New cards call for new outlook

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Greeting card aisles put a lot of pressure on the average woman. We agonize over finding the ideal picture with the ideal sentiment.

Why do you think there are so many different lines of greeting cards? There are country-style cards and post-modern cards. There are cards specifically for Latino and African-American consumers. Some are blank inside and some have long poems that female recipients read and male recipients pretend to read.

So there were plenty of fellow perplexed women standing nearby when I visited the card aisle of my favorite drug store last week, frantically trying to decide between "thinking of you" and "with sympathy" cards for a friend who lost a distant relative I never met.

And then, there it was, the most horrible idea in greeting cards I'd ever encountered.

Oh, I've become accustomed to the slightly offbeat ones. There are cards for "brand new love" and "mourning your pet" and "so you're pregnant with twins." But this one took the cake.

It was under the heading "troubled relationship." It had a flower on the front, and the message inside was something like, "I think what we have is worth saving. Don't you?"

Note to women: If you are having a problem with your boyfriend, do NOT under any circumstances hand him a greeting card asking whether he thinks the relationship is worth saving. You don't want to know the answer. And if you don't have the nerve to discuss the situation out loud rather than in print, again, you know the answer.

Then it hit me. This "troubled relationship" card was ahead of the curve. It is opening the pathway for a whole segment of the card industry devoted to dealing with difficult situations.

And these new cards will need a creative and courageous woman to put the right words at consumers' fingertips. Forget fighting for truth, justice and the American Way through print journalism. A new career beckons me.

Of course, I'll need samples of my work.

For instance, as people become increasingly more comfortable revealing their alternative lifestyles, there are going to be those messy opposite-sex boyfriends and girlfriends to deal with.

What could be easier, or more convenient, than handing a straight hanger-on a greeting card with picture of a heart cracked down the middle.

The poem inside would be:

"I'm embracing who I am.

I made the choice today.

Yes, my dear, I've 'come out'

and you must go away."

It would come with a fold-out bag for the return of any belongings left at each other's apartments over the course of the relationship.

A friend of mine is in her mid-30s and, after much nagging, is having the first female checkup of her life today. Another friend, inspired by Katie Couric's story, had his first colonoscopy recently. There should be a card congratulating people who take on unpleasant medical examinations.

The card could have a shiny new speculum on the cover. The poem inside would be:

"I hope your gown was big enough,

and the doctor's hands were warm.

And if you keep taking care,

you'll delay buying the farm."

The card company could make it into a money holder for senders who want to help their friends defray today's high medical costs.

And then what about those awkward situations at the office when a disliked co-worker accepts another job and resigns?

It would be hypocritical to give a card that reads, "We'll miss you" or "Best of luck!" But giving some kind of card signed by the entire staff is standard procedure, even though you're not going to miss that person.

How about a card that is honest without being harsh?

"You got a new job. That's good to hear!"

Hallmark, you have my number.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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