khan, and Kona.
The classified ads in these towns’ papers often seem far more real than the places themselves. They’re not cookie-cutter like the communities they aim to represent, which means, hopefully the communities really aren’t as cookie-cutter as cynics like me believe.
Of course, with publishing moving online faster than a dog will show your dinner guests its flexibility, the same gaffes are now available to those from far outside the mountain west, as are their gaffes to us.
The Chaffee County Times classified section—the entire newspaper section—is called “Classified Adventures.” And that, I think, really sums it up.
Which brings me to Creamsicle Dick.
I don’t know Dick. I’d never heard of Dick until March 2011, I’m not entirely sure where Dick lives, and I have no idea how he came upon his own disturbingly colorful name, but in the March 31, 2011 Rifle Citizen Telegram, he (I’m assuming Dick’s a he) placed a classified ad.
Dick was selling a VW. It had lasted since 1974. It was cheap, as it should’ve been. Dick—when he placed the ad—was apparently based in Rifle. And his moniker was inspired by a sugary summertime confection:
Volkswagen Superbug 1974 $2500
Creamsicle Dick’s simple ad doesn’t say a lot, but it’s precisely what it doesn’t say that produces a colorful little debrief on life in the mountain West. His simple ad opens up an expansive window into the people and places we think we know, and realize we don’t quite. Or don’t think we quite do, even though we likely do.
Let’s see…a 1974 VW? Dick’s probably in his mid-fifties. He was likely a bit of a rebel back in the 1960s (who drove Superbugs in 1974?), he moved to Rifle because it was the West, and a slice of the real west, not a soft resort like Aspen.
Dick is also probably bald, or bad in bed, maybe both—Creamsicle being a nickname passed along from a loving female friend and kept by Dick as a humbling reminder of the degeneration of the human body and the simple joy of human relationships. Or it could just be the color of the Superbug.
Dick clearly cherishes his name, both the offensive images it brings to mind, and the special relationship he had, and maybe still has, with that woman, even though the kids are long gone. Dick can make fun of himself, but he doesn’t go overboard.
I picture him in his yard, in the mid-summer heat that flattens Rifle in August, his feet in an old kiddy pool, while he sips a cold Budweiser and lazily flips a few burgers on the grill. He’s not looking forward to tomorrow, pulling all that wire or fixing that backhoe. Life’s been good, and he’s earned it. Sure, he needs to lose twenty pounds, but he’ll do some Summit County peaks later in the summer and get back to a svelte 190. Selling the bug is a bummer, but he won’t miss the endless repairs, the endless search for parts, and the endless sore back from leaning over the motor.
Now, he drives a Camry, and feels like a neutered token of the middle class. Life is a long series of compromises, but it’s an adventure, too, and he’s enjoyed that part, and plans to enjoy it long into his twilight years.
Creamsicle Dick’s post is simply the best ad I’ve stumbled across in the years I was searching this stuff out.
I would, though, wager that Creamsicle Dick, and the guy I mentioned at the start of this classifieds adventure, Dick “Full Chains” White, are both chums, and they are probably still publishing ads.
Anyway, whatever they have to say, or not, it’s definitely worth a read.
Cam Burns knows that no matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.