Thursday, June 19, 2008

What the sign says; what the sign means

For my 15th birthday, I received two presents that I still have today: my Wilson A2002 baseball glove, which is still, in my view, the industry standard; and soft contact lenses, which, then, were a noticeable step up from the hard lenses that kept most of their wearers busy crawling around on gym, movie theater, basement and restaurant floors looking for them after they popped out in the middle of games, the part of the movie where you find out who killed whom or ended up getting the the girl or, worst of all, into a three-foot high Graphics bong? Really, who wanted their contacts back after that? Did you just absorb the loss as the cost of doing business? And what did you tell your parents . . .


"Dad, uh, I lost my contact last night after it fell out of my eye into Judd's bong. We were, like, listening to "Dark Side of the Moon," and when the alarm clocks went off at the beginning of "Time" I just jerked my head up right in the middle of a hit and, just like that, it fell right to the bottom. Can I get another one today?"

Or this?

"I was squinting to read the small print on the back of the Lysol bottle to see how much to dilute with water so I could mop the kitchen floor so you wouldn't have to do it, and my contact popped out and I couldn't find it, even after I had my friends come over and help me. I'm really sorry, and I'll pay for it."

Sometimes a stark choice is the best choice. You get to make a better decision that way. And you end up getting someone else to pay for your mistake.

No, I don't have the same pair of contact lenses I received thirty years ago. I've gone through many, many pairs since then, sticking to the same routine day-after-day, night-after-night -- removal, cleaning and storage. My favorite technological innovation has been the development of "multi-purpose" solution that removes protein every day so that you don't have to use those smelly pills that dissolved in saline solution so that your lenses could "soak" overnight, then wait four more hours so they could disinfect so that you could wear them. Messy and disgusting, this process discouraged more people than it encouraged. Good riddance.

But just the other day, while shopping at Giant for whatever my family demanded I make them, I saw something new on the label of the saline solution I've been using for decades.

"More Comfort; Same Quality"

This is disturbing on two levels. First, a need to "improve" a product means you are trying to make it better. If something is better, the quality goes up, not down. Nor does it remain the same. But that's nothing compared to this question: Just what the hell have I been putting in my eyes for thirty years? Granted, I never paid much attention to the "Thermisol-free" label, since I don't know what thermisol is, other than something that might cause brain damage, permanent scarring, a speech impediment or a birth defect so horrible that it has no name. Perhaps the thermisol explains the defiant, oppositional yet oh-so-sweet-I-have-dimples-so-you-can't-do-anything-to-me nature of my children.

Seeing labels like this makes me, prone to hypochondria anyway, feel like I should just find a couple of Coke bottles and make some glasses. Since my n'er do well father-in-law the optometrist decided to "retire" so he could hang out in my house, eat my food, boil his prunes, demand his laundry get done on a daily basis, all the while making the house wreak of moth balls and Vitalis (no, I didn't know they still sold that stuff either), I am going to have to start paying for my eye wear for the first time in 25 years. Why don't the manufacturers just tell us what these labels really mean?

Here's another one. My nine year-old teenage daughter insisted I buy her some whipped cream so that she could make an ice cream sundae for me. On the same day I learned that I had been putting poison into my eyes for the better part of my life, I found out that Cool Whip had redesigned the can so that it was, "Now, great new look, same great taste." This one's easy to decipher: "We've just made the container smaller while keeping the same price point. We're hoping that a little extra color will distract you from figuring this out." Same deal with all these new upside down plastic bottles of salad dressing, mustard, mayonaise: "No waste container" means smaller container with less product at the same price. Really, who hasn't figured out that you just turn the bottles over when you get to the bottom. Plus, with small tops, you can't scrape the insides as easily. So what happens? You end up wasting more."

Cereals are also guilty of disinformation like this: For years, Apple Jacks have been my favorite breakfast cereal or late-night post-sports/gig snack (How's that for fast living?). How heartbreaking was it for me to learn that it recently brandished this on the box: "New great taste!" What were they holding back? What's next? Do they just want to be friends with me?

And then there's always the environmentally conscious Proctor and Gamble, which has now reduced the size of its plastic laundry bottles because the detergent is now "2x" as strong. Use half as much for the same great clean. Good scam, this one. No one is going to use half as much detergent, for the same reason that people always fill both cups of the dishwasher so that their dishes can be "pre-cleaned," even though the instructions say something to the effect of "no rinsing necessary." Since we all know that "no rinsing necessary" means "if you don't want clean dishes don't rinse your plates," we do the same thing regardless of how often and loudly we're told we can change our whole approach to cleaning.

Golf equipment manufacturers have this down cold: "Do you want to play like Tiger Woods? Play the new Titleist nuclear powered golf ball and you'll enter Tigerland." No one will ever play golf like Tiger Woods for the same reason that no one played like him before hand. But don't tell that to the suckers that spend zillions of dollars per year on new clubs, shoes, balls, hats, bracelets, teaching aides and everything else that all promise to "add 10 yards" to your game. If that's the case, then even the world's worst golfers, who always used to play in front of me when I had the time to play goof, would drive the ball 510 yards and hit their 9 irons the same length as the less fortunate players hit their 3 woods. That's like me reading an article headlined, "Stay sexy like George Clooney." George Clooney and I are the same age. But, as it pains me to admit, he is much, much better looking, infinitely more wealthy, famous, suave -- an American James Bond -- than me. Other than some successful bizarre experiment, I have no chance of challenging George Clooney for the sexiest man alive. I can't match my 138 year-old father-in-law's routine, which consists mostly of drooling and pretending to forget his name so that attractive women will feel sorry for him and offer to take him home. One woman was so horrified to hear me tell a cashier in Panera recently that I tried to take him to the vet to have him put to sleep but, since the practice didn't accept Blue Cross Blue Shield, I wasn't able to do it, she offered to take him for the afternoon so that he could relax and get some rest. Oh, and he was just so "cute and sweet."

"New and improved." "Ergonomic handle for greater comfort." "Two times the cleaning power." "Experience the next level." "Cute and sweet."

In other words, "sucker."

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