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Sorry, Kids: There Ain’t No Betty Crocker

2 Dec

by Roger White

So I was watching “Seinfeld” for the eleventy-millionth time the other night, mainly because there is absolutely nothing on TV worth watching these days other than reruns of “Seinfeld,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “The Twilight Zone.” I know, I know, you young whippersnappers will hold forth that there are some great new shows today, like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Big Band Theorem” or whatever. I’ll stick with the classics, thank you very much. Don’t you love the word eleventy-million?

not that theresAnyway, I realized that the shtick Seinfeld was doing was aimed right at me. He was talking about pretentious, faux-authentic-sounding brand names, particularly cars. Names like the Integra or the Impreza. They’re made-up names that are meant to sound like other meaningful words, like integrity and impressive. The punch line: Seinfeld simply hoped he hadn’t bought a Lemona. It hit me that the last three cars I owned before my current little Korean vehicle were just that: an Integra, an Impreza, and a Lemona. All true, I previously owned a 1986 Acura Integra (a great car), a 2003 Subaru Impreza (a fast but frustrating car), and a 1979 Lemona (a VW bug—a true bomb I never should have purchased).  Don’t ask me what I was thinking, buying a 35-year-old POS as my daily commute. Besides, that’s another story. A very sad, long story.

Again, anyway. Things then got cosmic as I sat pondering Jerry’s sage words. It struck me as I lifted a spoonful of my Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter flavored ice cream to my mouth. My ice cream brand, too, was a made-up name meant to sound exotic and luxurious. Remember when Häagen-Dazs first hit the haagen whatmarket? Ooh, we thought, super rich frozen goodness from some strange Nordic country where they surely make ice cream from virgin glacial streams, from milk of cows that graze only on Alpine truffles, and from melted gold flakes from Icelandic lava flows. Or something. Turns out, Häagen-Dazs is a nonsense word concocted by one Reuben Mattus from the Bronx. The name, which is not Danish or Swedish or anything slightly lederhosen-ish, doesn’t really mean a thing—except that ol’ Reuben was a marketing genius.

Same with Löwenbräu beer. Back in 1975, just about the time I started my prolific and illustrious drinking career, Miller Brewing of the US of A acquired the North American rights to Löwenbräu, which was originally brewed in Munich. Ya know, the real Germany. Well, when Miller got hold of it, they “Americanized” the recipe, and the original German version of Löwenbräu was no longer imported to our fair shores. Basically, the Löwenbräu we got was Miller swill in an umlaut-sprinkled wrapper. Of course, we young and impressionable drinking types had Millerbrauabsolutely no knowledge of this. We just saw a new, mysterious foreign beer on the market—in a green bottle, even! The name was obviously German, and if anybody knew their brew, it was the Germans. We was hoodwinked.

Same holds true with so many other brands, like bottled water types. I really never understood the billion-dollar explosion of the bottled water industry. It’s water. In a plastic bottle. Water! H2O. This is where brand-name marketing gurus have a field day. There’s one out there called, get this, Glaceau Smartwater. I kid you not. And I not you kid. Both parts of that faux moniker evoke good feelings, don’t they? Aah, a pristine glacier. And intelligent liquid. What could be better? An intellectual body of glacial ice—you can’t get more new-age trendy than that. You know who produces Glaceau Smartwater? Coca-Cola. I picture guys in the back of these massive Coke plants running tap water into these oh-so-fashionable containers of Water de Glaceau. And they’re probably smoking, too. Unfiltered Camels. And laughing.

And don’t get me started on Evian. Look at your Evian bottle in a mirror. Yeah.

uh huh

So. Cogitating on this unsettling realization that so many of the products we consume are purchased under false pretenses, I jogged in a mild panic from the den to the kitchen, where my lovely esposa was making a batch of Betty Crocker pancakes. Paranoia was setting in, so I had to check it out. I ran to the computer and googled “Betty Crocker.” Gads, sure enough. There was no such lady!! Say it ain’t so! I quote from Wiki-whatsis: “The name Betty Crocker was created for the Washburn Crosby Company, later to merge with General Mills, as a way to personalize the company’s products and customer relations. The company picked the name because it sounded warm and friendly.”

