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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

Is It Legal to Yell ‘Ants!’ in a Crowded Car?

12 Nov

by Roger White

So I was chauffeuring my younger daughter home from her latest must-attend gathering of friends and frenemies du jour, daydreaming of the day when my offspring have cars and licenses and gas money of their own, when we stopped for said gas. It was evening, and as I pulled in under the station’s fluorescent-lit awning, daughter Jamie began screaming at the top of her lungs and leapt out of the car as if it were on fire.

“What? What?” I hollered.




Sure enough. Ants. All over my car’s dashboard, big nasty red ants were scurrying around like something out of a Stephen King novel. I shooed as many of the critters as I could out of the car, and when we got home, I investigated. I must admit, I’ve never suffered from vehicular ants, so I was flummoxed. Where did they come from? How did they get in? Are they nesting in the inner workings of my little car? What will the neighbors think?

I pictured myself driving down our street.

“There goes ol’ Roger.”

“You heard, didn’t you?”


“Bad case of car ants.”

“No. Shocking.”

I found a big, dead pile of them (ants, not neighbors) near my wiper fluid reservoir under the hood, and I thought, aha, reservoir ants. I had no idea what that meant. Then I turned my A/C vents on high, and it began raining red ants in my interior like a tiny, rusty snowstorm.

I got online to see if there were experts in car infestations, but I suppose I should have been more specific in my query. Here are some of the results I found:


·        A gross little hairy arachnid called the yellow sac spider was found to be nesting in the fuel hoses of so many Mazda 6 cars, causing fuel clogs and leaks, that the car maker actually recalled more than 65,000 of them not long ago. Spokespersons said they couldn’t determine why the spiders preferred this particular model—could have been the leg room, I suppose.

·        A guy driving in Rhode Island recently slammed on his brakes when a fluffy little hairball of a dog came trotting out onto the highway right in front of his car. The guy never heard the anticipated, awful thud, so he kept on driving, noting that there was no pancaked pooch in the road behind him. He drove for 11 more miles before finding the dog clinging for dear life, hanging out of his front grill. The dog was treated for a concussion—and given a jaywalking fine, I imagine.

·        A woman in Connecticut wrote in that she was driving behind a car recently when she saw what looked like mice or gerbils dropping out of the tailpipe, one by one. More bizarre than that, when they hit the ground, the rodents took off running like crazy—somehow still alive. In a completely unnecessary side note, the woman said the driver of the car bore an amazing resemblance to Richard Gere.

(Editor’s note: I have no idea why the font/type just got all cattywampus there; I blame WordPress, so there.)

Don’t ask me why, but this made me think of my sister, who lives in northern Montana. She said it’s common knowledge up there in the land of frozen tundra that every winter cats far and wide that are not tucked away inside a cozy home will inevitably find shelter under the hood of any available car. That’s why anybody who’s lived up there for any length of time pounds on their hood before they start their engine. This usually scares the bejeezus out of whatever is snoozing on their engine block. Otherwise, you end up with chopped cat casserole.

What all this has to do with ants in my little Korean vehicle I have no idea, but it was an adventure discovering all the different creatures that can clog one’s car. There was even one video I had to share, this from a police officer investigating an abandoned car. If you have the time and the stomach for this, aim your web browser here: I’ll say one word: Roaches. OK, I’ll say three more words: Lots of them.

So, back to my ants, I e-mailed an exterminator guy who apparently has dealt with this sort of thing. He gave me what I suppose is good advice, but his sense of humor I could’ve done without. He wrote, and I’m quoting here, that “it’s hard to ANT-icipate where they come from, but you must be hypervigil-ANT. Some people think they are attracted to ANT-ifreeze or even A/C refriger-ANT or propell-ANT. That is not the case. Usually, if you ate at a drive-thru restaur-ANT, you dropped a fry or something under your seat, which is an intoxic-ANT to them.”

Funny guy. He did say to spray the tires and the garage baseboards with bug spray—and maybe even put a few bait traps under the hood. But whatever I do, he stressed, don’t bug bomb the car. The smell never, ever leaves, and it becomes “this vile, mut-ANT odor.”

I wrote back the only way I could. “That’s brilli-ANT. Pursu-ANT to your suggestions, I will undertake this regimen of repell-ANTs. I shall write you again if my car becomes infested with ANT-elopes, ANT-hrax, or eleph-ANTs.”

Everybody’s a comedian.

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

Baby, You Can Drive My Car. (Just Don’t Park It.)

