Friday, February 18, 2005

Free Samples

I had to stop in at Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe today to pick up some kind of irritability poultice for our cat. I’ve written about this place before, and speculated then that it was run by curious folk. Today, I see a large flyer that says “NEW! EMU PAIN RELIEF!” Underneath that it said “ASK FOR FREE SAMPLE.”

Hell, yes, I’m asking for a free sample. If I ever meet an emu who blows out a hammy at the company softball game, I’ll be ready.

Imagine my dismay when I was told that this pain reliever was not for emus. It was, instead, for humans, made from emu oil.

I have an emu story, believe it or not.

Emus were the foundation of a classic Ponzi scheme in Texas in the early 1990’s. Breeding pairs were sold for over $40,000. But after they laid eggs for a few years and the offspring were sold to other eager breeders, those birds would make you a gosh darn fortune! I remember a woman who worked for me who came in one day and was absolutely thrilled because they were going to get a breeding pair for only $20,000. This was a woman whose salary was around $25,000 a year, and her husband (who also worked in the company) made probably $35,000. So they were going to spend over HALF of their yearly take-home pay on a pair of emus.

This was a very nice, even delightful, woman. And I tried very hard to talk her out of it. “But Bill,” she’d always say, “just do the math!” I told her that math was funny like that—sometimes the values of variables changed—but she wouldn’t listen to me.

The theory was that there was going to be a huge market in emu meat. It was the new chicken, or the new beef, or the new something. And there was a legitimate market for emu meat. But the market was very small, and is still very small today. The breeding pairs were only valuable because people wanted to buy them, to breed more breeding pairs to sell.

It all blew up, of course, like it always does, whether it’s emus or tulips. Breeding pairs can now be had for $300, and it’s been that way for quite a while.

At some point, people started noticing that they had a lot of damn emus to feed and it wasn’t making them any money. Now we have emus just sort of roaming around out there—not a huge number, but quite a few were released.

So back around 1993, I was running with my best friend at lunch. We had a five mile loop that we ran, and occasionally I’d find something bizarrely interesting. I found an armless Batman action figure once, which I still have. I found a bracelet with a broken clasp, and after I fixed the clasp I saved it—as it turned out, for Gloria, even though I hadn’t met her yet. And one day I found a photograph lying in the middle of the street. A photograph of two emus.

They looked like a nice couple.

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