Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut.

Whatever happened to jingles?

Television commercials provided me with some important life lessons and without jingles I would have forgotten every one of them.  I'd be hard pressed to locate Cypress on a world map, or find the square root of Pi, but I can recall those jingles word for word.

They taught me that the only real men were Marlboro men and that “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” In fact, in 1999 Advertising Age named it the 8th best jingle on US radio and television in spite of (or maybe because of) the controversy Winston spawned for a grammatically incorrect lyric.

Those were the days when my bologna had a first name and I learned to spell the very best chocolate.  I only had to pop a Mentos to be fresh and full of life. I could double my pleasure and double fun by just chewing gum and I would have traded my little brothers in a New York minute for a chance to be a Doublemint Twin. I was relieved when Hershey gave me permission to feel like a nut. 

I had the same reaction to those jingles as Pavlov’s dogs had to the bell. And there were times when I asked myself, "What wouldn't I do for a Klondike Bar?"

Only The Colonel did chicken right. If I wanted to have it my way, I knew Burger King would not be upset my special order, even though I spent most of my time lovin’ it at McDonalds where I never had it so good.

TV was my cultural classroom. America ran on Dunkin Donuts and ate Rice a Roni hanging off trolleys barreling up and down the steep streets of San Francisco. I was schooled on stereotypes from Alka-Seltzer’s ‘spicy-meata-ball’ man and the Frito Bandito.

Even the catch phrases got to me! I posed my first rhetorical question to my little brothers when I asked them how they would like a nice Hawaiian punch. Everyone knew that Wendy’s "Where's the beef?" was not about hamburgers.  Although the special sauce remains a mystery, I can still recite every ingredient in a McDonald's Big Mac! Yet I can't remember the capital of Vermont. 

According to Your Best Marketing, the catch phrase is the unsung hero of advertising. In one short memorable sentence, a product is indelibly imprinted on the target’s mind and the target does not necessarily have to be a consumer. Catch phrases work in the classroom as well. Everyone remembers what year Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  Just ask OJ how effective a catch phrase can be in a courtroom.  Who can forget Cochran's famous poetic instruction to the jury? “If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.” 

We don't have the spokes people of days gone by. I miss Madge and Mr. Whipple! Even with her hair bump, Progressive flow does not measure up. Our best these days is a lizard. The Geico Gecko although annoying, is one very effective little spokes-lizard. Just ask my mom who wonders how all the Geicos get into her screened-in patio. Okay, Mom may not be a good example. She refers to exterminators as terminators and likes a pedophile along with her manicure.

Still, it was those jingles that made the biggest impression on me. According to Wikipedia “musical memory is encoded differently from language and may constitute an independent part of the phonological loop". Located in the right hemisphere of the brain, this loop may play a key role in a young child learning vocabulary or an adult learning a second language. Makes sense to me. That is how I learned my ABC’s. Jingles work!

Madison Avenue can keep their spokes-mascots. Give me my jingles back! I need them to help me make important decisions about breath mints, over the counter meds, deodorant and fast food.

Those Mad-Men were onto something. Could it have 
been those liquid lunches? Whatever the reason, they managed to tap into the part of my brain that learns and remembers effortlessly. Let’s face it. Consumer decisions are stressful these days. I am now expected to Google and comparison shop. Too much work. I long for the good old days when a reliable Jingle-Loop-Hook did the choosing for me. Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t. What could be simpler than that?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Passes

This Thanksgiving is going to be a tricky one for me. In fact deciding on the menu may be easier than writing this post.

Pass the Tofurky
You see, earlier this year I became a vegan which makes me anti-turkey. Let me rephrase that.
Because I choose not to eat them, I am actually pro-turkey. This year I will be eating Tofurky. I know! It sounds like an expletive. Like something, you might blurt out as a kid and end up with a mouthful of soap. Due to a childhood tendency toward colorful language, I have tasted soap, but I have yet to try Tofurky, so for all I know Dove is more delectable.

