Paul Davidson’s Red Letter Days

It’s funny because it’s true. So said Homer Simpson (and others), and Paul Davidson’s readers will agree.

Davidson has been on a two-year crusade to uncover truths that Fortune 500 firms hide from average folks. Every now and then he sends a letter, stuffed with ridiculous questions and advice, to a customer-service rep at a big company. Many of his letters—and the responses—are compiled in the newly released Consumer Joe: Harassing Corporate America One Letter at a Time.

Davidson’s lines are good, but responses from the reps are better. From Ben & Jerry’s: “We’re sorry to hear that you are seeing a psychologist because you haven’t heard from us about your flavor suggestion.” From Fisher-Price: “We apologize for the misunderstanding regarding our Bubblin’ Spa Pool. This is not a hot tub for adults, but rather a small pool for children.” From Starbucks: “I was disappointed to hear that you do not want Starbucks to continue growing.”

In perhaps the best response he received, Davidson was told that his idea for “Super Scrabble”—in which players would be connected to a wall socket and receive electric shocks when they challenged a word incorrectly—was “problematic,” and that in fact it had already been suggested by “a WWII veteran who drew on his experiences playing the game at a Japanese prisoner of war camp.” Other companies ducked Davidson’s queries—including Anheuser-Busch, which was asked how many beers a 190-pound man should drink to get buzzed “but not [be] in danger of being arrested for public drunkenness.”

“A lot of people think that writing letters to companies is a waste of time or that they’ll look silly,” says Davidson, who has written for ABC and VH1. The book “proves that these companies really do respond to even the quirkiest questions.”