Oh! I just realized it’s an anniversary! When I went to look up what was the best story from 10 years ago, I realized that there were really two: Mike the Headless Chicken, and the story that led a reader to tell me I was, positively and without doubt, going to hell.
What a Great Week!
Confused reader “Santa” (never mind that’s an anagram of “Satan”) condemned me. When I told her that True’s Consulting Pastor not only didn’t have a problem with the story, he laughed at it, she condemned him to hell too!
After looking through Santa’s comments, Premium subscriber Ed in Connecticut dropped me a note suggesting I “institute the ‘Get A Life’ Award for weenies like Santa. This could be bigger than the Darwin Awards, I tell you.”
And boy, was he right. But somehow that idea triggered something else in my rather warped brain. If Santa can condemn me to hell at the snap of her mind, why shouldn’t I have the power to counter her? She shouldn’t have a Monopoly on this stuff!
And Something Great was Borne of Chaos
I announced in the next issue I had ordered up 2,000 “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, which I had designed myself. I call them “GOOHF” cards (pronounced, of course, “goof”.)
I offered the cards to True’s readers for the cost of printing, packing and postage: $5 for 50 cards. [Though later, after seven postage increases, I finally had to kick the price up a little to help pay for shipping.]
My wife thought I was crazy to order so many cards — she thought 2,000 would last decades. But they were sold out within the first few days — and this was before I had a shopping cart, or even Paypal. People were sending cash and checks through the mail!
I ordered 2,000 more, and they disappeared just as fast. I increased the order to 5,000, then 10,000, then 20,000 — and ordered again and again, making the printer think I was crazy!
But the cards shot out the door at an alarming rate. The recent print runs are 60,000 cards at a time. In the almost ten years since I’ve introduced them, we’ve sold 1.4 million cards. We had to add “jumbo packs” (boxes of cards, rather than just packs of 50 or 100) to keep up with demand.
It may be the first example of an “off-line” viral product to promote an online site. It’s certainly the first successful example I know of!
Then a Saber Rattled
Hasbro (the makers of MONOPOLY®) was upset by them, but I had better lawyers (read: I refused to comply with their “Cease and Desist” demand; the cards are an obvious — and Constitutionally protected — parody).
They tried again in 2009, “forgetting” that they chose not to persecute the parody. Since then, I’ve not only been awarded a copyright registration on the card, but also a federal trademark registration on the phrase “Get Out of Hell Free” (or, if I may: Get Out of Hell Free®!) as it applies to a card motif.
There have been a lot of GOOHF-related items introduced in the past decade, including stickers, coffee mugs (coming again before the end of the year), T-shirts (also coming again soon, I hope!), plastic cards, luggage tags, laser-engraved sticky note holders, and more.
And the real beauty, a gorgeous full-color, two-sided, “deluxe” glossy version of the card for the same old price! (Ironically, the original “classic” card now costs more to print than the “deluxe” one, and is priced slightly higher. We’re not printing more of those; when they’re gone, they’ll be withdrawn from sale.)
As I went along, a reader wrote to say “You know, the domain name GetOutOfHellFree.com is available.” Duh! I snapped it up immediately, putting up a new site with details about the cards. More than a year after that, a reader said “You know, the domain name goohf.com is available.” D’oh! I snapped it up immediately, too; it’s a shortcut to get to the same site. (Do I have great readers, or what?!)
I’ve found over the years that 99% of the population has a nice sense of humor about the cards. Yeah, including the religious: a huge number of ministers, priests, and pastors have bought them over the years, sometimes by the thousands. (Two priests posted to the Vatican carry them, and one sometimes wears his GOOHF T-shirt under his cassock.)
I’ve developed two “slogans” for the cards over the years: “Don’t leave this earthly plane without one” (and I’ve had several reports of readers tossing a card into a relative’s casket before it was closed), and “Sin all you want: We’ll print more.”
I’m very secure in my spiritual beliefs, and have never felt the need to try to convince others to believe the same way I do. It’s terrific fun to give out cards: harried waitresses, postal clerks, and anyone having a bad day absolutely light up when I hand them one. I think my attitude and sense of humor about this have resonated with readers, who are also tired of people telling them what to think, and how to believe — that’s how I explain sales of 1.4 million cards.
So if you feel the same way, you’re invited to get some cards too.