My next thought was to write a poem, but I quickly abandoned that idea. For one thing, I couldn't find a word to rhyme with Tofurky. (Beef-jerky?) So, with turkeys and poems off the table, I still had a problem. How was I going to write about Thanksgiving with the proverbial turkey in the room?

The True Meaning of Thanksgiving
I was stumped until it hit me. I had completely forgotten what Thanksgiving is all about. This holiday is not just about stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams and mountains of mashed potatoes. It’s not just about eating your way into your fat pants. When I look back on dozens of family Thanksgivings, it’s obvious. 

This is one of our great American holidays when harried women spends days in the kitchen, cooking for and cleaning up after men who will gather in the den, with a hand is shoved down their pants, as they yell at the TV. 

Yep. You guessed it. Thanksgiving is about football!

Family Dinners
When I was a kid football hijacked countless holidays and Sundays. Thanksgiving always began and ended with football. Once, when I was a teenager, Mom had the audacity to serve dinner during a very important game. We ate in the dining room while the TV blared in the den so Dad and my brothers could be alerted to any crucial plays. Dad spent dinner jumping up from the table and running into the den. On one of his sprints, he choked on a piece of turkey, slowed down only long enough for me to smack him on the back and continue his dinner-game-dash. When I told Mom what happened, I swear she mumbled something about wishing she had hit him.

As you may have guessed, I was not a fan. I was Team-Mom and as her Sous Chef I knew first hand the hours and hard work that went into preparing a dinner that took only minutes for the men in my family to inhale.

Football Tidbits
I still don't speak sports, but not all the women in my family feel the way I do about the game. My sisters and cousins are huge Steelers fans. When they watch the games they seem to know what’s going on because they cheer and groan in unison with the men. So, in an attempt to adopt an if you can’t beat ‘em, attitude, I have tried to watch and learn, but most of the time, I am lost. I have picked up a few tidbits over the years, yet the more I learn, the less I understand.

From what I can gather, there are about fifty guys on each team who are given only one ball to play with. But why they call this thing a "ball" baffles me because it doesn't roll or even bounce all that well. I've seen players run all the way to the end of the field, only to hurl the ball onto the ground. They call this spiking. This results in one awkward bounce in which the ball veers off wildly in an unpredictable direction, making it impossible for them to catch it. In fact, they don’t even try. Yet they seem especially proud of themselves when they do this. Inevitably their teammates run up, hug them and give them congratulatory smacks on their behinds. Football players seem happiest when they are spiking and spanking.

Now you would think, since they are used to playing with only one ball, they would be good at sharing it. But if you have ever seen a game, you’d know that this is not their strong suit. I can only imagine how embarrassed their poor mothers must feel as they watch their sons play on TV. They just fight over that single ball until someone blows a whistle. It's the job of whistle-blower, to make sure everyone gets a turn at playing with the ball.  

One team is the defense and the other is offense. But I think they have the names backwards, because the defending team is the one doing all the rude stuff like trying to steal the ball when it’s not even their turn. 

I'm not sure how they decide which team defends and which offends. For all I know, the big decisions are made in the locker room during a heated rocks-paper-scissor match between the two team-leaders, also known as the coaches. I relate to these guys. They seem to enjoy the game even less than I do as they stand on the sidelines, waving their arms and yelling.     

The game begins after a judge throws a quarter in the air, determining who gets to go first. One player kicks the ball while everyone stands around and watches and that's as friendly as it ever gets. After that it's a free-for-all.

Beasts and Prey
When a guy called the quarterback throws the ball, it's called a pass. Anyone who is unlucky enough to catch the ball gets jumped by the other team's biggest men. The quarterback is usually in a hurry to get rid of the ball and I can't blame him. But get this; even though it's the kiss of death, he always passes it to one of his teammates. When the wide-retriever catches the ball, he immediately becomes prey to a pack of 250 lb helmeted, padded, wild-eyed beasts. He runs like hell until someone knocks him down. This is a called a tackle. When the prey is tackled by one beast all of the other beasts pile on top of him until one of the whistler-blowers blows. Sometimes they wave a flag, but that doesn't seem to be very effective.

