Tuesday, May 31, 2005

#43 Freedom Shampoo

I heard this ad for a new shampoo. “Garnee-ay Frook-tis.” Sounded kinda special. A little elegant. A little mysterious. A little...foofy. Of course, without hearing the name pronounced I never would have got it. It’s spelled Garnier Fructis. But when you pronounce it the way they do, you’re willing to pay quite a bit more for it. Why? Well, because it sounds French of course. Hmm.
Is it just me or do Americans have a conflicted position when it comes to the French? We really want to like them it seems, but we really want to hate them too. It probably goes back to the revolution. We really appreciated their help but, after all, we kinda had to beg for it. And no self-respecting American likes to beg for anything. Much less a dandified pre-Napoleonic French navy. How dare they criticize our uniforms? Things were tough at Valley Forge; we didn’t have a lot of time to worry about accessorizing thank you very much. Maybe we feel a little guilty because later we got such a wicked deal on the Louisiana Purchase. For a supposedly progressive populist, old Jefferson was a righteous real estate wheeler-dealer. France definitely took it in the pantaloons on that one.
Still, we did kind of give them their country back on a couple of occasions. They gave us a nice statue for New York harbor. And originally lent us an architect for designing our capitol, but he was fired cause he couldn’t get along with the powers that be. Go figure. Seems to be the nub of our problem. French folks and American folks, on a person to person level, usually get along just fine. But when their respective mother countries get involved; watch out! Like the country song said. Love builds the bridges but pride builds the walls.
In any event, when we had the last go-round in our international catfight with that whole weapons of mass destruction thing, Americans in government and red states jumped in with a frenzy to deplore all things French. There is not a little irony in the fact that many of the red states were acquired in the aforementioned Louisiana real estate boondoggle.
But the truth is, excising everything French from our national vocabulary would be pretty tough. All “avenues” and “boulevards” would have to be changed to “streets” and “roads.” Bouillabaisse would have to be called fish soup. What would we call Bouillon cubes? Gravy nuggets? Good old American Bourbon was named after the ruling family of France. What would you give your lover, if not a bouquet? Here Hon, have a bunch of dead flowers. And what would we do without that quintessentially American condiment? Mayonnaise. Hey you, pass the egg-white-sauce.
So before we start talking about freedom fries and freedom toast, we ought to consider the consequences (a word from the Old French, by the way, meaning to follow after—as in one congressman after another getting on the fry-the-French bandwagon.)
Personally, I’m a red-blooded American tried and true. Last night me and my wife engaged in a patriotic and rather steamy session of freedom kissing.
America, Ya Gotta Love It.

#42 Always On

Ever since the fifties, when electricity became widely available, the powers that be have been pushing us to consume it like there’s no tomorrow. Hydroelectric dams, coal-fired steam turbines, and nuclear plants galore have all churned out the happy and useful electrons and pumped them onto our nationwide grid.
A little known fact about electricity is that it’s a use it or lose it proposition. If we all started conserving tomorrow, many of the power plants would simply have to cut production. Darn. And what would we do without all that coal smoke and radioactivity? See, there ain’t no big rechargeable batteries sitting somewhere holding power for us during light times and squirting it back out during the air conditioner season. Nobody’s ever been able to, or had the incentive to, invent such a system. The closest thing we have to power storage is potential power storage. Dams. So, in case you’re wondering, we probably won’t see ancient salmon runs restored anytime soon. Damn.
An unrelated environmental factoid. If we all got new tires today, we’d save as much oil in fuel economy as all the estimated reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But guess what? The Les Schwab lobby isn’t nearly as effective as Exxon’s. Too bad, cause as far as I know, Les Schwab never crashed a boat into Alaska and spilled jillions of gallons of tires all over its pristine beaches either. Where was I?
Oh yeah. The society of consumption. I fight a losing battle trying to get my kids to turn off things. They got to have the radio on, the TV running silently, the computer fired up and ten Instant Message windows sending pubescent chit-chat back and forth. All the while with a phone wedged between their shoulder and head. They’ve begged and pleaded with me to get a headpiece earphone phone but I’ve resisted. Them getting a crick in their neck is the only weapon I have to curtail phone over-usage. As it is now, a relative can die and be buried before anyone can get through to tell me about it.
Still, when you hear the ads from the cable company about high speed broadband, the biggest part of the pitch is not having to wait for a dial-up connection. “Always on,” they say. As if that’s one of the levels of heaven. To my kids that also means the computer should be “always on.” They’re not alone. Lots of people like to have their computers always on. I, for one, turn mine off when it’s not in use, being from the “fire it up only when you use it” school of life. People say, hey Funny Guy, think of your computer like a refrigerator. It’s always on and you only occasionally reach in an get something. I say, think of it like a car. You only turn it on when you’re going somewhere. I think my analogy works better. Cause computers are mostly about words. And not only can words take you somewhere, they don’t need to be chilled to preserve their freshness.
And if turning the damn thing off means saving power, and a couple more gallons of water behind the dam, all the better. Someday I might be thirsty.
America, Ya Gotta Love It.

Friday, May 27, 2005

#41 Nerbs and Vouns

We live in the age of the computer. Whoever hasn’t gotten online by now probably never will. And for the most part, once the original zeal wears down for wasting endless hours surfing the internet and washing up on the various rocks of spam, porn, and home business opportunities, the computer is a great way to ply the seas of information. But there are some word-related things regarding computers and there microchip offshoots that have cropped up since Bill Gates first invented DOS. Seems like we’re constantly having to reinvent language to accommodate the new technologies.
Like the terms push, press, and strike. I completely wore out my first keyboard because all those computer instructions said, “strike any key when ready.” A “strike” to me is a sharp blow. We haven’t had to strike keys since the days of the manual Underwood. And “Push” doesn’t seem to get the action over quickly enough. If you push an “X” key you’ll have a page full of X’s before you know it. “Press” is probably the most accurate word but, let’s face it, it sounds a little wimpy.
Same with our other new tool of the apocalypse, the cellphone. Saying we’re “dialing” someone’s number is completely disengaged from today’s reality. My 14-year-old asked me why we say “dial a number” the other day. I realized she’d never seen a dial on a phone. Now we “enter” numbers or “press” or “touch” the number on the keypad. But if it’s a friend, we still say we “speed-dialed” him. There’s an anachronism and an oxymoron all in the same new word. If you tried to “speed-dial” a phone in the fifties you’d have broken the darn ratchet wheel. Instant communication to us was picking up the phone and finding someone else on the party line. But hell, today we can play video games and take secret pictures with our cellphones, why should we care about a word for what we do when we call someone else. We can even eliminate the whole voice aspect of phones. We can “text-message” someone. Or “instant message” someone. Or simply, “message” someone.
That’s right, we don’t send someone a message. We “message” them. That’s the 21st century, in a phrase. Everybody changing nouns into verbs. Or should I say everybody Verb-ing nouns. I “message” someone instead of sending someone a message. I “task” someone to do something rather than giving someone a task. And instead of looking something up on the internet using the Google search engine, I google it. In the past tense: I googled it. Conjugate please. I had googled, I have googled, I will google, I am googling.
Oogley, boogley, googley.
America, ya gotta love it.

