We at the BEAST have come to believe over time that there's no better way to get through a rainy day than to fire off twenty or thirty corporate love letters. With even the world's largest companies, you don't have a vote, but you do always have an audience. That's particularly true if you're writing GM to tell them how well the thrust of their airbags feels on your face, or sending Virgin Airways a note thanking them for reducing the size of seats in coach, because there was "just too much damn foot room before." Companies will tend to ignore all but the most urgently serious (read: potentially actionable) complaints, but they tend to accept as genuine even the most psychotic expressions of praise, and with surprising frequency will even write you back to thank you for the kind word.
That said, we've always believed that it's worthwhile to send companies a little bad news every now and then, just to keep their customer service people on their toes. Nothing violent or threatening, mind you, just a tale or two of profound disappointment with their product... wives leaving because you've grown too fat on Pop Tarts... Jiffy corn kernels that produce green popcorn... family parrots killed when they walk into your toaster... That kind of thing. Usually, the letters you get in response are more than worth a good laugh; the most common reply is a kind of abject corporate apology that is the closest thing we have in America to the face-saving self-mutilation performed by shamed Yakuza.
Last week, however, this ploy backfired on us spectacularly when a complaint we sent to the General Mills cereal company turned out not to be absurd beyond the realm of possibility, as we thought, but... completely and utterly true. What we wrote to them about our tainted Wheaties may not have been art, but whatever it was, life certainly imitated it. This sure is a crazy world. Here's that letter, plus the rest of the replies from our first installment of corporate fan mail:
Dear General Mills,
I am writing to you to express my profound disappointment about an incident regarding your cereal, Wheaties.
A week ago, I purchased your cereal in a supermarket here in my home town of Buffalo, New York. I eat Wheaties because it has a hearty wheat taste, and enhances my sense of self-esteem by allowing me to experience vicariously the triumphs of professional athletes.
But on this occasion I opened my box to discover that it contained a booklet of anti-Semitic literature. The material was of the most grossly offensive kind, but contained no publisher or author information. I was left to conclude that it had been produced by your company.
As a Jew I am obviously deeply offended by this incident. Moreover, my young daughter was exposed to the booklet; as a result, I was forced to explain to her the realities of anti-Semitism far earlier than I had hoped. My wife and I had planned to wait several years before having this talk with her. We have even experienced marital problems and difficulties with shared intimacy as a result of this incident.
I hope that you will address this matter in a manner befitting your professional reputation. I await your reply/apology.
Buffalo, New York
Dear Mr. Weinstein:
Thank you for contacting General Mills regarding the material you found in our Wheaties.
We regret to inform you that our food products have been used by a group in the New Jersey area as a vehicle to distribute literature. These flyers have been placed into ours as well as other manufacturer's food packages at various grocery chains for the past several months.
General Mills is cooperating with New Jersey law enforcement agencies and other consumer product companies. Until this situation is taken care of, we extend our sincere apologies to those that this material is aimed as well as consumers who purchased product that this material was found in.
We would like to retrieve this pamphlet for our quality control department. A self-addressed stamped envelope will be sent to you for this purpose.
We apologize for the concern this has caused your family. In keeping with our quality guarantee a gift selection of coupons will also be sent to you.
Dear Red Lobster,
First of all, let me just start by saying a great big THANK YOU for inventing and operating the BEST DAMN RESTAURANT ON THE PLANET! You people should run the entire country, as far as I'm concerned. I've been a devoted fan ever since my parents took me to your Springfield, PA, location for my 7th birthday. I've spent many a sleepless night all these many years wondering what it is about your establishment that I'm so drawn to, but I guess it's just the seafood lover in me, as your inspiring TV adverts so succinctly put it.
In fact, I've recently been going back over my day planners and have determined that I have visited an exciting and inviting Red Lobster restaurant at least once per week for the past 14 years and 8 months! I don't know if you keep track of such things, but do you have frequent diners Hall of Fame to honor the accomplishments of devoted RL diners such as myself? Perhaps you could also organize regional singles groups so that the biggest Red Lobster fans can meet other like-minded folk in their areas. That would be totally awesome.
Thanks again and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!
With very best wishes,
Dear Mr. McElwee,
Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Suggestions from our guests are taken very seriously, and I will be sharing your ideas.
Please be certain that Red Lobster takes suggestions from our guests very seriously, and the appropriate people will be notified of your recommendation. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your comments. Please do not hesitate to contact us, if we may be of further assistance.
I'm just writing to tell you that I think YOUR TAMPONS ARE GREAT! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!
I am a professional chef, and I think you should find more applications for your product (pardon the pun!)! I find that there are many uses for them in a kitchen, and I make all of my staff use them whenever they can!
That's right—they call me Mr. Tampax around here!
I say—let 'em!
The Buffalo Club
Well, Matt, that's interesting and I appreciate your input. But Tampax tampons are designed for women for use during their menstrual period. This is the only use we recommend.
Thanks for writing.
USA Tampax Team
Dear Sauder Woodworking folk,
Thanks a bunch for making the easiest-to-assemble wooden furniture around! Never once have I opened up one of your products to find that a vital screw or bolt was missing, as happens so often with your competitors' items. Whenever I need a piece of furniture to house my CD collection or to make hobbying interests more convenient, Sauder is the name I look to. In fact, if my first-born child (due in September) should be a boy, I intend to name him "Sauder." However, Sauder is not a very good name for a girl, I think you would agree.
Please don't ever stop doing those things you do,
Dear Mr. McElwee, Thank you for taking the time to write with your comments and compliments, we appreciate it.
Letters and e-mail such as yours puts a "smile" in our day!
Thank you again.
Tanya R. Howell
I'm just writing to tell you how impressed I am with your company and to say KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!
I think HMOs get a bad rap, and from what I hear of your company, it would be MORE THAN INAPPROPRIATE to lay the misdeeds of a few at good corporate feet such as yours. I definitely think that you are one of the top three HMOs in Connecticut!
I no longer have health insurance, but when I find a way to get it again, I plan on doing everything I can to make sure that I am covered by CONNECTICARE!
Dear Mr. Taibbi:
Thank you for your recent positive feedback. ConnectiCare continually strives toward service excellence and a level of commitment to our Members that sets us apart from other health plans. We are particularly pleased to know when we've achieved that goal.
Please let us know if there is any way to be of further assistance. We can be reached via email through our website at www.connecticare.com or by calling toll-free 1-800-251-7722.
ConnectiCare Member Services