Big discount on Greek wading pools

They seem to appear in our mailboxes, on our doorsteps or online every few days because a major retailer wants us to know “Everything in stock 15 percent off! Every single thing that we’ve got is 15 percent off for the next three days only! Just for you! Bring fat wads of cash to save fat wads of cash during out 15-percent-off everything sale! Everything, everything, everything!”

Sometimes businesses will thoughtfully note that these huge, one-time discounts on everything are just for their very best customers – even though the discount coupon package is personally addressed to “Occupant.”

And then there’s that little asterisk that follows the “15 percent off everything!” offer. It’s a tiny asterisk. It might even look like a small, squashed spider. Or an ink splatter.Who reads asterisks anyway, right? Let alone tiny, squashed spiders?

This is one asterisk you should pay attention to, though. This is the asterisk (or squashed arachnid), that will lead you to the tiny, teensy print on the bottom of the discount coupon – easily readable with a 20-power magnifying glass – that tells you exactly what “everything” really means.

Strangely enough, that tiny little asterisk magically turns “everything” into “some stuff we have for sale.”

It usually reads something like: “* Not valid for the purchase of fine jewelry, electronics, formal wear, sporting goods, footwear, auto parts, riding mowers, pet supplies, imported fragrances, lingerie, gourmet appliances or karaoke machines.”

Uh-huh.

There’s “everything” and then there’s, apparently, “everything else.”

So you gleefully grabbed your discount coupon and headed out looking for a diamond-studded collar for your Yorkshire terrier? Sorry, pal. You should have followed the tiny asterisk to the tinier print. The best you’re gonna do is find a discounted railroad-spike studded collar for your Rottweiler.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these coupons are worthless. I’m sure the retailers who send them out have plenty of stuff for sale that is 15 percent off without a single asterisk excluding sale.

Greek wading pools are always popular. So are those giant teakwood spoon-and-fork sets you can hang in your kitchen.

(The latter item, I should point out, has been a retail “doorbuster” since the end of World War II. Every retired Air Force colonel in Solano County has at least one set…).

Batteries from Sri Lanka, alien head key chains, talking screwdrivers and baby rattles that play “Ticket to Ride” are sure to be in abundance among the temporarily discounted merchandise. And don’t forget the towering displays of pet rocks, disposable morticians’ instruments and kites that look like pirate ships.

Ah, what a difference an asterisk can make…

Originally published July 2, 2006