Even though I grew up in Pittsburgh, Steelers fans confuse me the most. They seem especially prone to bumper stickers, hats, and other memorabilia. I actually heard that a giant toy duck stopped traffic in Pittsburgh this year. 

One year for Christmas, my brother gave out Steeler's gifts. My present was a little gold hand towel with the black letters on it. Before I got a chance to read it, my brother proudly explained to me that this was a Terrible Towel. Since it didn't match any of the colors in my bathroom, I had to agree. But I thanked him and made sure it was hanging on my towel rack the next time he came over. I was really confused when he came out of the bathroom holding the towel. "It's not for the bathroom," he explained. "It's for your car!. 

Okay, I felt a little stupid, until I finally caught on. But when he stopped over a few months later, my brother was horrified to see me waxing my car with it. "No! You wave it out of your window when the Steelers score." 

Come on! If I'm in my car, how will I know when the Steelers get a home-run? 

This year, I will be going to my sister's annual Thanksgiving party where there will be food, family, friends, and football aplenty. And as you've probably already guessed, no matter how many games are televised, the only passes I'll be interested in will be the ones requested at the dinner table.

In the spirit of the holidays, I want to give a shout out to the football fans and especially the Steelers fans. I know many of you will be watching the Thanksgiving game because there is a chance the Steelers could be in the semifinals. And though I can't call myself a fan, Pittsburgh is my hometown and even get how exciting it is when the Steelers play in The Super Game!

So, Happy Thanksgiving and go Steelers!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Who Keeps Moving the Airport? And Other Questions (Whines)

Who keeps moving the airport? 
I was not born with a sense of direction. If you left me alone in the Pine Barrens and told me to ‘find north', you would never see me again. I might have a fighting chance if you told me, "Left at this tree and right at that one." I'm also pretty good at up, down, forward and backward. Okay, I’m actually great at backward. But tell me to head due east or northwest and you can color me clueless.

Airports are particularly challenging for me. I can't drive toward an airport without breaching the Bermuda Triangle. My sister used to ask me how close I had to get before my gauges started flipping. Doesn't matter which city, which airport or how many times I've been there, I always get lost. I either miss the exit, turn off before the exit, or drive in the opposite direction. 

And in case any Floridians are wondering, the answer is yes. I have gotten lost on my way to Daytona International Airport (DAB). I kid you not. For those of you who don't know how embarrassing that is, the airport is on the main road through town and across the street from the mall (which I can find blindfolded during a hurricane). DAB is small. It's a no muss, no fuss airport and therefore my favorite. And by favorite, I mean; I don't dread it as much as big airports. They are impossible for me. Which leads me to my next question.

Where is the terminal? 
For me, finding the correct terminal is about as easy as finding a needle on a tarmac. When I lived in New Jersey, Newark Liberty International was a recurring nightmare of mine that always began with the same puzzle. Which lane would get me to my terminal? If I was lucky enough to untangle that enigma, I couldn't get into the lane. Ever had one of those dreams where you want to move, but you can't? Then you have an idea of what it's like to drive on a New Jersey highway. Changing lanes is risky. The average flow of traffic is a bumper to bumper 90 mph drag race in which lane-changers are synonymous with interlopers. I guess I was never aggressive enough to keep up. Also, I didn't want to die, so I'd end up doing loops around the airport like Clark Griswold did around the Lambeth Bridge roundabout in London. And like Clark, I muttered to myself hysterically about how I could not get left.

Once, in a bold move, I took advantage of a narrow opening between two Fed Ex trucks, squeezed into their lane and floored it. I was still pumping my fist in the air and yelling, "Woo Hoo," when I realized that I had driven into the RESTRICTED cargo area. Thankfully, this was pre-911, so I was not surrounded, handcuffed, arrested and interrogated or shot on sight. 

Newark airport was also the bane of my visiting family's existence. It was always a crap shoot as to whether I was going to get them to the airport on time to make their return flight. Once, when I was rushing my anxious mom to the airport, I missed the terminal exit, left the airport and drove us straight into downtown Newark. Poor Mom. She'd picked a bad day to quit smoking, sniffing glue and biting her nails. 

