Wednesday, April 11, 2012


In 1983 I had a stroke of genius, or so I thought.

I was unhappy with my career in retail and ready for a change. One evening after a grueling day of peddling hardware I picked up one of Mrs. Chatterbox’s decorating magazines and noticed that a few of the rooms on display had reproductions of famous paintings, not prints but high caliber oil copies. I had a degree in Fine Arts and I decided to try and make a go of it as a painter. Creating copies for rich clients might be a lucrative way to start. If somebody wanted Gainsborough’s Blue Boy hanging above their fireplace and couldn’t convince the Huntington Library in San Marino to part with it, they could call me and I’d come up with the next best thing—a superbly painted copy. And if they wanted Lawrence’s famous Pinkie hanging on the opposite wall, I could paint that as well.

Before launching my business I needed to come up with a snappy name. I chose Masterstrokes which, I believed, said it all. I checked the Department of Licenses, Permits and Registrations at the State Capital to be certain nobody was already using the name, and when I learned it was available I licensed it and had business cards printed up. I bought an ad in the yellow pages, mailed out flyers to local interior decorators and waited for the calls to pour in. I had a good feeling about this venture. I couldn’t help wondering what I’d be asked to copy first, maybe a Canaletto or perhaps a Rembrandt. But things didn’t go as planned.

No art lovers or interior decorators called to offer me fat commissions to replicate old masters; the calls I received all came late at night. The first call went something like this:

Ring. Ring. Ring.

“Er…hello?” I asked, trying to shake the cobwebs from my head.

“Hi, how you doing?”

“I’m doing all right. Who is this?”

“I’m someone calling to inquire about your services.”

“My services?”

“Yes, this is Masterstrokes, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.”

“Good, good; that’s why I’m calling. What do you charge?”

“Well, it depends on how big a job it is.”

“Believe me when I say I have a big job.”

“That’s wonderful. Some things are harder to do than others.”

“You’re absolutely right, and what I have in mind is really hard, exceptionally hard.”

“Great. There’s nothing I can’t do; I went to college to learn my craft and I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m very good.”

“I believe you.”

“I also offer a money-back guarantee. If you aren’t satisfied, you pay nothing.”


“You can go anywhere and get the cheap stuff.”

“That’s been my experience.”

“I deal in quality.”

“Great! You know, my wife is interested in getting in on this too. Would she be extra?”


Mrs. C. was now awake and listening in. After a few minutes she looked at me like I had “moron” embossed on my forehead. She reached over to disconnect the call.

“Masterstrokes, my ass!” she mumbled as she struggled to get back to a night of fitful sleep.

Neither of us would sleep well until the new phone book arrived without an ad for Masterstrokes.

Have you ever had a business venture, or an idea for one, that just didn't work out?


  1. I must have a sick mind because I immediately went to the dark side when I read "Masterstrokes." My mom and I were involved in a business called "The Complete Exhibitionists" that made museum type installations. I don't think we ever got any "service" calls.

  2. “Masterstrokes, my ass!” Haha! Such eloquence!

    No, I never had a double entendre business name. I'm a homebuilder and I originally thought, in the interest of brevity, I'd name my company "Halo Homes". Then I could just answer the phone and say, "Halo". Seemed like a good idea at the time. More sober minds prevailed, however. ;)


  3. Oh, I saw where this was going... there are sick folks out there! The only business I had of my own was selling lemonade and rocks when I was a kids. My grandparents were the only customers...

  4. This is a good story to keep in mind whenever I think I should go into business for myself.

  5. HaHa! I did wonder why the phone went dead. A friend of mine went to evening classes learning how to re-cane chairs. Her advert for stripping and caning brought in a lot of sad people too.

  6. Ha! Too bad it didn't work out for you. It sounds like a fun idea.

    Frank signed up to play cribbage online with a fishing term nickname. He was perplexed that people were coming into the "room" to simply proposition him rather than to play cribbage. "Who comes to a cribbage room to mess around? Why me?" he wondered. Evidently there are those who were intrigued with "DraggedTooTight" ;)

    Here's a web page with some unfortunate online business names.

  7. My mind went there before I even finished reading the story. Hel-Lo!!! What were you thinking? Anyway, I copied a Rembrandt once myself...Man with a Golden Helment...don't know what happened to that painting. Have a good day, Stephen. Laurel

  8. That was hilarious!!!!! I have to admit, I didn't give the name of your business a second thought undil the phonecall!!

  9. Seemingly, we all have dirty minds. I, too, went right for the base reaction to the Masterstrokes name. BUT, I can't imagine having the talent to reproduce a painting.(I am talking any painting, let alone a Masterpiece) I find that kind of talent astonishing. I am drawing some cartoons for my blog and they look like a 2nd grader did them. An untalented, left handed working with his right hand, 2nd grader.