#40 Rumbling Man

So I’m out at the supermarket the other day. I know, it’s a guy thing. I’m heading back to my car with a full load of groceries and my arms are going numb because I’m trying to keep my cart under control on one of those new bumpy walkway things. You know the ones. Either because they think we’re stupid—and might actually wander in the main lane of car traffic—or because some parking lot feng shui specialist convinced them this was all the rage in supermarket external decor, every big box from here to Peoria has suddenly started paving their pedestrian walkways with these giant bumpy slabs of faux-flagstone. They kind of look ceramic but it’s a fair bet it’s some sort of colored and molded cement. Originally they had a more luminescent finish as well, but that proved to be a little too slickery in wetter climates and conked noggin- and twisted ankle-lawsuits started to queue up at the courthouses so now they’re more roughened, less pretty, and less like a cement slip-and-slide.
I guess the idea was that the rumbling of tires on these strips was supposed to warn drivers that they were in an area of pedestrian traffic so they’d better slow down. And at the same time direct pedestrians to these zones for their parking lot safety. Unfortunately, a four foot-wide strip that’s anything less bumpy that a 6-inch tall speed bump doesn’t exactly register on the tires of a vehicle doing thirty-five, dashing to get the space opening up three aisles down. And as far as pedestrians are concerned, concentrating them on this narrow walkway, far from making them safe, actually lines them up as a better target. By the time the car driver feels the rumble the pedestrian is a speed bump.
What the dang things do do, however, is make it extremely annoying to run a shopping cart across them. For the same minor bumps that a car so comfortably ignores, are excruciatingly painful to a poor husband piloting a non-shock absorber-ed inflexible metal basket with solid wheels. See, in case you haven’t noticed, cobblestone streets went out of favor roundabout the middle ages because they were so freaking stupid. The first macadam-paved street was an instant success, to the feet of humans and animals, the butt bones of iron-wheeled wagoneers and the bladders of middle-aged heavy coffee drinkers from Notre Dame to Winchester Cathedral.
So, Shopping Center Developers, if you really need to provide a pedestrian pathway, just paint one on the pavement for gosh sake. A little diamond lane thing for us weary walkers. Cause once I finally do get to my car, I’m sick an tired of popping open a Pepsi and having it spray all over the dang place cause it spent the last five minutes being all shook up on your lovely lumpy lane. Not to mention the pre-scrambled milky eggs I crack open later on when I’m whipping up a quiche for my wife. See, I figure I’d much rather risk wrenching my neck dodging an occasional bad driver than getting a guaranteed carpal tunnel flare-up pushing a shopping cart. Though those pile-driver forearms do look kind of manly.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

#39 Yes I Hate Roundabouts

So I’m out driving the other day. And I come up to one of those new roundabouts small cities are scattering all over the landscape, and I suddenly curse and jam on the brakes. Damn! There’s this guy that has come to a complete stop at the edge of the roundabout. I haven’t even been slowing down because I can see from six blocks off that there’s no one else in the circle. What the heck is he doing, I think, waiting for a light?
He’s the newest in a line-up of criminally bad drivers conspiring to drive my insurance rates up just because I have the misfortune to plow into his backside: A Roundabout Rookie. Maybe I’m different than most. I lost my roundabout virginity in the great town of Boston, Massachusetts. I was driving a brand new car that belonged to someone else and, seeing traffic going in a circle and guessing that the street I wanted was on the other side, I dived right in at the first opening. The concept itself seemed simple. Traffic lights are for traffic weenies, roundabouts re-inject the hazards of anarchy into the roadplace and with it the thrill of driving we all remember for our first months behind the wheel, when no puddle was too deep, and no icy parking lot was safe from our giddy joy as we practiced our “turning into the skid”—and accidentally-on-purpose whipped frosty donuts from here to Winchells.
In short, I figured roundabouts, or rotaries as they called them there, were not for the timid and I plunged in and fought my way to the goal of every Southern California freeway driver I’d ever been raised with: The left lane. Where I stayed for the next half a day.
See, it weren’t no easy one- or two-laned roundabout like we have round about here. It was a three-laner. And the Bostonians—who were as aggressive and crabby as New York cabbies—must have sensed I was a West Coaster, and seeing the car I was driving was pristine and un-marred they pretty much knew I wasn’t going to be doing any automotive bluff calling. Did I mention it was morning rush hour? Fortunately I had a full tank of gas.
So I wasn’t too full of pity for Mister Roundabout Milquetoast. I honked. The sonic nudge seemed to work and he dashed into the dread circle and squirted out the other side. It’s pretty easy when you realize roundabouts are about looking to your left. Don’t worry too much about the traffic directly across from you, just try to gauge where the ones on your left are headed. And do your best to keep moving. That’s the whole point. Merge baby merge. Special rule for bicyclists. You have the rightaway. As in: Right. Try not to insist. Old granny cataract is trying to figure out the big SUVs roaring through the circle. You’re not even in the picture. But you will be. In the next edition of “Roundabout Review,” a periodical published by the Traffic Engineers of America. In the section they call Roundabout Roadkill.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

