Someone sent me a letter offering me a free telescope. Should I have accepted?
It was the editor of Time magazine, or at least one of his associates. I suppose the editor is too busy reading letters to the editor to write letters from the editor. The writer wanted me to have the telescope with his compliments, and I thought that was very nice of him. I don't even know him. The telescope was described as having lots of pixels. I could gaze at things that were far away and see them in fine detail. Pixels at the end of the garden. The moon. The graffiti on a city-bound tram.
He didn't just offer me the telescope. No: he also offered to send me one of his magazines every week for a year, and I wouldn't have to pay for it. Not the full price, anyway. I would pay only $1.85; while the 'regular newsstand price' was $5.85, from memory. This made me feel slightly dishonest, as if I were to gaze out my window through my free highly-pixelled telescope towards the newsagent's down the street and watch some poor street-sweeper or impoverished parson forking out nearly six dollars for his Time magazine. Was that fair, I wondered?
Magazine subterfuge (if not outright generosity) is nothing new. Years ago, I used to buy The Bulletin. It was Australia's best weekly read behind The National Times, Nation Review, The Sporting Globe (OK, that was semi-weekly) and the Sunday parish newsletter. At one time or another, most writers wrote for The Bulletin including poets Henry Lawson, Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson and Edward Dyson. (Later the magazine resorted to employing journalists, but a romantic age can't last forever.)
One day, my copy of The Bulletin felt a little heavier. It felt like there was another magazine inside it, as sometimes happens when two magazines get caught up on the newsstand, and you shake Foreign Affairs or The Spectator and Anglers' Week or Railroad Modeller falls out. I shook The Bulletin but nothing fell out, and then the newsagent told me it was stapled in. 'What was stapled in?' I asked him, and he replied 'Newsweek.' 'Why?' I asked. 'I don't know,' he replied, smiling; 'the rep said something about falling circulation, but it's freed up an extra facing on the stand, and from next week I'll be stocking Monster Truck!'
Monster Truck must have been more of a success than either The Bulletin or Newsweek because not long after that the former dropped the latter from its content and, soon after, The Bulletin itself went under. They should have given it back to the poets. It was rubbish at the end; the kind of journalism you get when you give a column over to a stand-up comedian and the food page is written by a chef.
I've decided I don't need a telescope.