  10. hello you!
    Great story, yep, had a designer wedding cake business for almost 8 years that just wouldn't truly get off the ground. I did some cakes in wedding season, maybe 10-20 per year but the biggest frustration was brides asking for seriously stuuupid sh&t! Let me say... THERE ARE NO SUCH THING AS BLUE ROSES!!! Grrr. "umm, could you make us two dragons sitting on a motorcycle but integrate your beautiful flowers around us, so we look like we're in the garden of Eden??" Even worse, they then wanted this masterpiece for the same price that a grocery store sold their cakes for!! I mean what makes a bridal couple think that they can get the same cake as Mariah Carey with 12 tiers and hand made realistic flowers cascading down it for $400?
    Grrr again. I'm actually really glad that cupcakes finally put the nail in the coffin of the business. One just cannot put a hand made flower on 250 cupcakes and NOT have it cost $5000, lol.
    Thanks for stopping by, you're right about contests. I was pretty sure they wouldn't pick well, all I had to do was look at the 3 past winners.. Yeesh!
    PS. a couple of my cakes are pictured in the first few posts I ever wrote, if you wanted to see. lol.

  11. I had to read right to the end to figure out what you were going on about. Trouble is, everything I think of commenting now sounds like a double entendre

  12. Are you doing A to Z? If so, we are on letter J and not M. But a brilliantly written post as always.

  13. My mind went there immediately too. I just know you well enough to know that you get yourself into one scrape after another. You certainly must keep your wife amused all the time. Bwahahahahahaha.

    No I've never wanted to run my own business. I was a cop and that's exactly what I was meant to be. I loved every minute of my career.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  14. I've met a few massage therapists with unfortunately chosen business names. Not that they were that bad, but in that business, anything WILL be misinterpreted. Two female therapists were fine on the name, but the photo of themselves for the ad was a bit too pretty, and even I read it as suggestive, which they didn't at all intend.

  15. You are such an innocent, well at least you used to be. I bet your wife gets a chuckle regularly with your misguided judgments. This is really funny. Too bad you didn't get work from it though.

  16. You are a master-stroke-er of words too my friend! Keep up the good work! Another awesome post!


  17. Funny story, but i'm sorry you had to lose sleep to be able to tell it.

  18. ok - so that is funny, but i love the picture even more

  19. I had an online writing & editing service. The Web site was up for about two years. I had 0 customers. I handed out business cards, post cards for 50% off, told everyone who'd listen. Zero, zip, nada. So now I correct everyone's grammar for free.


  20. i know a lot of men who would consider themselves masterful strokers, but they kept it pretty much in the private sector.
    i know someone who hired a company called "pane in the glass" to clean all the windows in their house. they were robbed by those pains in the gl-ass.

  21. It would appear we have about the same business acumen after all.

  22. Um, like some others, I saw it coming.

  23. I have to say I'm digging on the illustration as well - even more camp than the Burt Ward version. ;)

  24. Hahaha!!! Masterstrokes! But really, I am impressed with your painting skills;)
    My biggest flop was nursing school. I enrolled because—well, I needed money and nurses make good money. I figured it would pay off. Wrong! I hated nursing school and the only thing that got paid off (just this year) were my student loans. I dropped out after spending thousands on tuition and books and spent two years taking prerequisites for the nursing program. I even pulled off a 4.0 in order to get into the program. Note to self: all that bleeds is not gold;)

  25. I'm not creative or driven enough to be in business for myself, so I'll never have to think about a name. I used to live in Buffalo, New York, and the most amusing sign for a business there is for a funeral home founded and owned to this day by an Italian family.

    Their name?


  26. No business ventures for me. But a few years ago, I was puzzled by the name of a new local restaurant: Out of R Mines Pizza. This is an old lead-mining area. And if there's one thing you don't want in your pizza, it's any remnants of lead. Then again, you don't want regular pizza served up by crazy folk, either. The establishment has since changed hands. And names.

  27. No business ideas for me yet. However, I do plan on starting a party planning business, combined with my audiovisual skills. But it's still too early for that.

  28. Yes, I never had a business, but I have a feeling I would have missed the meaning, especially if someone called early in the morning. I probably would have asked them to call during regular business hours. Then there would have been a LOT of confusion...


  29. No such venture so far :).

    You are so awesome :)

  30. LOL, Mrs. C saves the day again. I'm noticing a theme here.


  31. I guess I am stupid, my mind did not go to under cover work until the very end. Sad it did not work out. I sewed for a while for other people but they wanted too many stiches for a dime

  32. That can't be true! Is it true? That can't be true! Is it true? Okay, that's funny stuff.

    1. Thanks for linking this up with us over at #findingthefunny last week! I'd say it was appropriate. Ha!