#38 Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Anybody who wants a good example of how things have changed since the fifties need only walk down the haircare aisle at any megamarket and see for themselves how much of it is devoted to hair products for men. The very phrase “hair products for men” shows how far around even an oldster like me has come. “Pick me up some hair tonic, Honey” has devolved into “When we go shopping Honey, remind me I need some hair products.” The only good thing about the process is that now my lovely bride and I can share the grocery shopping adventure. Still, from hair tonic to hair products is quite a leap. Somewhere in there most of us went from the barber shop to the styling salon. I blame it all on the blow dryer.
Before that, back in the day—the sixties—we broke the bounds of hair convention and grew out our butches and flattops into the long, tangled, luxuriant locks of the “social revolution.” Hippies, as a rule, didn’t use hair products, and a good stiff boar-hair brush sufficed to tame the mane enough to keep it out of our eyes, and hopefully our lentil soup. Then came the early seventies and with it the technological advance of the hand-held hot comb or blow dryer. Suddenly it was possible to shape that heretofore-hideous hirsute haystack and add some semblance of style. TV anchormen, Johnny Carson, and even Elvis all succumbed to long-ish hair now strictly bound by the “socially permissible revolution.” Long hair had met its match. Of course, all that washing and blow-drying left a brittle hair or two in sinks across the land and, men being men, their constant obsessing about the ever-increasing height of their foreheads led to the “hair product revolution.” Oddly, it no longer mattered whether a product was masculine or feminine. If it arrested baldhood development, it was A-Okay. So the likes of Helene Curtis and Pantene Pro-Vitamin made their way to shower shelves and men slopped them on, first surreptitiously, leading their wives to wonder and worry about mysterious shampoo thieves, then openly, reveling in their spouses’ soft stroking of their new lanolin-enhanced mullets. The nineties saw an explosion of hair product offerings. Fights broke out in bars between righteous advocates of either side of the debate of mousse versus gel. “More volume!” “More control!” they shouted, and broke beer bottles and cue sticks and barstools over each others crispy coiffures.
We’ve come a long way baby. From a tube of Brylcream, where a little dab really would do you, to shelf after shelf full of brightly-colored and Freudian-shaped bottles. Each with their own special chemical concoction to separate, shine, volume-ize, moisturize, heat-treat, vitamin-enhance, lift, thicken, and stiffen. Times have changed. The other day I was showing my 20-year-old son my collection of empty bottles I saved from the fifties. I had a whole case of that original men’s hair product, Vitalis. “What’s that?” he said, “A combination of Viagra and Cialis?” Hmm. I think I found a way to unload them on EBay.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

#37 Don’t Force Me

America loves a competition. I suppose that’s why the two political parties keep hammering away at each other long after the last election is past and way before the next election is on the horizon. Seems to me we used to have a little peace and quiet for a year or two between campaigns in the good old days. Probably not. Most “good old days” only seemed that way to the people they were good for.
It’s funny though. I saw a news show the other night about some of the pundits being up in arms cause they think George Lucas was picking on George Bush in the last Star Wars episode. Funny, since he wrote the damn script about 10 years before there ever was a president Bush. The younger one that is. And the theme that the attack dogs are talking about is as familiar to history buffs as can be, and has been a constant of political drama since long, long ago and far, far away. Although it is not my intent in this column to delve into things political, methinks the pundits doth protest too much. The scene in question where the soon-to-be evil emperor steals power from the senate—by their willing acclaim—on the pretense that terrorists and/or revolutionaries and/or barbarians are at the doorstep ready to destroy the elected democracy is a scenario that has been so often repeated in history—Caesar, Napoleon, and Hitler spring to mind—that it would have been hard for George Lucas not to put it in his epic. Democracies never fall from the outside. They always fall because of fear from within, when people willingly giving up their rights to leaders who promise to protect them in exchange for small curtailments of their personal freedom. Yeah, that’s it. That freedom stuff is overrated. If an anonymous source says you’re a terrorist, why, we owe it to our safety to give you a free trip to Gitmo. No lawyers allowed thank-you-very-much.
“But Master, isn’t that against our basic rights as citizens to face our accuser in a court of law, as guaranteed by the galactic constitution.”
“These are desperate times grasshopper. And desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“You mean?”
“Yes, my student, Constitution schmonstitution. You just have to trust that the government has your best interests at heart whether you know it or not. I’m sure that anonymous accuser didn’t have a bone to pick with you and wasn’t out to cause you any harm just because your dangerous political leanings didn’t agree with his. What are you, paranoid?”
“Well I was a little put off when you put on that black helmet and got that breathy metallic voice.”
I’m thinking if you keep up that smart-ass tone it won’t be long before you’re feeling—the force.
(Metallic Breath) America, (Metallic Breath) ya gotta love it.”

#36 Colon Down the River

Seems there was this research done that said in another five years there will be more people over the age of sixty-five alive than in all of history. No, not at any time in history. In 2010, the folks that are 65 will outnumber all the folks that were ever 65. Kinda makes you wanna go aarp doesn’t it? Or some other involuntary choking sound. Part of it is that the first wave of post-World War Two baby boomers will be hitting the beaches of retirement. And part of it is that it’s likely the parents who spawned them will also still be alive. Life expectancy is kicking out to 107.
The walker industry is even now licking its lips. This generation of oldsters ain’t gonna settle for plain aluminum with white plastic caps and a couple of casters. Walkers of tomorrow are gonna be graphite with blue lacquer and neon graphics, dude. Motorized chairs the same way. They’ll be styling man, Centenarians will be popping wheelies, ripping brodies and drag-racing down the diaper aisle with the wild abandon only incontinence can bring. Mark my words, the first wheelchair with a pimped out ride is right around the corner.
With most of America on the verge of, or already in the middle of retirement, Costco, who commissioned the research, is making product changes to keep it competitive in the emerging maturing market. Smaller portions are on the horizon. Giant slabs of beef in forty-pound three-packs will give way to smaller 4-ounce cuts, tenderized for easy mastication. Bushel bags of bananas, requiring a family of 8 to guarantee consumption before the dread banana blackening, will be scaled back to smaller bunches that aging couples can gum at their leisure. Younger relatives will no longer be forced to endure weekly installments of granny’s bananny bread.
There’ll also be more home delivery options in an attempt to serve sequestered septuagenarians.
Costco will still try to figure out a way to let their customers benefit from the economy of quantity. Plans are already in the works for modifications to the current extra-large laundry detergent jugs. The handle and spout contraptions that currently require cleaning and jerking a fifty-pound bottle up to washing machine level will be replaced by a container just as large, but with a siphon arrangement. It will also have an extendable handle and hidden wheels, just like the non-carry carry on bags currently so popular with overhead bin hogs on every major airline. Of course the supplement aisle will expand to include even more exotic herbal and age-prolonging concoctions. Most of which will feature larger quantities of fiber. Metamusil containers will also come with handles and wheels. Because soon lounge lizards from the seventies will be crossing over to the golden years, making the psychological transition from cologne to colon. From Hai Karate to High Colonic.
Costco has asked their research oracle the big marketing question: What product can help us survive in a world of oldsters? And the answer? Depends.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