I was aghast. Agog. I needed comfort food. “Ah, pancakes. Thanks, dear. Pass the Aunt Jemima.”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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‘Stepped on a Pop Top, Cut my…’ Stepped on a What?

28 Feb

by Roger White

 

There is a narrow greenbelt that runs behind our back yard, and in my meager efforts to keep fit—which involve a weekly tennis match followed immediately by heavy beer intake—I must cross this swath of forest to gain access to our neighborhood tennis courts. In one of my recent forays into the foliage I kicked over a large rock by accident and promptly fell on my keister. Whilst sitting upon my keister there in the wilds, I noticed something shiny and silver glinting from where the rock had been stealthily perched. Ho, I thought, buried treasure perhaps. Have I oafishly unearthed ancient coinage, precious metals, or long-lost jewelry? No? Yes? No?

No. No such luck. It was a pop top.

ye olde poppe toppeBut as I sat there, still on my ample keister, I contemplated this little doohickey. I realized this was buried treasure, in a demented time-capsule sort of way. A pop top! When was the last time you saw a genuine, throw-away pop top? In fact, I’ll bet you that 99.34 percent of the people born after 1980 don’t even know what a pop top is.

Called a “pull tab” by the beverage can industry, the pop top, for you whippersnappers, was how we opened our cans in ye olden days. You pulled the ring, the pop top opened the top of the can, and you promptly tossed the pop top on the ground. I don’t think that’s what the inventor had in mind, but we all did it. Did you know that if you google “beverage can history,” you’ll find that one Ermal Fraze invented the pop top in 1959? You can google just about anything, I believe. Anyway, I should sue Mr. Fraze for damage to my foot—and mental anguish.

Yep, just like the pirate himself sings, “stepped on a pop top, cut my heel etc. etc.,” I did the same as Jimmy Buffet out at Lake Benbrook when I was a teenager in the ’70s. Those little damn things were everywhere, and, yes, if you stepped on one just the right way, it would slice through your bare foot like an angry weasel. Had to have stitches and everything.

Now, it is at this point in my musings that I must make a choice. Do I ramble on about pop tops and my misspent youth, or do I take the course less traveled and hold court about outdated lyrics? Or do I abandon this train of thought altogether and snag a cold Shiner?

Decisions. Let’s go with lyrics that don’t make much sense these days. We’ll liken it unto a symposium for the youngsters who actually enjoy old songs but don’t always understand them. Here’s one, for example:

In the song “Happy Together” by the Turtles, they opine, “If I should call you up, invest a dime…” Yes, kids, it’s true. There used to be things such as pay phones, and they did, long ago, cost only a dime to use. Jim Croce also attests to this in “Operator,” a song whose title also harkens to the ancient past, when actual, real-live people, called “operators,” helped you—in English—to place your call. Anyhow, Jim tells the operator, “you can keep the dime” in his tale of unrequited love. Similarly, Joan Jett belts out, “Put another dime in the jukebox, baby” in “I Love Rock and Roll,” reminding us that you once could use dimes for many purposes other than collecting them in old mayonnaise jars.

ye olde pinne balleThen there’s this from The Who: “That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball…” Plays a mean what? Pinball! “Pinball Wizard!” The Dairy Twin in Burleson had a great pinball game, Bobby Bewley was killer at it, and we were in middle school. It didn’t involve a video screen, or blasting mutant zombies—the entire game revolved around keeping a very cool, very real metal ball from rolling past your flippers. There was much tilting, and there was much being yelled at by the Dairy Twin manager.

In “Sweet Emotion,” Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler hightails it out of town because “the rabbit done died.” Yes, it did. Ya see, they didn’t have reliable EPT tests then. A poor widdle wabbit had to give his life to see if your girl had a bun in the oven. So to speak.

How ’bout this: Do you remember the Five Americans? “Western Union”? Dah-da-dah-da-dah-da-dah…. No? They complained about having to fork over “fifteen cents a word to read a telegram I didn’t need…” Man, I loved that song. Still do. See, the guy in the song ye olde telegrammejust received a telegram (again, a communications method from the dark ages) informing him that his girl has dumped him. Again, a dumping song. It was a double whammy because not only did he get bum news, he had to pay the guy who delivered it.