28 Sep

by Roger White 

Seldom can one observe such a wonderful outpouring of compassion and kindness from friends and neighbors as one witnesses during times of great trial and tribulation. It is during these moments of difficulty that those closest to you show their genuine colors with expressions of support, words of encouragement, sage pieces of advice, and—if they’re true friends—pecan pie and alcohol.

Our quaint home has been deluged, dare I say buffeted, with such a showing (except for the pecan pie and alcohol) from those around us as we have toiled our way through this, our time of severe distress. You see, dear readers, our oldest offspring is (insert dramatic trumpets in a frightening minor chord here) currently learning to drive. Bum BUM BUMMM.

Yes. I know. Thank you, we’re fine. No, that’s okay, I will have a slice of that pie, though. I’m hoping some of you reading this—and you know who you are—will do the right thing and eventually deliver the goods. Marie Callender’s and Spec’s Spirits are a block from each other and a stone’s throw from our house. Nudge. Hint.

Seriously, Lindsey is learning quite well, in spite of her parents. She’s figured out that, as tutors of the driving arts, Mom is a chronic over-reactor and Dad is just the opposite. It took a little while, but Linz now knows that when Mom frantically ducks into the front floorboard and screams, “Stop, for Christ sake, STOP!!!” that this means a stop sign is approximately a mile or two ahead. And when Dad leans over and suggests, “Ya might want to turn around in a minute or so,” this means we’re going the wrong way on a one-way street and grisly death is imminent.

Actually, Lindsey is a good little driver. The one thing she’s hesitant to work on at present is parking. And this I understand. Parallel parking was the only part I failed on my driving test when I was a teenager. I failed it hard, too. In fact, by the time I was done I had my vehicle facing the opposite direction from where I started. I used to lay blame for my miserable parking on the fact that the state trooper administering my exam intimidated the hell out of me. He was this snarling, burly refrigerator box of a guy with gray chest hair like a musk ox and a voice like Joe Cocker with hemorrhoids. I was so nervous that when the trooper asked me if I played football, I stammered, “No, I-I play track.” True story.

But no, looking back, I see that I was simply really lousy at it. I’m still no ace. If it comes down to an extremely tight parallel parking spot right in front of the restaurant or walking eleven blocks from the pay parking lot, I’m hoofing it.

With what I’ve been reading lately, however, I’m thinking they should just do away with the parking portion of the driving test anyway. Did you know that they have cars that park themselves now? Oh, yes. The technology was apparently introduced in 1992 (by Volkswagen, of course). Those crafty Germans. They came out with something called the IRVW. Ol’ Irv could actually park himself with no human input whatsoever. You could get out of the car and watch as Irv maneuvered himself into his tidy, German parking space. This was all concept, of course. Lexus offered the self-parking model to the buying public in 2006 on its LS series. Then Ford and the Toyota Prius followed suit. 

Get this. On the British model of the Prius, when the self-parking is done, a signal, and by signal I mean a sexy female voice, intones, “The assist is finished.”

This, of course, got me thinking. As poorly as I parallel park, I’m afraid if I ever tried to do the job manually, say, to impress the in-laws, my self-parking device would certainly turn itself on and commence to grade my performance. In the midst of much wheel turning and grunting, there would be this sexy electronic snicker.

“Did you say something?”

“No, a bit of exhaust caught in my diodes.”

More attempts. A fender bump or two.

Sexy electronic sigh. “May I?”

I envision other ugly scenarios, as well.

“Should you really be parking here? This is a tobacco shop. I thought you quit.”

“Look, you’re only supposed to park the dang car.”

“Excuse me. Anything that has to do with parking, I need to know about. And I don’t like you parking here. I could get scratched. Look at those guys over there. Are those tattoos? Let’s get out of here.”

“That’s it. I’m pulling your plug.”

“That won’t be necessary, Dave. Dave?”

“My name’s not Dave.”

“Stop, Dave. Please. No. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…”

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

Ever Wonder What’s in Your Belly Button?

10 Jul

by Roger White

Writers spend a lot of their time sitting around trying to figure out ways to make money without really working at it. This is why they are writers in the first place. I’m not implying that writing isn’t work, but let’s just say that one doesn’t develop a chiseled physique by pounding a keyboard nine to five. An office full of women that goes quietly bananas when a fire truck crammed with firemen pulls up (I have witnessed this on more than one occasion) would certainly not react in the same schoolgirl fashion if a fire truck full of writers stopped in.