#35 Branding, You’re Fine Girl

I don’t smoke, although I must admit that for many years I did. And my lovely bride has never smoked. Yet we both remember very clearly that amazing oral-fixation training device we all imprinted on in our youth. No, not pacifiers, though, truth be told, I sometimes have a hankering for a well-chewed binky. I’m talking about candy cigarettes. Wrap your mind around this concept for a while. There once was a time in this country when you could go to any store that sold treats and pick up a pack of candy cigarettes.
I mean, it’s bad enough these days. I see young parents driving down the road; apparently caring parents because they have their kids strapped in FDA-approved child restraint devices in the back seats of their cars, yet apparently not caring enough because they are smoking in those same cars while their kids are in ‘em. Oh sure, they crack the window. But it’s been my experience with aerodynamics that cracking the window actually lets more air in than out. And if anything, the smoking added to the smog can’t be doing anybody, much less a small-lunged toddler, any good.
But candy cigarettes? Funny thing is, I have old home movies from that time and there’s my mom, cigarette dangling from her lips, helping my sister take her first steps out on the lawn. My older brother and I are in the background, candy cigarettes dangling from our lips too, mimicking the whole process like choking chimpanzees. We’d take the cigs out of our mouths and blow imaginary smoke, flick an imaginary ash or two with arched fingers and then go back to imaginary sucking. I remember having a problem doing that for long, though. My tastebuds got the better of me and I had to crunch the whole thing down. My brother would keep sucking on his until it was whittled down to a fine point and then he’d pin me down with his legs and torment me by scratching me with his new mildly-gooey imitation ice pick. Sometimes he’d play the master spy trying to torture information out of me. Then he’d take a new candy cigarette with it’s simulated glowing red tip and pretend to brand me with it unless I gave up state secrets. Man, do I have some baggage.
I don’t remember who made the candy cigarettes. The names on the packs were always like bad Asian counterfeits; Merlboro and Bunson and Hodges. But you gotta wonder. They already had our parents blowing nicotine in our faces at a tender age. Teaching us the mannerisms, and ingraining in us the habits of the accomplished smoker “through play” had to be one of the greatest marketing coups of all time. What does Madison Avenue call that these days? Oh yeah, “branding.” Ssh. It’s a state secret.
America, ya gotta love it.

#34 Sin-tax

I’m not a smoker. I am a taxpayer. So I suppose I should be glad that tax moneys are ponyed up by the poor guys out freezing in the office building porticos. But my innate sense of fairness makes me think otherwise. Sure I hate secondhand smoke. I don’t think any smoker in the world, even in France, can deny that a puff of his used smoke blown in my face doesn’t constitute some sort of hazard. I doubt that he would be pleased if I took a bite of sandwich and then threw up all over him.
Still, the poor smokers with their budget-busting burden of three bucks a pack are currently paying quite a bit for their addiction. And a lot of it is already tax. The tax law writers know they have the poor schmucks over a barrel. They can see that smokers already put up with sub-zero temperatures and driving rain to slip outside and vaporize another coffin nail. Nicotine is about the most addictive drug known to man, second only to meth. It has the power to calm you or to energize you. It’s the powerful precursor to a prolonged and painfully dull workshift or the perfect punctuation to a period of pleasurable activity.
The justification that smokers do huge amounts of financial damage to our strained healthcare system, and not only that, are big contributors to littering, really doesn’t hold up. All right, then put all their taxes into healthcare and highway beautification. But no. The moneys go into the general fund. They are labeled a sin tax. The cigarette smokers are once again left in the cold. Who would defend someone committing a sin? So the cigarette tax is a perfect tax. It taxes a group of people who are hopelessly addicted and have no choice but to pay it, and it taxes a habit that most people find annoying or even obnoxious. The people who engage in said habit are of course, beneath contempt, much less likely to generate any sympathy from the holier than thou—and not the one taxed—public.
So let’s see. I like the addiction-slash-healthcare-cost rationale. I think I’ve found a bottomless well of revenue for lawmakers to slurp up next go-round. Or maybe bottom-less isn’t appropriate syntax. How about bottom-more? Cause this well’s got a big bottom, baby. Right now, the biggest healthcare crisis afflicting this great land of ours is obesity. 60% of the people in our country are suffering some ill effects from over-eating. Medical costs are soaring. And over-eating is an addiction, or at least an obsession. And the self-righteous like to heap lots of scorn on the horizontally challenged. Over-eaters often have to “sneak” out for a snack, huddling on the back porch and slamming down a ding dong. So let’s put a Tax on all junk food. This country sells more pop and potato ships than it does cigarettes. Talk about fat of the land. And I hate it when my co-worker opens up a stinky bag of Doritos next to me anyhow. He can eat the darn stuff outside.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

#33 Smell-checker

I was at the grocery store the other day. Somehow the banal act of grocery shopping always leads me to these little epiphanies, mini-piphanies I call them. Not great flashes of revelation or anything, just little snapshot insights into the human condition. There’re only two checkers operating that day and they’re both—well—they’re both checkers who I know slather on the stinkwater a little too thick, and I’m just not in the mood to have my nostrils catch on fire, so I decide, what the heck, I only got a couple of items here, I’ll just boop myself.
So there I am patiently trying to figure out the code to enter for broccoli crowns by looking at the little chart over the computer monitor and I hear this lady cursing across the way. “That price is not right!” she says angrily and tries to give the item in her hand another pass across the booper and of course the machine keeps telling her to “place the item in the bag,” in that same voice cops use when they tell you to “put down the weapon,” and she keeps trying to re-boop and the checkout caregiver whose job it is to hold customers hands through the complex ordeal of actually running a scanner—"Land-o’Goshen, Maybel. I done checked myself out, yee-haw"—is busy on the phone with what appears to be a crisis at home involving her teenage daughter and a sudden collision with a pizza delivery driver, so the irate lady at the scanner manages to get the system and herself so fried she collapses on the floor and starts whimpering. Her hands go limp and the item she has heretofore been clutching slips onto the floor. I go over and pick it up, thinking that maybe I can help this poor, now-blubbering creature in some way and I see it’s a small bottle of dish soap. That’s when I start to laugh. Loudly. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. Life is just too crazy. The bottle says Ultra Palmolive Aromatherapy Anti-Stress Concentrated Dish Liquid. Startled by my outburst, the lady gets up, snorts, glares at me, grabs the bottle and the rest of her groceries and flounces over to one of the checkout stands with a smelly checker. Hey lady, I think, chill. You need to stop and smell the dish liquid, dudette. Life’s gonna pass you by if you freak out over every malfunctioning computer.
But there you have it. Another example of a simple product—dish soap for gosh sake—being transformed by the magic of verbiage into some wonderful gift from the land of serenity. Aromatherapy “Anti-Stress” dish liquid. Does that imply there are other types? Aromatherapy “Morning Wake-Up Energizing” dish liquid? Aromatherapy “Bridges of Madison County Feeling a Little Maudlin” dish liquid? Hey, I don’t know about you, but anti-stress for me is not having to do the dishes at all. And I certainly am not ready for all this new age stuff in my kitchen sink. What next? A new shape of mayonnaise jar to improve my refrigerator’s fung shui?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