And, of course, you have Paul Simon noting how “Kodachrome gives the night bright colors…” Ya see, kids, cameras used to have what we call “film.” And this film had to be (air quotes here) “de-vel-oped.” Digital cameras were not built into our foreheads then.

There’s plenty more, I’m sure. If you can think of any, write me at rogdude@mail.com , and I’ll send you a pop top. Or maybe a Mercury dime.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apps

2 Oct

by Roger White

 

The other day I was reading, with mild interest, a story about an 11-year-old girl who beat all these teams of professional computer whizzes in a contest to see who could design and market the best app to reduce distracted driving. Sixth-grader Victoria Walker won this AT&T-sponsored contest held in Los Angeles by creating something she calls Rode Dog. Just from the name, I liked the idea right off the bat. It seems that Rode Dog allows users to create mini-social networks of family and friends—or “packs.” Each pack member is tracked by GPS at all times, and members are alerted whenever someone in the pack is using a phone and driving at the same time.

 

And here’s where it gets fun. When other pack members are made aware that one of their own is texting while driving, they then send barking sounds to the offending “dog” to make them knock it off. The app makes money by enabling users to download the sounds of different breeds for 99 cents. So you can be a yappy, obnoxious chihuahua; or you can scare the bejeezus out of the errant pack member with a deep basset hound woooof.

 

Second place went to an app called Safe Car Key, which shuts the car down if the user’s phone is removed from a loading dock built into the car. Drive Pledge, designed to reward drivers with points, games, and songs for miles accumulated without texting or using their phone, won third place.

 

Now, I noted that I read this story with mild interest, but that interest turned instantly keen when we caught our oldest daughter DWI recently. No, no, alcohol wasn’t involved. This was a case of Driving While Intexticated. Yep, she came home the other day with the right side of the car scraped and creased and looking not at all well. After a little interrogation, she confessed to fiddling with her phone while the car was in gear and moving. She says she thought she was stopped, but the big, metal bike rack at the neighborhood park where she was driving didn’t just jump out and attack our Honda.

 

I’m thinking now we should become Rode Dogs.

 

This new app idea also got me pondering about what folks might consider their ideal, fantasy app. So I conducted a highly unscientific poll of our family—er, pack—and came up with the following (allow plus or minus 3 percentage points of standard deviation in Iowa and Tennessee; not valid in New Jersey; 10 cent deposit in Michigan; void where prohibited):

 

Parents (that’s me and Mom): How about an app designed to prevent our offspring from secretly texting until their homework is done? This would require some linking with teachers through the Gradespeed service, whereby any of our kids’ texts to their friends during homework hours would be intercepted by the appropriate teacher. A sample:

Jamie (our youngest): “Yo yo yo GF wadup? Dont u h8 Span?”

Señor Moya: “Yo, yo, yo, yourself, Señorita Jamie. Have you conjugated your Spanish verb infinitives yet? And by the way, I love Spanish.”

Jamie: “O me2 adios!”

Mom: I would appreciate an app on Dad’s phone that monitors sound coming from the nearest TV set. If the app detects dialogue matching that from Top Gun, Casino, or Animal House, the app immediately shuts off the television and calls Dad with a friendly reminder about the catbox and the lawn.

 

Lindsey (our oldest): An app that taps into the long, long history of Dad’s driving record and displays on all family members’ phones all of Dad’s, um, lapses of judgment he’s experienced over the years behind the wheel. DAD!

 

Jamie (our youngest): An app that links to all the phones of my friends when they’re over at my house and, through this network, is able to pick up sour notes and off-key singing by Dad. The app then makes him cut it out with high-pitched sirens or electric shocks or something.

 

Dad: Well. In light of all the other apps requested by my loving pack, I envision a nuclear app that overrides all other apps in a 50-foot radius of Dad and gently beeps Dad when the mountains are blue on the side of his cans. Nyah.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Color Me Amazed. No, Bored. No, Intrigued. Oh, Never Mind.

