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Pondering Life’s Little Scams, Schemes, and Swindles

7 Jul

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So I was standing in the shower attempting to loofah my stretch marks when one of wifey’s standing army of haircare products amassed on the shower shelf caught my eye. It was a shiny, dazzling thing, the color of polished gold. The container’s meant to grab your attention, you see, designed to stand apart from the plethora of shampoos and such that crowd the grocery shelves. Marketers never cease to amuse. Gold equals value, see, so this shampoo must be head and shoulders above the rest. Ouch, that was unintentional. So now that the golden suds caught my eye, I looked closer. I had to laugh—more superlatives and blatant hyperbole were crowded onto this little bottle of bubbles than a Barnum & Bailey circus poster.

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“Advanced,” “NEW,” “Total Repair,” “EXTREME,” “Emergency,” “Recovery,” “RAPID FIBER RENEWAL” (whatever that is)…and on and on. It’s as if the company’s advertising guys looked up every glowing adjective in the dictionary and simply pasted them all on the bottle. I snickered again, but then I realized, hey, it worked. It’s in my shower, ain’t it?

 

I pointed out all the grandiose gobbledygook to my wife when I exited the reading room and asked her if it was indeed the best haircare product she’d ever used. “Eh,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not that great.”

 

Ah, yes. This revelation got me pondering all the little cons and exaggerations and out-and-out flimflammery that we deal with on a daily basis. I believe we first got the idea that the scam was on as we moved from adolescence into young adulthood. This was about the time we witnessed the gradual, ever-so-subtle phenomenon known as the incredible shrinking product. Remember? Food staples such as hamburgers and candy bars slowly lost their heft over time, almost like magic.

 

gadzooksThe Big Macs and Hersheys of our youth didn’t merely appear larger back then because we were tykes; they’ve been carefully trimmed over the years. Picture your Hershey bar on a fulcrum, like a teeter-totter of corporate trickery; price goes up, product size goes down. Eventually, I suppose we’ll be shelling out $19.99 for a chocolate nibble the size of an unwell raisin. In that vein, corporate candy minds have already given us the “fun size” bar. Fun size. That’s marketing speak for “you pay us regular-size price, and we’ll give you tiny crumbs in a colorful, exciting package. Yay! Fun!”

 

The Mars Company did some more snipping just recently, shaving the size of its Snickers and Mars bars—merely for health reasons, mind you. “Having taken product reformulation as far as we can for now without compromising the great taste,” a company spokeslizard said, “we have reduced the portion size of Mars and Snickers to bring down the calories.” Right.

 

The soft drink guys did it, too, long ago—under the guise of moving to the metric system. If you’re old enough to recall, family-size cokes once came in one-gallon containers. Touting their shift to the sleek three-liter size bottle as a consumer-friendly move to a more efficient, easier-to-tote container—at the same price!—the cola industry failed to mention that customers were now getting precisely .793 of a gallon of coke for the gallon price. But what’s .207 of a gallon between friends?

 

It isn’t just at the grocery store, though. The scam is everywhere. Corporate lizards abound. If you don’t pay close attention to your wireless service bill, for example, you’ve probably been crammed. We were crammed recently, but thank goodness the wife caught it before it went on too long. In fact, T-Mobile just got slammed by the Federal Trade Commission for cramming. Sounds physically painful, I know, but cramming hits you only in the pocketbook. It’s the practice of stuffing hidden fees into your bill for services you didn’t request—hence the ugly terminology. It’s often difficult to spot the hidden fees because the wireless companies will not itemize them; rather, they’ll show up as “Use Charges” or some other ridiculous, nebulous category.

 

The list goes on. Premium gas, college textbooks, bottled water, anything and everything that movie popcorn manshows up on your hospital bill, automotive cabin air filters, shipping and handling (what the hell is handling, anyway?), hotel taxes, cable activation fees, time shares, movie snacks. It’s a mine field out there, people. It’s a dirty, slimy mine field full of lizards, to mix a metaphor or three.

 

I think I need another shower. Hey, this shampoo looks good…

 

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.

 

 

 

It’s Not Just Me, Is It? It’s Too D@%* HOT!

19 Jun

by Roger White

I made the painful mistake of walking to the mailbox at mid-afternoon the other day. It was only about fifty feet, but it was June, it was Texas, and I was barefoot. What was I thinking?

At approximately ten feet from the mailbox, the soles of my feet on the sidewalk’s glowing surface began to feel like warm, spongy marshmallows, left in the Kraft bag in the sun during an ill-conceived summer campout. I might mention that my feet are as white and delicate as warm, spongy marshmallows left in the Kraft bag in the sun, also, but that’s beside the point.

By the time I opened the mailbox (only to find the usual, of course: a couple of bills; an obnoxious flier peppered with exclamation points informing me that I, yes, I, Mrs. Whites, had been selected as a guaranteed winner of either a Mediterranean vacation cruise, a 52-inch high-definition TV, or a back-scratcher provided I booked a weekend “get acquainted” stay at Lake Yerdozegawn Casino of Shreveport, Louisiana; and an official-looking letter from a Nigerian prince), my precious tootsies had gone from melting marshmallows to outright blackened s’mores. I tried to persevere—neighbors were about—but two steps from the mailbox and I started hightailing it back into the house, alternating between a dead run and a crab-stepping gait that would surely qualify for a grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Sitting on the kitchen counter with my smoking dogs under the faucet, I pondered my predicament. This surely couldn’t be just a matter of advancing age and retreating tolerance, could it? Although I well remember running and biking and doing just about everything barefoot all summer long when I was a kid—and never really feeling that hot at all (jeez, did we even sweat then?)—I conclude that my burning bunions of late involve more than simple wrinkles-induced wimpiness.

It’s hot. Way. Too. Hot. I’m talking another planet hot. Though I noted at the beginning of this diatribe that it’s practically summer and I’m practically in Mexico, it’s never been this bad. When I look out my window and see the squirrels fighting the blue jays for bird bath privileges, I know something’s amiss. I never knew squirrels were such dead aims with acorns. I was also unaware that squirrels wore bathing suits. It’s just the cutest thing when they leave them to dry on the bird bath. And you should see their tiny little flip-flops.

Anyway, despite what noted scientists Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Ted Nugent (and their well-funded pals at Exxon and R.J. Reynolds) say, you can’t tell me our little globe is not heating up. As I write this, it’s still officially spring, but the thermometer on our back deck already passed away from heat exhaustion. Our front yard looks like beige shag from a ’70s bachelor pad, and our long-haired dachshund, Ralph, looks woefully at me and shakes his head when I tell him it’s time to go out and do his business. You ever try to make a dachshund wear a catheter? My wife gave him a serious summer haircut as incentive, but Ralph’s no dummy. He’s seen the squirrels.

Can’t you just envision the “deniers” in a few years, when the summer’s average daily high is 139 degrees? “Global warming’s a fraud. It’s been hot before. It’s been dry. I remember in 1977 during the ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ Tour, when mmmph…mlllmm” “Sorry, folks, that’s going to wrap up this press conference. Mr. Nugent’s microphone just melted.”

It’s bad, I’m telling ya. Unless there’s a swimming pool or slip ’n’ slide within arm’s reach, even the kids aren’t out. That right there should prove my theorem. If the kids aren’t playing, something’s really wrong. That’s the litmus test. Call it the kidmus test. It’s a deserted landscape out there. It looks like the Sahara Desert, or Mars, or even Cleveland.

Heck, if it weren’t for the invention of air-conditioned vehicles, we would all be stuck inside our homes and offices all day long, staring at computer screens and writing silly columns abou—. Never mind.

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.