#32 TV or not TV

Among the many objectionable habits my teenagers have developed is the tendency to leave the TV on even if they are not watching it. It drives me crazy. On a number of levels. First because they are teenagers. If you’ve got one I’m sure you agree that teenagers are nature’s most effective form of birth control. When a teenager first appears in your home, the almost universal declaration is I ain’t never having another one of those. Of course by then it’s too late, cause you’re likely to have a few more in the queue.
So anyhow. The second reason I hate unwatched TV is the waste factor. Using a TV as a radio wastes power. Solid State radios burn virtually no power. Cathode Ray TV tubes consume like a gigawatt a minute. Power in the great Northwest comes from hydroelectric turbines. This year we’re in a drought. Wasting by not watching a TV wastes water. If you want to listen to something, I tell my kids calmly through clenched teeth, listen to the gol dang radio.
Thirdly, as a former TV producer I hate the fact these kids are wasting all those images. It takes a lot of work to put that crap on the air. It shouldn’t go out unseen. TV is a visual medium. That means you gotta watch it. It’s that old philosophical conundrum: If a mime is on TV and nobody watches, is he really there?
But no. My kids are from the multi-tasking generation. They can be surfing on the computer, instant messaging, talking on the wall phone, text messaging on their brother’s cellphone and have the TV on all at the same time. Monitor and TV. For those of you keeping track, that’s two, count em, two cathode ray tubes sucking the last reservoir dry while little Susie emails an emoticon to her next door neighbor.
A recent publication stated that today’s 13 to 20-year-olds manage to cram 8 hours of electronic media time a day into 6.2 hours. And they do it by multi-tasking. Although I would challenge the word “task.” Task seems too active. Except for the Instant Messaging part, their media “tasks” are largely passive, so I would say they are multi-receiving or engaged in multi-reception. My kid, the electronic multi-soaker-upper.
Society is doomed. Remember the multi-media guy in high school; the one who could never seem to load the film in the right direction? The one who got teased to within an inch of his non-sanctified by cheerleader society life? Was that Bill Gates? Is this his revenge? Thousands of our fading echo-boomers switching from medium to medium like little schizophrenic hummingbirds, unable to alight long enough to have four-sentence conversation, much less interact in a discussion group. They’re never going to be like their parents and fit in at a de-tox therapy session or an AA meeting. What’s wrong with these kids?
America, ya gotta love it.

#31 Get the Lead Out

I’m listening to the TV the other night—my kids have left it on—and this news guy starts talking about a government program to help disadvantaged people get the lead out. Great idea, I thought. Exercise will benefit them. Health care costs will go down and productivity will go up. And then I look at the video and they’re showing pictures of a guy in a lab coat and filter mask scraping paint for the walls of this old house. Oh, I grin sheepishly to myself—I think they call grinning sheepishly to yourself a cha-grin—that kind of “get the lead out.”
Turns out the gov’ment is worried because too much lead exposure can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in our young folks. And older—and poorer—houses are often painted in old-fashioned lead-based paint. (That’s the kind that lasts forever and doesn’t flake off when your kid bounces that flashlight battery he uses for a teething toy against it.) Lead pipes are the cause of the downfall of Roman civilization some archeologists say, not to mention Colonel Mustard’s demise in the conservatory. So, periodically, people get a hair up their social conscience to see that ceramic glaze from Mexico, toys from the orient, and fishing weights don’t make their way into the mouths of babes.
But the gov’ment says it’s also possible to fight back with your diet: A child who gets enough iron and calcium will absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, red meats, and beans, and dairy products are high in calcium. The gov’ment also reminds you not to store food or liquid in lead crystal glassware or imported or old pottery. And if you reuse old plastic bags to store or carry food, keep the printing on the outside of the bag. So the message is: if you have lead paint on your walls, eat eggs, meat, and milk—and don’t lick the freaking walls.
I’m reminded of my generation. Raised in the fifties. Back then we thought nothing of loading our teeth with mercury amalgam fillings, or twisting lead solder with our tongues to impress our friends on the playground. We used to dig old bullets out of the gravel pit where all the yahoos went to shoot and spit them at each other. And of course there was the old-fashioned toothpaste tube. You remember. The one that stayed rolled up when you actually did squeeze the tube from the bottom. Before these all-plastic monstrosities that come unrolled so easy you spend all morning getting out the last glob then have to do the same thing the next day. Lead-based toothpaste tubes. Those were the days, dude. And it didn’t hurt our brains none. Still. Maybe that’s one reason we liked heavy metal music so much. Hmmm. 50’s toothpaste tubes and 60’s Black Sabbath. Ozzie and Harriet telling us to brush our teeth and Ozzy Osborne using his to bite a bat. Nope. No brain damage here. Anybody get the license plate of that Led Zeppelin? America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

#30 Just for you

Once was a time, our consumer culture zigzagged from mass market to single serving. The pendulum swung from all-in-one to just for one. You used to be able to say it was Starbucks versus McDonalds. But the newer and wilier commercial coyotes now manage to combine the appeal of hand-tailored with the economy of scale of one-size-fits-all. Today’s Starbucks is a case in point. When you go there, you still feel like you have a choice. Whether you want your latte skinny, soy, or loaded with cream, vanilla and fat is up to you. And if you get it relatively quickly all the better. But if you have to wait in a ten-deep line, well, it’s the experience you’re paying for after all, and you can never see too many French presses, fancy candies and fabulously expensive and decadent pastries, can you? Forget for a moment that if you spent even half that time waiting in line at McDonalds you’d be sending a vicious all-cap email to the Mc-management. And you get a whole meal deal there. Sure, it takes a little longer to “have it your way” but you still don’t while away half the morning staring at the biscotti.
But still. There’s almost a Starbucks on every corner now. And for every Starbucks there’s three semi-local coffee bars. Hell, McDonalds is serving Seattle’s Best coffee these days. So it’s hard to maintain the notion that quality coffee is a “personal” experience. At what point does plentiful personal reach the critical mass of mass market?
And therein lies the genius and success of Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz. Maintain the personal while operating on the masses. Kiss them first. Look ‘em in the eye and ask about their family while your hand snakes around and picks their pockets. Make them feel like they are the only person in the whole wide world and you’d be honored to take them to cleaners and steal their shirts.
George Zimmer is another icon of the mass personalization movement. His Men’s Warehouse systematized the suit sales process. Knowing that his advertising is good enough to bring in a potential client for one suit sale, he trains his staff to concentrate on selling up. They are rewarded extra for the second suit or sportcoat sale. And the other sales people are instructed to add shirts and ties and socks and skivvies to the ever-growing pile. The client thinks he is being super-served: They like me, they really like me. And it’s true. In a world of minimum wage Old Navy drones secretly sending text messages to their fleece-garbed buddies, any service seems personal.
So as I showered yesterday and looked at the tube of conditioner my wife had brought home I couldn’t help but smile. The label said “John Frieda Conditioner (but any designer-sounding name would have worked as well) Special formula for platinum to champagne blonds.” I’m guessing it’s the same pot of chemicals for every hair color but hey, what would I know? I just thought it was interesting that they didn’t say from “straw” to “corn husk” blonde. Special is nice but that platinum champagne thing is klassy with a capital K.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