14 Sep

by Roger White

I’ve been chiding us humans pretty regularly lately for our failure to live up to the technological potential we held out for ourselves in our hopeful and not-so-distant past. Ah, we were dreamers, weren’t we?

Specifically, I was pretty ticked for a good long while there about not having (a) a Jetsons’ spacecar, (b) X-ray goggles that actually work, and (3) a cloaking device that renders me invisible. In retrospect, I admit my disappointment was not one bit altruistic. I mean, the only reasons I wanted (b) and (3) were to get a glimpse of women in various stages of undress. (Don’t start writing nasty letters; I was 13 when I first came up with these reasons, OK?) And the Jetsons’ car was merely to beat the hellish morning traffic. The thinking there is pretty nonsensical, too, if you figure that if everybody had a Jetsons’ spacecar, we’d still have hellish morning traffic—it would simply be 197 feet in the air instead of on the ground. Who needs a fender-bender 197 feet in the air? And if you get caught speeding, what do you do, pull over to the side of the sky? So here we are back to square one.

However, I have determined, my fellow life travelers, that I should ease up on us. We actually have come a long way. How have we come a long way, you ask? I’ll tell you. One terrific example is beer technology. We are not drinking our grandfather’s beer anymore, fellahs. No, thanks to the forward-thinking ingenuity of minds such as those at Miller Lite, we now have our brew poured via the wonders of Vortex® technology. Huzzah! This paradigm-shifting development basically involves the cutting of tiny, little grooves inside the neck of Miller Lite bottles, which makes the beer come out in a swirling motion. Let me just interrupt myself here and say how proud I am to insert the word “paradigm” into this missive. Please continue. It’s the same old swill, mind you; it just comes out in a waterspout now. But just think, the folks at Miller Brewing probably created hundreds more jobs: picture a room full of little old ladies with skinny fingers etching tiny, little grooves into a giant mound of Miller Lite bottles, one by one. New jobs, new jobs!

And look at your Coors Light cans. If not for the genius thinking at Adolph Coors, we would be running the risk of imbibing lukewarm suds. We’ve been saved, however, by the blue, blue mountains. Only when the Rockies turn blue on your can are you sure of ice cold inebriation. God bless America.

[Tangent warning!]

Taking the cue from Adolph & Co. (and those groovy mood rings from the ’60s), other crafty entrepreneurs are, as we inhale, running with this chameleon construct. Soon, my sources tell me, we will have such exotic items as cars and trucks that can change color with a press of a button (no vans, though—a color-changing van is just too creepy), faucets that can turn your water red or blue (or various shades thereof) depending on temperature so you won’t be shocked out of your skin, house paint that will change colors with the seasons, and a wondrous array of other hue-changing goodies that will forever transform everything as we know it and end world hunger and all that stuff.

The house-paint-changing-color-with-the-seasons bit, however, might not fly here in Texas. Every single cotton-picking dwelling in this entire state would be hothouse red 363 days of the year, if this god-forsaken year is any indication.

Anyhow, I got to thinking how we our own selves could apply this brainchild to our daily living. For example, we could douse our milk in these color-changing chemicals, thereby ending the mystery. If the cowjuice is green, don’t drink it. She’s turned, laddie.

How about the dog? They’ve studied chameleons, ya know, and scientist types figured that these little guys change color not only for camouflage but for other reasons, like combat, courtship, and temperature regulation. When Clem Chameleon is black, he’s mad. When he’s bright and patterned, he’s feeling a bit randy—and when he’s gray, he needs a cold one. What if we could develop a pill you give the dog, so we could tell when he needs to do his business?

“Honey, Ralph’s blue. It’s your turn.”

“Unh, uh. I took him out last time.”

Perhaps we could even apply this to our own bods. Would make the singles scene so much simpler.

“Hey, Bob, look. In the corner there. She is cute.”

“Not purple, though. She’s not in the mood.”

“Well, you could get her purple, man. Go on.”

OK, I’m sorry. Got a little too far out there. Color me chided.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.