A few months ago I got paid $150 to talk about cheese.
Sweet gig, right? Yup, even in these troubled times, focus groups are still paying good money, and seeing how my unofficial title is the Wizard of Cheese, this cheesly study was right up my alley.
Even better than the cash or the opportunity to lord my cheese wizardry over total strangers was the promise of hilarious blog fodder. What isn’t funny about a roomful of people talking about cheese? But I left that day with only an envelope of bills, my smug satisfaction, and the following lone note, which I’d written in the ladies room:
On the inside stall is an ad for a feminine product called “Flushables,” but below it is a handwritten note: “Don’t flush.” Confusing. Also, “Flushables” sounds like a snack food.
But! I scored another focus group; this time about cell phones. Hmmm. I own a cell phone. Surely I’d be perfect. I was subjected to about an hour of torturous questioning over the phone. From the way the poor girl was talking, I pictured each question on its own separate Post-It, hidden in various rooms of a big house.
Some of the questions gave me hope that the focus group wouldn’t be ALL about cell phones.
If you were given $500,000 to write a book, what would you write about and why?
I had to spell “memoir,” which made me feel both sad and a little mean, so when she asked, “What are your two favorite brands?” I answered Haagen Dazs and Rohypnol.
Regardless of my cell phone ignorance (and my allegiance to a date-rape drug), I got in. In the waiting room, there were more questions. I listened as a lady asked one of the potential participants what sort of commercial he might like to see for a cell phone.
“How about instead of throwing a shoe at Bush, someone throws a cell phone. It’s for YOU!”
Mmmm. Delicious blog fodder.
There were five of us in the conference room, all staring self-consciously into the two-way mirror. My ineptitude was revealed quickly when we were asked to jot down whatever words came to mind when we thought of Sprint.
Everyone else was scribbling madly. Damn! Was Sprint the “Can you hear me now” one? I took as long as I could to write out “c-e-l-l p-h-o-n-e,” making elaborate curlicues and flourishes. We’d been told there are no wrong answers but not that there are no dumb answers.
Then we had to do the same with Nextel. The others came up with “push-to-talk” (wha-a-a-a?), “walkie talkie,” and “construction workers.” I had
Next: the next step. Tel: telephone
I could sense the disapproving glares from behind the mirror.
Finally, we had to write about Boost. I felt a little better that the older guy to my right had written “energy drink.” I wrote “I am a dumbass.”
It was a long two hours, my friends. And maybe it wasn’t the hilarious blog experience I’d hoped for, but at least they paid me.
When I got home, I found solace with one of my best friends. Cheese, you never let me down.