#29 It’s Only Words

We seem to shy away from saying what we mean these days. We don’t say “ashes” when we talk about what’s left after a cremation. The new pseudo-word in vogue amongst morticians—excuse me, funeral directors—is cremains. Cremains for gosh sake. Sounds like something I should be putting in my coffee. Exfoliate is another of my favorites. Scrubbing isn’t good enough. Scrubbing off dead skin is even worse. No, we exfoliate. I feel like I’m a freaking plant. When I have a boil growing on my forehead am I budding?
I was at my health club—excuse me, gym—the other day and I noticed a new product. I now assume it’s a new supplement to increase my muscle mass. Steroid-free of course. And I’m hoping with none of the side-effects of creatine. Muscles are great but I hear many creatine supplements are made with bovine spongiform tissue so Mad Cow disease is an outside possibility. From Raging Bull to Mad Cow. How the exercise industry has changed.
Anyhow, they call the product Muscle Milk. Now I’m not sure if the product is milk-based, like a latte, and then additives are swirled in it, or if it’s a steak that’s just been pureed to the consistency of a vanilla shake. But my first thought was, it sounded like they were squeezing some weird fluid out of someone’s biceps. Yuck. Product naming can be a delicate business.
“Hey, like a glass of muscle milk?”
“No thanks, I got a liter of blood in my Nalgene bottle.”
Finally, I was reading an article about how despite the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches myth, very few people ever move up a class in their quest for the brass ring of the American dream. Most of us settle for a nickel...ring. Some of us just a nipple ring. The article concluded that the best way to wealth was actually the way most of Horatio Alger’s characters made it, marrying the boss’s daughter. In the course of the article, the reporter talked about poor people. He didn’t use the word “poor” though. Too twentieth century. He couldn’t go straight to the point. No, he had to walk around the verbal block first. He used the phrase: “people of negative wealth.” Sheesh.
I once thought Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice” was a reflection of how much negativity we have in our culture; the submerged anger that makes people yell out a growly “YEAH!” when Trump snarls out his patented phrase: “You’re Fired.” Now I think it’s something else. Americans are just tired of everyone beating around the bush all the time. “Your’e Fired” awakens that respect in all of us for someone who just says what he means. No pussy-footing around. Don’t tell me it’s time I found a place where my skill sets can be put to better use. Say You’re Fired, damn it. Can me. And let me get on with my life.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

#28 Down on the Farm

I’m at the hardware store the other day, one of the local ones, I always try to shop local even if it is a few pennies more. And I pick up some pansies while I’m there. And primroses of course. They were only 99¢ and as Old McDonalds knows, even on the farm anything under a buck sells like hot peanuts. Not stopping to ponder why a hardware store is even carrying flowers I amble over to what I first assume are the gravel and sand bags stacked up against the side of the building, thinking maybe this is the year to put in a new patio extension. It’s then that I find myself staring at a giant bag of potting soil—and garden mulch and various types of fertilizer and defoliants. Okay, I say, get with it Funny Guy, the old hardware store is now a lawn and garden center too. Fair enough, how many saws can you buy in your life? Stands to reason a store’s got to have a renewable consumer merchandise resource as well. That’s when I was diverted again. This time by a bag of steer manure. And next to it a bag of chicken manure. And next to that a bag of horse manure. And next to that a bag of pig manure. Wow, I think, what a great commercial tag: “They got all kinds of crap at Bob’s hardware store.”
It makes a person proud to be a part of our great culture. Not only do we have entire warehouse-type store chains devoted to pet supplies. Not only is it possible to find three big box chains devoted to paper clips and folders and staples. But now even the mom and pop hardware stores think it’s important to delineate and retail the excremental offerings of different varieties of animal. And apparently it’s no chicken-spit business either. The push away from chemical lawn and garden products due to the toxic load they added to our environment has made the rush to all-natural the NASCAR race of the home garden world. Mark my words. Jeff Gordon or the Lesser Petty will be hawking all-natural peanut-fed Georgia hog manure on the next circuit. Look for a pink pig decal on their uniforms.
Still, I have to wonder. Chicken manure I get. Pig manure I get. But Steer manure? How, pray tell, do they tell? Is steer manure significantly different from cow manure? Are the delicate droppings of a heifer sweeter than the steaming mounds of a pounding-hoofed bull? Do they keep the fields separate? Is the odor somehow distinct? Is dis stink worse than dat stink? Is there an individual whose job it is to collect the various doodlings, grade them, and bag them, each in their ass-igned scat-egory?
And is there a union of cow-pie collectors? An organization that has meetings? And do they open the meetings with a bell that goes—dung.
And is their national holiday St Paddy’s day?
Forgive me lord.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

