in here: How to get ahead in advertising

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The Independent Culture
In every town over a certain population - say 30,000 - there's a place where the sun doesn't shine. It's called an arcade. Arcades are not the same as malls. Arcades were constructed in the Sixties and Seventies by architects who trained with firms specialising in prison extensions. Arcades are built around two or three open spaces linked by concrete tunnels. The open spaces are also sunk to foundation level with at least three storeys of office block above. The sun never penetrates for long enough to dry up the puddles in these wells. Arcades are the malaria zones of middle England.

In most arcades, there is a type of shop that never graces a high street. It calls itself, loosely, a newsagent. It has the shelves of a newsagent, the Benson and Hedges sign above the door; the bundles of leftover local freesheets mouldering on the pavement outside. It sells rubber bands, out-of-date Mother's Day cards and five types of cigarette you've never seen before. It doesn't sell newspapers. In their place, you can find publications of an obscurity you would never get from, say, Menzies. Mags whose outer cover is glossy and inner paper has been recycled by loo-roll plants: Practical Trainspotter, The Thimble Collector, True Confessions. It was in a shop like this that I found Headquarters Detective.

Headquarters Detective comes hot from America. This month's cover is emblazoned with two bikini-clad girls struggling with a large knife in running water. texas bull-dyke axe slayer! shouts the copy puff, "The full stories TV cannot tell". It is possibly the most boring magazine in the world: 5,000-word articles which grip like Vaseline. There are only so many women strangled with their own pantihose you can read about without narcotic effect. But the ads are in a class of their own. They're mail order to Nutsville. The ads in Headquarters Detective give you a speedy run-down on the American dream that no sociological tract could ever match.

What do Americans want these days, besides shopping malls and no taxes? What are their preoccupations? Getting ahead? Buying a Cadillac? Marrying their hometown honey? Er, no. It seems they want to spy on, burgle, defraud, attack, defend themselves from and get revenge on each other. Fortunately, there are businesses scattered across the continent whose sole aim is to help them do just that without ever leaving the confines of their wire-fenced, security-guard-patrolled housing estates.

The Paladin Press of Boulder, Colorado, for instance, has books covering most needs: The Revenge Encyclopaedia (for entertainment purposes only); How to Circumvent a Security Alarm in 10 Seconds or Less; the Armed-Citizen Solution to Crime in the Streets; the Pawnbroker's Handbook (How to get rich buying and selling guns, gold and other good stuff) and a video called Practical Knife Fighting for Personal Protection. This last claims to be "for academic study only".

Never mind. You can always comfort yourself with Hare Publications' Death Row annual. This impressive reference book is a "comprehensive guide to all 2,928 killers on Death Row. Basic information on all inmates is provided in its 216 pages, with special condensed reports on more than 550 murderers." And all for $19.95. Or perhaps that's too tame. How about a real-life autopsy video for the old man's birthday? There's one in here for $23.95. And you get a special bonus segment, "Embalming preparation", absolutely free.

From these pages you can buy police ID patches, blank photo ID cards with three free birth certificates; pepper sprays; new driving licences and, if the stress gets to you, an amazing natural product to get rid of haemorrhoids. You can study to be a private detective, a bail bond agent, a paralegal or a locksmith (train for a great career - or your own home business).

You might get the impression that the US is populated by paranoiacs and psychos. Not so. The Friendship Club of America proves that the flower of romance still blooms on the prairie. The Friendship Club is a bit like the back pages of Private Eye, only for correctional institute inmates. Yes, really. You always wondered where those marriages you read about started, and it's here. You could, for instance, get yourself a "lonely, sincere, pretty white female doing a life-sentence; adventurous, fun-loving. Seeks honest, caring, daring male." Or you could have a "SWM, 27, ex-armored car robber. Seeking female friend. No financial assistance wanted", or just a straight "Death Row inmate, 11 years down". Another man, soon to be released, is in search of a blonde, "22-30, sympathetic, must like the outdoor life, football". And just to prove he's got no prejudices, he tacks a two-word sentence on the end. "Rich, OK," he says. Which must come as a relief to all those lonely rich women out there.

Confused by all this choice? Don't be. There is a limitless stream of psychics lining up to offer you their counsel, and all with the backing of major stars. Dionne Warwick has a friend at the Psychic Friends Network. LaToya Jackson has her own line. (Shame she couldn't have warned her brother about Jarvis.) The Witches of Salem have the muscular backing of Brigitte Nielsen.

I'm seriously considering emigrating. That's the trouble with this country: we have no get up and go, no faith in our own power. I think, though, that some incisive advice might be called for. Something that will slice through the dross and cut to the meat of the matter. Which is why I'm calling the Lorena Bobbitt astrology network. As they say, the future is in my hands