Of course, I am joking. Mom has never been a nail-biter.

Which is worse? Loading/Unloading or Parking?
Every airport seems to have a menacing police presence at the Arrival and Departure drop-offs and in Newark, it's the job of the Port Authority Police to keep things moving. You risk a face to face with Officer-Move-It every time you park long enough to safely load and unload your passengers. And by long enough, I mean; come to a full stop.

A few years ago, I attempted to pick up my visiting sister at the arrival area at Newark Liberty. I knew from our cell phone conversation that she had just retrieved her bags and would be out momentarily, but Officer-Move-It was not having it. He strode up to my car and ordered me to leave. When I tried to explain that I would only be another minute, he threatened to give me a ticket. Sheesh! My poor sister walked out of the airport in time to see me drive away. Unfortunately, I made a wrong turn (Bermuda Triangle) and exited the airport. It took me thirty minutes to find my way back to the Arrival area. 

Each time I took my mother to the airport, I knew a meeting with Newark's finest was inevitable. Mom dances to only one tempo. Doesn't matter if she's late or on fire; her internal metronome is stuck on slow. I often wondered if Officer-Move-It would rather I just decelerate, toss her luggage out the window and shove her out of the car while instructing her to tuck and roll. 

This is why parking at the airport is sometimes unavoidable. The larger airports have open air garages with endless levels, sections and rows. I always consider it a good omen when I can find a parking space less than a mile from the terminal entrance. The hard part is remembering that I parked in Terminal B, Level 17, in the Green Section in Row 125. And it ain't cheap. 

What happened to the Hare Krishna? 
I miss the good old days when the most annoying people at the airport were the Hare Krishna. I read that the Supreme Court banned them from soliciting at several international airports, which I find both ridiculous and surprising. Ridiculous, because they were harmless, and surprising because I would have bet money that the TSA rounded them up and tossed them. Which begs the question.

Why is the TSA so mean and scary?
Any encounter with the TSA is enough to remind me that these are no longer friendly skies. I don't like going through security. The agents scare me. I'm always afraid that I'm one misstep away from the wrong end of a proctology exam.

This summer, I put my sixteen-year-old-daughter, on an early morning flight out of Orlando International. This was her first solo flight that included a layover. She was nervous about the prospect of getting off one plane and finding the gate for another, so I thought if accompanied her to the gate, I could alleviate some of her stress. And once the airline determined that I was not a member of Al Qaeda, they issued me a special pass.

When the TSA personnel told us to take our shoes off, we both understood that this this was not a Beverly-Hillbillies-esque-invitation. After all, we were Jersey girls. Also, we could see that our next stop was a body-scan which is pretty much the opposite of setting a spell.

Like dozens of other airports, Orlando has done away with the handheld wand and has upgraded to the monstrosity that is the full body scanner. The directive is to step inside the machine, stand on the footprints and reach for the sky. My daughter was ahead of me in the line and nearly came undone when the TSA started barking instructions at her and I couldn't blame her. The machine and the procedure are intimidating for even the toughest Jersey gals. When she neglected to put her hands over her head, the agent looked at her thoughtfully for a second, took a step toward her and asked “Do you speak English?”

I am not proud of what happened next. And I can't explain why it happened. While my red-faced daughter nodded yes, I laughed out loud. And I couldn't stop. The TSA agent and my daughter glared at me as I stumbled into the scanner doubled over with tears streaming down my face. I can't swear to it, but I may have snorted. I laughed while I was inside the scanner, feet spread and arms raised. I laughed while I put my shoes back on. I laughed while my daughter,who found no solace in the fact that I didn't pee my pants, scolded me. "It's not funny Mama!" I was still laughing when my mortified daughter and I arrived at her gate. 

The good news was that I had unwittingly accomplished my goal and cured her lay-over fear. My daughter couldn't wait to get on the plane and get as far away from me as possible. Still, she was sweet enough to hug her embarrassing mother before she boarded her flight. When I knew that her flight was in the air, I went to find my car on Level 12 in the Red Section in Row 21. Or was it Level 21, Row 12? Crap. My gauges had already begun to flip.