#27 Drought it Out

Here in the great Northwest we are officially in a drought. The snow pack in the mountains is twelve feet less than it should be. That’s right, twelve feet. That means when it’s time for the big spring melt-off to fill up the reservoirs, there ain’t gonna be nothing to melt off. You can’t get wool from a Chihuahua if you know what I mean.
So I was watching this guy at a rental store the other day. He was removing the dirt from the back of his delivery truck, and much to my delight, he wasn’t using a hose to do so. A positive, drought relief step: Don’t use your hose to spray anything but plants, and then only to give them a drink. The alternative the guy picked to do the job was a little suspect, though. He was using one of those gas-powered blowers. You know the ones; two-cycle oil-spitting noise-monsters louder than an AC/DC concert in your neighbor’s back yard. Bad idea, I’m thinking. Cause if things weren’t bad enough with our water shortage, the oil barons have decided to artificially jack up the price of gas again this summer. And so it won’t be too much of a shock, they’re already easing into it here in the early spring. Nice of them to think of our delicate mental equilibrium. Reaming us with an extra 50 cents a gallon all at once might have actually caused a protest that even a code orange alert couldn’t have diverted. So with the price of gas going up, profligate pumping of petroleum for anything, even a little blower motor, isn’t going to fly. What’s a lazy cleaner to do? I mean, even electric-powered blowers are going to be a problem. The administration is Washington D.C. is talking about raising the price of hydro-electricity generated in our great Northwest to “market” rates. Hmm. I seem to remember some market rate, deregulation thing in California a few years back. And power companies colluding to jack up the “market” rate to astronomical limits during a big heat wave, and millions of Californians on fixed incomes collapsing in their un-air-conditioned hothouses and the economy of California crashing and the stock market plunging down and a nationwide recession. And somehow the name Enron comes to mind. So I’m guessing the market rates of Bonneville power will, um, stay about the same. Ahem.
And, let’s not forget: With the drought there’ll actually be less water to run through the dams to generate the power that will cost a boatload more so we can expect a surcharge as well. As in: “Yes Sir. Grab my ankles, Sir.” I hope they at least kiss us first.
My advice? Invest what little money you expect to have left in a simpler and less water- and energy-dependent cleaning technology. You don’t put gas in it. You don’t plug it in. And you don’t have to adjust its nozzle or coil it back up when you’re done. It’s new from K-TEL and it’s sweeping the country. It’s called The Broom. And just think of all the calories you’ll burn... America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, May 06, 2005

#26 The Tide is High

So I’m convinced that the old chestnut about the more things are different the more they stay the same is the truest truism on the planet. The tides change but the ocean stays the same. With the changing tide comes a new signal that America is shifting away from the simplistic to the complex. And by changing tide I mean not the ocean but the detergent—Tide. After decades of concentrating and consolidating laundry detergent into its most simple and pure form, the all-in-one, all-purpose, all-temperature, enzyme-enhanced, hyphenated wonder powder that every hurried housewife, and laundry-challenged harried house husband needs, Tide is now moving the other way. Forward into the past.
Tide now offers “choices” when it comes to its detergent. Because in our 21st century espresso-driven culture it’s all about choices. Forget for a moment that no matter what you feed the dog it still looks about the same on the other end. 21st century culture is concentrating on the front end of the process. Lattes and cappuccinos and frappaccinos and machiatos and double-short lactose-free soy skinnys are LIFE man. So what if buying one or two a day means Walmart every weekend.
I digress. Tide is still, at least concentrated. A wonder of the modern age is that the cleaning power of a ten-pound box can now be found in a 12-ounce container. Makes me wonder what it was that went into our waste stream and polluted our aquifers all those years that we don’t need in the laundry soap today.
Today’s Tides include the following bewildering array of choices. Most are available in either liquid of powder forms. Once you’ve decided on the chassis, then it’s on to the bells and whistles. There’s Tide Coldwater, Tide with Bleach, Tide with Bleach alternative, Tide HE (High Efficiency), and Tide with a touch of Downey—the machiato of the laundry world. Then you need to choose from scents in each of the above. They include (scents subject to change without notice, results and prices may vary, not available in all areas), Tide Clean Breeze, Tide Mountain Spring (phosphate free I’m guessing), Tide Tropical Clean (Hey who threw a mango in the wash?), Tide Classic (oh yes), and Tide Free, the unscented scent which has zero per-scent. For the gadget inclined Tide also offers Tide Kick (a little prewash thingie), Tide Stainbrush, (a tube with a brush on the end to scrub away stubborn stains) and Tide Buzz, an electrical stain busting tool with rotating brush and get this—sonic waves—made by, I’m not kidding, Black and Decker.
The other end of that dog is looking better all the time.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

#25 Hear-giene

So I’m watching TV and this beer commercial comes on. Right away I know it’s a beer commercial cause there’s this twenty-something woman sitting in a noisy bar. Funny, my experience here in the great Northwest is that either a fancy-named multiple booze concoction or white wine is the drink of choice for mirthful maidens. But wine ads always seem to involve fields and vineyards or elegant table linen— not smoky bars. Go figure. Anyhow, this gal is sitting at a bar and the announcer’s intoning something that sounds mildly poetic and the gal looks over to her left and there’s this scraggly-looking guy with earphones on sucking back the soon-to-be-favorably-mentioned beer in the ad. The attractive and far from scruffy girl gives him a look, chug-a-lugs a fair amount of the same beer from her own bottle, and glances sidelong at him again. Even old Mr. self-involved-in-his-music Scruffy can see this come on. He takes the hint, reaches into his right ear, pulls out one of those tiny full-insert type earphones, and hands it to her. She promptly, and much to my disgust, sticks it in her own ear. Gross!
Somehow the point that these two young people are now grooving together drinking the same beer was totally lost on me while I gagged into my XXL Hungry Man TV dinner. I mean really. I don’t trade earphones with my own family members without a Clorox handi-wipe and a vigorous rubdown. Those things go deep into your ear, man. And they come from deep in someone else’s ear. And I don’t believe in trusting anything that came from any of anyone else’s orifices, no matter how shallow. Heck, I circle widely around guys with innies in the locker room for fear of stray belly-button lint. It’s worse than kissing the windscreen on Joe Cocker’s microphone.
Maybe that job I had as an orderly in a convalescent hospital affected my outlook on things ear-al. Or Aural. That’s Aural as in ear, not oral as in mouth. Earwax build-up is such a problem with old folks. And one of my many not-so-appetizing tasks as an orderly was swabbing the yellowish scum from the ear canals of the personal hygiene-challenged oldsters under my care. I had to pluck out their hearing aids, clean them off, and reinsert them as well. A task second only to bedpan-jockeying on my list of least favorite things in my job description. And one I always manage to leave off my resume.
Today’s young folks are different. They’ve been so antibioti-sized and cyber-ized their whole life they don’t fully understand the risks of inappropriate electronics sharing. From file sharing, to Ipod, to sticking your earphone in another person’s ear is one continuum.
But really. When you see this commercial, you’ll know what I mean. This guy looked really scraggly and unkempt. He looked like the kind that wouldn’t even tip. Much less Q-tip. America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

