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Virtual Gifts on the WWW.

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  So you've survived Valentine's Day--a holiday that requires us to spend a significant portion of our already pathetic paychecks on expensive flowers, food and candies in a yearly attempt to curry favor with our loved ones. If it weren't such a blatant money-grubbing scheme on the part of greeting-card companies (who just recently cracked the growing "suicide sympathy card" market), the whole thing would be laughable. So here you are, Bubbie, the week after, broke and basking in the glow of generosity. So what happens now if the object of your affections expects such generosity on a regular basis? You're tapped out, Charlie. What are you gonna do? How about sending a free "virtual" gift off the Internet. It's cheap, easy and has all the lasting appeal of pet rocks.

Virtual Florist (www.virtualflorist.com/)--Now the first thing you have to keep in mind when visiting this site is that these folks actually do sell real flowers. The Internet Florists Association does hawk corporal posies over the net. Of course, we're only interested in the fake (and free) stuff. Ignore all the advertising and click over to the virtual florist page. From here you can choose from a pleasingly large pictorial selection of roses, balloons and--most amusingly--characters holding flowers and balloons (a knight, a tough guy, a penguin). Check off the image you want sent, fill out your e-mail address and the e-mail address of your intended, and you've sent a cute little virtual gift to your loved one for no cost whatsoever. Of course, the folks at Virtual Florist will now hound you for the rest of your natural life with e-mails begging you to buy real flowers.

Bacardi SpicePad (www.bacardi.com/spice/napkin)--Then again, perhaps flowers are too much of a commitment. Perhaps you just want to send a little something to that cutie you met in the bar last night. Go to this page (maintained by Bacardi, the rum distillers extraordinaire), and you can send a virtual cocktail napkin inscribed with whatever message you like (up to 150 characters). There are only two napkin designs to choose from, but with 150 characters, I'm sure you can come up with some original content. Phone numbers are always good.

Cocktail Club (www.cocktailclub.com/cocktailclub/)--If you can't quite lure the object of your affections with flowers and cocktail napkins, maybe you need to get him or her drunk. Try sending out a virtual cocktail. This excellent repository for inebriating recipes and other bits of cocktail lore allows you to send a virtual cocktail (complete with recipe, personal message and "reason for sending") to the person of your choice. You can only send a 25 character message along with the cocktail, but the "reasons for sending" are worth the price of admission. You can choose anything from the traditional "Happy Birthday" to the blunt "I Wanna Get You Drunk" to the intriguing "You, Me and Melrose Place." Choose a salaciously-titled cocktail ("Slow Comfortable Screw" or "Sex on the Beach") for added impact.

Virtual Beer (www.clarkson.edu/~johnsoid/cgi/beer.htm)--Then again, maybe you don't have whoopie in mind. Maybe you just want to get something nice for a platonic friend. How about sending out a virtual beer? Now, you can only choose a Sam Adams on this particular site; but don't worry, there are several varieties to choose from (Cream Stout anyone?). The person at the other end of your e-mail not only receives a tasty-looking picture of their favorite beer, they also get a short description of said suds ( just like a magazine ad, only electronic). If you want, you can scrawl a short message on the back of the bottle--something like, "Here's a beer. Sorry you can't drink it, you pathetic lush."

Card of the Week (www.cardcentral.net)--Sometimes, though, you just need to say it in words. This site has got what you need. From here, you can link to hundreds of different sites which offer 100 percent free e-mail postcards. You can browse by name or by category (Valentine's Day, Birthdays, Christmas). If you don't have the time or patience, you can just click on the "Card of the Day." The kind folks at Card Central seem very eager to help you. Why send a dull old e-mail when you can send a lovely electronic card with a kitty cat on it or some such crap? All this and no postage to pay!


devin@alibi.com


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