The end of the whine
Okay, I'm done. Sure, there are other things that annoy me about airports, but whining is an exhausting business. Anyone need a ride to the airport?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Welcome To Crackbook"

Indifference, Love and Obsession
I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. Since our first encounter, I have run the gamut between indifference, love and obsession. 

When my sister introduced me to FB in 2008, it took me a few months to succumb. When I finally did open an account, she was the first to post on my wall.

“Welcome to Crack-book!”   It was an auspicious beginning. 

At first, I was on but not really in. A fact that was glaringly obvious by my profile picture or more accurately, my lack of one. For several months, I had Facebook's default image of the silhouette-girl with a page-boy-helmet-haircut. I was good with that because I hated all of my recent pictures. I'd spent the last year eating my way through the emotional debris of a divorce and even a head shot would have shown the extra 30 lbs of baggage I carried (okay, ate). Also, I thought there was a good chance someone would mistake me for Delta Burke.

A few months later, Sis called me out on my anonymity by way of another wall post. “Are you in the witness protection program?” 

I was content to stay in the program until my brother offered a simple yet ingenious solution. “Use an old picture!” He didn't specify how old, so I went back to the dark ages and chose my black and white high school senior picture.  Aha! I too was a genius!  Or so I thought, until yearbook photos started appearing all over Facebook, because of a popular application called ‘Yearbook Yourself.’ You plug your photo into this app and voila! You have a retro black and white yearbook pic of yourself.  Crap. I was old enough to be vintage. Is vintage better than fat? I couldn't decide, so I kept the high school pic and held out hope that my Facebook friends would think that I had Year-Booked myself.  But, it didn't take long for Sis
to comment on my picture. "My sister did not Yearbook herself. That's her high school picture!"

Does anyone else notice a pattern here? 

Eventually, as my sister predicted, I took to FB as a junkie does to crack. Reading and commenting on the eclectic array of posts every day enthralled me. It still does. You never know what you're going to see. Some friends use FB to promote their business or their political and religious agendas. Some push their passions, tell jokes or re-post inspirational messages. Others post pics of their kids, their friends, themselves, their pets and their food, while letting you know where they are at any given moment via the 'check-in'. 

I’m guilty of all of the above. I also tell stories, post my blogs and ask for advice. I used to feel the need to post everyday, but I eventually realized that If I have nothing to say, perhaps less is more. Actually nothing is more. A friend pointed out that it was probably not necessary to alert FB when I was about to take a nap. Okay, so I may have been guilty of over-sharing a little.

Validation and Rejection
Facebook is a place where you can get instant validation or rejection through a ‘like’ or a ‘comment’ or the absence thereof.  A couple years ago I posted a true-story about a chat with a Colombian FB friend who I danced with at one of our local clubs. He did not speak or understand English any more than I understood Spanish. I referred to our language barrier and declared to my FB friends that I wasn't sure whether I was engaged or I had just bought a goat.  That was a 'like and comment' home-run. On the other hand, I've unwittingly started bitter arguments by posting an off-hand remark about a political issue.

After 5 years on FB, I still can't crack the 'post-reaction code'. I've posted status updates that I thought were either smart, insightfull or funny that have not yeilded a single ‘like’ or ‘comment.’ Ugh. It's like the feeling you have when your friends leave you hanging after you've raised your hand for a high five. Bummer! But this is where your kids can come in handy. After much begging and threatening, my sixteen-year-old daughter finally agreed to be my friend. She's a sweetheart, so I can usually count on her for a mercy-like.

A Facebook wall can be a snapshot of someone’s life, albeit an inaccurate one.Through the years I have added relatives, old friends and new ones. What I have come to love about FB is that I can keep in touch with friends and relatives across the country and in some cases across the world. Cousins that I haven’t seen since I was a child, are in my life again. I get to learn about their lives and get an inkling of their core values.  It's a blessing to be able to communicate regularly with so many special people. As face paced as most of our lives are these days would that be possible without social media? I'm not so sure.