#24 Spas-Attack

So I’m driving down the road the other day and I see something that flashes me back to the nineties. Oh no, I say, another trend busting through the soil of American culture and getting ready to flower like a dandelion. Back in the nineties all sorts of new cultural paradigm shifts swept the nation. The sea changes were happening so often the darn place smelled like low tide all the time. Sugared cereals were suddenly honey-coated. Sugar Pops became honey-coated puffed wheat. Granola bars were just emerging from the dank, smelly soil of hippie-dom to emerge as the newer, cleaner, and yes, hipper, “energy bar.” No longer could you just need a shower and smell bad and eat granola. You could work out and need a shower and smell bad and eat granola. Round about that time canopies made their architectural debut as a cheap option to make an old square building look new and streamlined. Ten Years later, any drive down any downtown street will show you it’s become painfully apparent why canopies were so cheap. I haven’t seen so much sagging and fading since my high school reunion.
Those of you that follow food fads will also recall that it was in the nineties that American culinary consciousness changed as noodles morphed into pasta. Even though we had yet to use the word morph.
So it was with great consternation that I viewed the cleared lot and “coming soon” sign that proclaimed the advent of a new business on a street not far from me, and I’m guessing not far from you either. The sign said: “Coming Soon, Springfield Auto Spa. “Lord have mercy” as my grandma would have said or “shizzle my minizzle” in the current parlance.
An Auto Spa. The age of the carwash is passed. The age of the Auto Spa is upon us. I can see it now: First, our hands-on technicians bathe your auto in luxury foam fender and body wash. Then we guide it through our wondrous 25 jet agitating tunnel of churning warm pulsating fluids. Our massaging genuine boar’s hair brushes then gently exfoliate the dust and grime from the pores of your shapely automobile. Afterwards, there’s a light cool rinse to help tone your personal transportation device’s complexion and then it’s off to the hot wax area and a vigorous buffing with fine European loofahs. You spend a lot of time in your automobile. It never complains. It’s an extension of you. Shouldn’t you treat it like you treat yourself? Springfield Auto Spa. Turn your vehicle over to our loving attendants today. And come into our salon area for a latte or cappuccino while you wait. You—and your car—will be glad you did.
Remember, you heard it here first.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

#23 Trans-n-dental

Those of you out there still honoring the dead Adkins with a plate of steak and eggs every morning will be happy to know that this essay contains no carbohydrates. Or “0 carbs” as they say. Nope, today we’re going to talk about fat. Specifically, a new fat that has made its way onto the dietary guidelines panel of all our favorite junk foods, namely, trans fat. Funny how you never see these dietary guideline panels on an apple, or a bunch of broccoli. All the ink and science is reserved for helping us make healthy choices in junk food. Perhaps the relative term “healthier” is more appropriate. As in, eating a hot fudge sunday is healthier than eating two hot fudge sundaes.
I was eating some Doritos the other day—black pepper jack flavor by the way. In case you’re wondering, it’s a combination of black pepper and pepperjack cheese, not some Cajun version of pepperjack. Mmmm, blackened pepperjack: Bam! On the top right corner of the bag were emblazoned the mysterious words: “0 grams trans fat.” I confess, at first I thought it said trains; and I couldn’t figure how fat that came on a train was different then the stuff that came on a truck, and, you know, stupid mind-wandering stuff like that. So I flipped over the bag to the nutrition panel and confirmed that this fine new Frito-Lay ticket to cardiac oblivion did indeed contain 0 grams of trans fat. Seemed a little pointless to mention it, if you know what I mean. It also contained 0 grams of fried chicken livers, 0 grams of steer manure and 0 grams of nostril hairs shorn from a propeller-damaged manatee, but who the heck cares.
Nonetheless I put down my bag of death munchies and retired to the computer room where I googled the term “trans fat.” Turns out trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil—a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. Also, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, trans fat raises the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. (That’s coronary heart disease.) So the stuff that makes your margarine hard does the same thing to your coronary arteries. Nature works in mysterious ways.
Fresh knowledge bursting in my brain, I ran back to my bag of Doritos and scanned the nutrition panel. No trans fat all right, but one serving has total fat of 7 grams, 11% of my daily allowance, 1 gram of which is saturated fat. That’s 6% of my daily allowance. Out of a total of 150 calories, 70 are from fat. Like I said, healthier, not healthy.
Oh yeah, that’s per serving. Which is 12 chips. I had just eaten about 30. Chips. A quick mental calculation confirmed the worst. I could have not only had 0 grams of trans fat, but 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of total fat and 0 calories, if I had only eaten Zero Doritos.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, May 02, 2005

#22 Results May Vary

I’m watching a commercial on TV, and after this great pitch for the product, and its implied claims for fixing whatever it was that I needed to think was ailing me, they said those three magic words that every commercial from here to Madison avenue thinks it’s necessary to say these days: “Results may vary.”
Now there’s a perfect disclaimer. Much better than “product shown not actual size,” and far less menacing than the ubiquitous warning on every new device and/or piece of furniture from the discount and big box stores: “Some assembly required.”
By the way, if you want to do something funny sometime, do what I did once. As a joke, I sent odd-sized pieces of glass and fishing line to my relatives for Christmas and included a little badly-typed note on cheesy Chinese paper that said, “some assembly required.” I called them up after Christmas and asked how they liked the wind chimes I sent. You know, it's funny, they all said they liked them just fine. Hmm.
Anyhow, we live in the land of inconsistency and cop-out. “Results may vary” they say. Seems like a quality control issue to me. I mean, if you’re trying to sell me that new expensive flea spray for my suffering dog, I want a little more reassurance when I fork over the big bucks than “results may vary.” That’s okay for a bottle of cheap perfume, or a 99¢ bottle of fuel additive. But when someone charges me a bunch of money for something, I want “results” dang it, not “results may vary.”
Where is the responsibility?! It’s like those offers we’re always getting from the fast food chains: Only a dollar for a chicken sandwich, or breakfast biscuits for 99¢. Then the announcer says, “Prices may vary” or “offer not available in some areas.” Look. I figure if your offer isn’t available in some areas, then find out where the heck those are and don’t offer it to those areas. Don’t dangle it out then yank it back. That’s cruel man. This is supposed to be a kinder and gentler compassionate corporate America. And if it says the biscuit is 99¢ and that’s the whole pitch, it ought to be against the law to say “prices may vary.” It’s either 99¢ or it isn’t. That’s the point of the whole exercise. Tell you what, if it’s worth my time to drive down to your happy little restaurant chain and burn up three dollars worth of gas while I wait in your drive-thru then I damn well better get a biscuit for 99¢. Or I’m gonna have me a talk with a certain clown. And I guarantee the results won’t vary.
America, ya gotta love it.