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Thursday, August 23, 2012


Remember all the products Wile E. Coyote bought from Acme in his failed attempt to foil the Road Runner? The first thing that comes to my mind is the Acme Do It Yourself Tornado Kit. You just added water to a tornado seed, and a funnel cloud formed.

I’ve always admired anything with a “just add water” label on it. When ingredients are dehydrated and mixed with magic chemicals, you can create a perfect treat using only tap water. Cakes, Jello 123, instant pudding, mud. All of which taste the same.

But what if you ran into Acme Instant Water Kit―Just Add Water?

I recently ran into something similar at the Institute of Retail Last Resort.  Otherwise known as Big Lots, it’s a place where dented cans, crushed boxes, time sensitive goods about to expire, foods with foreign labels and made by manufacturers exempt from FDA regulations, and merchandise that just didn’t catch on―go to die. Or if they’re lucky, they get bought up by desperate consumers like us who are trying to stretch a buck.

Other Bill actually found it first and immediately thought: Here’s some material for Bill to write about.  

Like so many things offered by Big Lots, this item, which was called Chicken Caesar Dinner Kit, and actually said on the box, “just add chicken and salad,” was slashed to the low, low price of one dollar. So curious was I and so insistent was Other Bill, that we both coughed up fifty cents and purchased it, just so I could take a picture of it. Did it come with Caesar’s toll free number, so you could call him when you want him to come out and prepare it and possibly teach your dog some manners? Not for a buck. I guess they were hoping people wouldn’t read the box. If it says, “add chicken & salad,” You can pretty much bet that it will be, for the most part, salad dressing.

Since the purchase, I have decided to market a bag of air and call it, “Steak Tartare Kit.” All you do is add chopped raw meat, and it’s ready.

I think the world needs to slow down. Sure we’re busy and depend on the World of Ready Made to save us some valuable seconds in the day. But where do you draw the line between “convenience” and “Really, you lazy-assed-good-for-nothing? That’s the best you can do?”

I would be so good in marketing because I am so lazy that I think up several things a day that could make my life less tedious.  More ideas are generated when Other Bill goes away for a weekend, and I am left to fend for myself. I would truly rather not eat than have to open the refrigerator and go through all the leftovers to decide which one I have to tediously pull out and put in the microwave and actually wait 30 seconds until it is warm. What a bore. How taxing.

I am too lazy to look on shelves lower than the second one. And if an offering isn’t front and center, I’m certainly not going to dig for it. That’s why I want a refrigerator that, instead of having square glass shelves, inside there is a rotisserie… like those big cake and pie wheels all clean and pretty and lit up in restaurants. If I had one of those as a fridge, I’d be much more apt to pick something out to eat when someone nicer than me is unavailable to bring it to me.  Maybe it could stream food-related music when you open the door. See? Marketing genius! I want the job of the idiot who decided to build a flat screen TV into the door of a refrigerator. Those never took off. Fire that jerk, and hire someone lazy, like me. I’ll sell a million units before you finish reading this.

They actually make prepared meals that come in self-heating boxes.  For people too poor or bothered to use a stove. I tried one once (they were handed out as a post-hurricane emergency meal ready to eat, or MRE once.) The only thing keeping from me from stocking a collection of them on hand is that I worry about what is preserving them. Well that, and the fact that I burned myself when I tried to heat it. The same with those shelf meals like beef stroganoff in bags that don’t need refrigeration. WHY don’t they need refrigeration?

Every time we go to the grocery store and we walk through the chilled processed meat area and I wonder just how many decades it’s been since I had a bologna-on-buttered-Wonder-Bread, I express my disdain at the enormous amount of space provided for Lunchables. I despise them, even though I’ve never had one, so I have no concrete reason to find them offensive.

Instead of calling them Lunchables, why not just be honest and label them “Unhealthy Snacks for Children with Alcoholic Parents” and call it a day? Oscar Meyer should sell them with vodka miniatures that zip off the box. (Again: marketing genius!) Full of sodium, nitrates, preservatives and sugar, these abominations take the worst foods (cheap hot dogs or other processed meat), fat-filled cookies, a processed cheesy-like substance, some white flower disaster and sometimes a sugary drink) and put them in an attractive yellow box.  Millions are bought every day by fat, irresponsible parents with rotund children. Really, just how tough is it to put an apple, some crunchy sweet vegetables and a whole wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper bag?

But then, even spreading two things on bread has been usurped by that god-awful peanut butter and jelly squirted in stripes in one bottle. Oh, thank God for Smuckers Goober! If I had to open two jars to make this sandwich, I would have had to call the suicide hotline!  And if two slices of bread, a knife and one jar of spread are too much for you, Smuckers offers these PB&J pressed-together pie-like empanada things you can buy frozen. They’re called Smuckers Uncrustables.  Uncrustable, indeed. Picky kids who hate bread crust have nothing to worry about with these health hazards, but I have seen people I work with eat these things. People over 40. Perfectly sane people over 40. Exactly how late to you have to be to not have time to slap together a peanut butter sandwich? How much more Facebook browsing time will Uncrustables net you? Will another 30 seconds get you fired? Damn, if I had just bought a Lunchable for the Beaver, I might still have my Wall Street job.

I always play Judgmental Johnny in the grocery checkout line. I make all sorts of biased, pre-determined demographic assumptions about the people just by perusing their carts. If they are buying any kind of single-use packages, like juice boxes or little cereals, or a stack of Lunchables, I brand them wasteful and environmentally toxic. If the mom has more than one toddler in tow and I see white bread, frozen pizza, gallons of generic fruit punch, anything that could be bought fresh for less, and a large supply of cheap beer, I think: white trash. I predict payment with food stamps.  If I see a nicely-dressed woman carrying unbleached flour, milk, vanilla, brown sugar and butter, I think: Martha Stewart mother of spoiled children. Probably left her behemoth Luxus SUV running with the air conditioner blasting in the parking lot. No one is safe with me looking down on them and their purchases, while I haughtily pose behind my basket full of ice cream, potato chips and Voortman orange artificially-colored vanilla waffle rectangle cookies. I’m sorry, there is just no way to make those by hand, even if you have a waffle iron. Sometimes if they are about to expire, I can find them at Big Lots.

There is neither shame nor judgment at Big Lots.  I never play Judgmental Johnny there.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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