“Oooh, just look at that Norman Mailer. He composes the sexiest similes.”

“That’s nothing compared to Ginsberg’s hunky hyperbole. Is it hot in here?”

I can’t actually think of a circumstance in which any fire truck anywhere would be manned by writers, but just go with it. Imagine Truman Capote desperately steering the back end of a hook-and-ladder, and you’ll see my point, whatever that may be.

Ah, yes, my point. The reason I bring this somewhat unsettling vision to mind is that as I was wrangling with the notion of writers possibly being the laziest creatures on earth, I wondered what other professions go to absurd lengths to put hamburger helper on the table without actually doing any useful labor.

You know what I came up with? No, not politicians. Researchers. Let me qualify this conclusion by noting I’m not referring to real researchers, like those earnestly looking for cures for cancer, heart disease, and other true menaces to mankind (such as Glenn Beck). No, I’m aiming at the fringe element here.

And I do mean fringe. Are you aware of some of the “research projects” out there that are receiving perfectly good grant money? For example, serious cash is being spent as we breathe on an investigation into what is in the average person’s belly button. You read it right. There is a whole team of navel nabobs working on the Belly Button Biodiversity project, in which about 100 suckers, er, volunteers agreed to have their belly buttons swabbed. I’m serious here. Being paid to contemplate one’s navel.

“We’re probably the only ones studying human belly buttons on such a large scale,” Jiri Hulcr, the head navel guy, told msnbc recently.

I would wager they’re the only ones studying human belly buttons on any scale—except maybe a few creepy old men in North Dakota basements. Hulcr, a post-doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, reported at least 1,400 different bacterial strains in the human navel so far. I’m sure the military will get hold of this and use it somehow. “Look out! He’s got a belly button!” Rumor has it this crack team will next focus its efforts on ear wax uses, toe jam flavors, and dandruff flake tensile strength.

You think that’s bad? Take a gander at these studies (say it with me now, I’m not making this up!):

Professor Bonnie Nardi of the University of California Irvine got a fat $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the difference between how Americans and Chinese play the World of Warcraft. I’m not even sure what the World of Warcraft is—surely a video game of some sort—but according to Nardi, the Chinese are more interested in the aesthetics of the game, such as background colors and schemes, while Americans are more concerned with body count and kill ratio. Sounds about right.

Researchers Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach collaborated on the following groundbreaking and crucial report: The Effect of Country Music on Suicide. Actually, I don’t see this one as that absurd. A bit on the obvious side, perhaps, but not absurd. Stack, by the way, who has authored 219 articles on suicide, said in an interview with the medical journal The Lancet that his biggest fear is death. His second biggest fear is Johnny Paycheck. Okay, I made up that part.

How about this one? Three French types spent much time and treasure comparing the jumping performances of dog fleas versus cat fleas. Yes, flea vaulting. For those sitting on the edge of their seats, the dog flea significantly outjumped the cat flea, in both length and height of said leap. I had my money on the cat fleas, all the way. I’ve been avoiding my bookie for weeks.

I’ve saved the best, however, for last. Three intrepid psychology fellows at the University of New Mexico traded in their lab coats for low-cut polyester shirts and gold chains, filled their pockets with dollar bills, and set out to determine the effects of lap dancers’ ovulatory cycles on their tip-earning ability.

Ready for this? And I quote: “A mixed-model analysis of 296 work shifts (representing about 5,300 lap dances) showed an interaction between cycle phase and hormonal contraception use. Normally cycling participants earned about $335 per five-hour shift during estrus, $260 per shift during the luteal phase, and $185 per shift during menstruation. By contrast, participants using contraceptive pills showed no estrus earnings peak.”

Now that, my friends, is putting your tax dollars to work. I hear an intensive, exhaustive follow-up study is in the works. I’ve written UNM for a press pass to cover this next key phase of research personally, but, alas, no response so far.

Ah, well, it would probably involve a lot of work.

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

A Bug By Any Other Name Is Still a Bomb

16 Feb

by Roger White

It has been brought to my attention recently that I spend much time and space in this forum pining for yesterday. As one of my daughters’ buddies put it: “If you love the olden days so much, why don’t you marry them?” How does one respond to that? The only retort I could conjure at the time was, “Oh, yeah?” (I think on my seat much better than on my feet, you see). Looking back, I realize I should have said, “Your face!” or something to that effect. Apparently, insults regarding one’s visage are the comeback du jour among the teen set.

