Un-PC greeting cards set smart alecks free

Northwest Portland pair find a friendly market for nontraditional cards
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Tom Polzin and Kris Jones, both ex-Lakeridge High classmates, produce their off-the-wall, in-your-face greeting cards at their Northwest Portland home.

Trying to toe the creative line between being crass and boring, Kris Jones and Tom Polzin, former high school classmates and longtime friends, have entered the business of catchy greeting cards.

Except their Roast Greeting Card Company is just a bit different from the traditional Hallmark and other established cards you'd find in any grocery or card store. Jones and Polzin take a 'refreshingly non-politically correct' approach to their greetings from their Northwest Portland house/headquarters.

They've even had a gay friend write cards for gays and lesbians, leaning toward gay marriage.

'Happy Birthday, Homo' reads one of the covers … 'You're officially old enough to be a gay cougar' goes the punchline.

'Congrats on coming out!' reads another . . . 'Who knew? (Everyone)'

Jones, 36, a freelance designer, says the duo started thinking about greeting cards one summer day in 2008, when they needed to buy one. So, one brainstorming session later, they had 20 ideas for smart-aleck cards, and their business, influenced by celebrity roasts and Seinfeld-esque humor, had been born.

'We've grown tired of everything in today's world having to be PC,' Jones says. 'We wanted to create a line of greeting cards that were irreverent, topical and humorous.

'Sometimes people are saying things that are so flippin' true, but they don't have the guts to put it into print.'

Roast does some online business (www.roastgreetings.com), with cards also sold in retail shops. Jones says Powell's City of Books in downtown will soon carry the cards.

Polzin, 39, a counselor at Highland Park Middle School in Beaverton, won't give up his day job anytime soon. But, eventually, he and his girlfriend hope the greeting card business takes off.

Shock cards for friends

Jones says their greeting cards are not for every friendly exchange, only for those people 'you can tease and play with who are close to you.' And, they've pushed for greeting cards between men because, as Polzin says, 'it's a male-bonding thing . . . The more you're ripped on, the more you feel loved . . . And, we've heard men don't buy (cards) because they're too foofy or written by women.'

'Happy Birthday, tool.' reads one . . . 'No, seriously, you're a tool.'

'Just checking in …' goes another . . . 'because last night I had a dream you died.'

'I was going to call you …' . . . 'but somehow I just carried on with my life.'

Roast has made about 70 greeting cards, with Polzin and others writing them and Jones designing them. They're not ornate, just simple. They're printed on paper made from 100 percent post-consumer waste.

A University of Oregon grad, Polzin has written some cards ripping OSU fans. The duo has developed sets of cards for the UO-OSU and Washington-Washington State and other rivalries. Jones went to WSU.

But, mostly it's about shock cards that appeal to friends.

'Nobody does this style of card,' Jones says. 'There are a lot of card makers in Portland, a lot of creativity out there, and a lot are funny and cartoonish . . . but not the refined feel where you open it and get that zinger.'

Polzin and Jones come up with ideas through different avenues, and Polzin writes most of them. He doesn't fancy himself a comedian or wordsmith, and the words on cards take time to hone.

'I try to be short and simple and get the point across,' Polzin says. 'It definitely was an evolution, and our line is stronger than ever.'

Facebook greetings

Roast has some social network-themed cards.

'I was thinking we should have a drink to catch up …' one of them goes . . . 'but your frequent Facebook updates make that unnecessary.'

'You are a great friend' . . . 'But it would really be best if we could just keep it on Facebook.'

With the Internet so prevalent in people's lives, one wonders why somebody would start a greeting card company. But, that's the point, Jones and Polzin say, because somebody who really cares for you would send a greeting card and not just post a note on Facebook.

Some cards have not worked. Polzin says the couple took about half of their inventory out of circulation to concentrate on the ones that worked.

Two of the shelved cards that just didn't quite have the zing or lacked sensitivity:

'What comes around goes around . . . I wish you'd stop coming around.'

'Aren't new babies cute? . . . Don't you wish yours was?'

But the cards that work are certainly unique in their bite.

Roast does have a baby greeting card in circulation, celebrating one of the wondrous moments in somebody's life, meant to be sent by somebody without kids:

'Congratulations on your new baby!' . . . 'I'm sure it's all really fascinating for you.'