I'm here to turn myself in. My life as an outlaw began with a pair of brown shoes.
Brown shoes had gotten me in trouble once before, at my high school prom. My borrowed tux looked OK, but those snobs sniggered at my brown penny loafers. Still, I think I was right about the socks - they matched my tux shirt.
Anyway, the other day I was in a bookstore, flipping through a magazine, when I saw an ad for United Parcel Service. My eyes wandered to the miniscule print at the bottom of the page.
There I learned that UPS, the UPS brandmark, and the color brown are registered trademarks of United Parcel Service of America Inc. All rights reserved.
UPS owns the color brown?
My eyes fell to my feet, and I gasped at the sight of my brown wingtips.
I tried to look calm as I crept toward the door to make my getaway. I fervently hoped nobody would notice my shoes and turn me in for violating a trademark.
Hurrying to the car, I flexed my knees until the hems of my pant legs slid down and partially covered my shoes. I wondered if this was how Groucho Marx learned his famous walk.
I shut my car door and collapsed in relief. No one could see my brown shoes. But now I was a fugitive.
How could I know that United Parcel Service owned the color brown? How could I know that they owned those three words and that combination of the three letters that begin them?
Had I broken a law enforced by whatever federal agency handles trademarks, logos, slogans, and corporate colors?
Worse than that, I had challenged a multinational corporation with uniformed operatives around the world.
You've seen the men and women in brown uniforms speeding around town in those massive brown trucks that make Hummers look like Matchbox cars.
They patrol every neighborhood in the United States, stopping their trucks to leap down with a package and walk fast to your door. After they give you the package, they reach into their holsters, pull out a brown electronic clipboard, and write things down.
Now they know where you live.
"OK," I said to myself, "you can deal with this. Just think, man. Think! How can you stay out of trouble?"
No more wearing that color or saying its name. No more asking for a Brown Cow, that wonderful chocolate-covered slab of vanilla ice cream on a stick. No more bringing my lunch in a brown paper bag. From now on, only white rice and white sugar for me.
But what about other corporate colors?
Does Pizza Hut own red? Shell probably has yellow, and the JollyGreenGiant's company could have trademarked green. The arches of gold are a no-brainer.
I decided that the safest thing to do is not say the name of the package delivery company I've offended, or any part of the name, and even avoid uttering its initials: I'll avoid the catchphrase "part and p****l." I won't talk about the *** and downs of the stock market.
Never again can I wear my sweat shirt with the initials of my alma mater, the University of Puget Sound.
Still, what about the advertising slogans of other mega-corporations? What if I inadvertently violate their trademarks?
I might take a sip of what I thought was decaf, discover it was regular coffee, and blurt out, "It's the real thing."
A friend asks me how I'm doing, and I might answer, "Fair," and then wonder how much trouble I'm in for saying half the slogan of Fox News.
I suppose I'm in trouble if I say to a harried co-worker, "You deserve a break today," or end an argument with, "All right! You win. 'Have it your way.' "
I'm beginning to wonder if I can go through life without incurring the wrath of multinational corporations backed by the US government.
"Sure you can," I tell myself. "Just do it."