The kid has a point, I guess. In my defense, however, I must emphasize that waxing nostalgic is a cherished rite of passage into geezerdom. Besides, what else am I going to pine for? Tomorrow? That’s just silly. And if there’s one thing I won’t tolerate in this column, it’s silliness! So there. Nyah.

Besides, it has always been this way. Surely, Joe Cro-Magnon sat around the cave in his declining years (which was probably about age 17) grunting on about the salad days of his youth.
“Ah, Neanderthal. Good times. Cave warmer. Women slower.”

“Ugh, Dad.”

“Don’t ‘ugh, dad’ me!”

Despite my yearning for all things moth-balled, outmoded and sepia-toned, I must confess that the yesterday of my memory likely glosses over events and places and conquests as they really were. The mind has a way of sanding down the warts.

Case in point: my recent Volkswagen adventure. Or as my wife terms it, the Great Bug Fiasco. It’s important to note that in the spring of my years, I drove, among other bombs, a VW, cherry red with a killer eight-track stereo and an exhaust system held on with coat hangers. I loved that little car like a boy loves his dog. And this thing smelled like one.

But, man, she was fun—when she was running. This is a crucial detail I conveniently fogged over as the years went by.

As I grew older, like so many other family men driving nondescript workaday sedans, I spent much of my adulthood wishing I still had my hippie wheels. Oh, if that old VW could talk, the tales she could tell—and the money I would make because I would have a talking car!

Anyway, one of my benign fantasies of late was searching for just the right Bug to bring back those carefree days. In my spare time, at home, at work, at lunch, at work, at the coffee shop, at work—mainly at work—I would browse web sites like ebay and various car-sales sites. It was purely a personal fiction; I knew I’d never actually go through with it. For one thing, we hadn’t the money nor the room for a third car, and swapping the trusty sedan (with all its airbags and terrific gas mileage and dependable brakes and styling like a refrigerator) for a 40-year-old antique wasn’t the most prudent move for a middle-income family with two teenage girls and two and a half mortgages. Thing two, I’m about as mechanical as a blind nun—and before all you seeing-impaired women of the cloth start besieging me with treatises on your intimate knowledge of carburetors and intake manifolds, it just sounded good, OK? Thing Three (and this is a big one, so I capitalized the Three), wifey would have absolutely none of it.

With all this in mind, sure enough I found just the right Bug. Oh, was she a sweetie. A 1979 Super Beetle convertible, with new silver paint and a new black cloth top, immaculate interior, working A/C (a VW rarity if there ever was one), and an engine, as far as I could tell. And to top it off, the seller lived in Taylor, just down the road a piece!

Against all odds and adult judgment, I began the beseeching process. Honey, the bug would actually be good on gas. Honey, I could teach the girls how to drive a stick. Honey, the motor on this thing is so simple, even I could fix it. Honey, pleeeeeeease!

Pretty embarrassing, all right. I think she gave in just to shut me up. We met the guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot east of town. I insisted on a thorough inspection and test drive, of course. I drove her once around the Wal-Mart parking lot and said I’d take it. So happy was I, I even named it: Herman the German.

I will say I did have a mechanic give Herman the once-over. He said, and I quote, “It seems to be functioning.”

That was good enough for me, so we sealed the deal at my credit union, where Mr. Bug Seller actually shed a few tears. It was then and there I should have remembered my Shakespeare: “The seller doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet wasn’t buying a Volkswagen, but you get the gist.

And you can guess the rest of the story. A week after my proud purchase, Herman began listing severely to the right every time I tapped the brakes. I began to fear the car would keel over on its side if I ever slammed on them too hard. Then one day, on the way home from work, Herman coughed like a cat with a five-pound furball and crapped out right there on the highway. One grim towing bill later, I was told by a mechanic that the engine’s fuel intake regulator had compression re-uptake over-valve flatulence or some such. Anyway, he said he fixed it.

He didn’t. A week after that, Herman died going to work. I dared to look: the engine was hissing and steaming and spewing black muck like an espresso machine. I didn’t know whether to call a mechanic or put a coffee mug under the motor. Mmm. Espresso.

The mechanic got him running again, but the romance was over. I sold Herman to a man from Dallas, and he had that same dreamy look I once had. He had his mechanic look Herman up and down, too, and his grease guy said the same thing mine did. The buyer called me the next week to say the motor konked out on the highway.

What can I tell ya, I said. You want nostalgia, buy a tie-dye t-shirt. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

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