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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Crapples to Crapples

Sundays are usually my favorite day. I get to sleep in until 7 or later. And when you get up at 5:30 five days of the week, 7:00 really is sleeping in. I fix myself a nice big glass of the iced tea that only I find potable, and I sit down on the couch, pull the lever that raises my legs on my side of the couch and read the paper.

I used to read the comics first, but we recently switched to a different paper that has better local news and crappier comics, so I tend to read section A and B first now. The comics are next to the last, and then come all the slick magazine-sized ads that generally offer coupons.

The first one I came to yesterday made me laugh out loud. It was trying to sell me  on the idea that a corn dog was more nutritious than four chicken nuggets. “A CLASSIC THAT STANDS ABOVE THE REST” it announced, showing, a proudly battered and deep fried hot dog on a stick standing next to something resembling Chicken McNuggets. And below each picture was the alleged calorie count and fat grams of each serving. The corn dog was 190 calories and 8 grams of fat. The four nuggets were 228 calories and 14 grams of fat. Allegedly.

Are you fucking kidding me? These are my choices? I don’t eat either of these products. My Uncle Earl, God rest his soul, managed to turn me off to hot dogs at a very young age when he told me they contained ground pig lips. Hot dogs were offered every single day in my junior high cafeteria, and whenever I saw someone eating one, I’d say, “You know you’re eating pig lips, right?” And then I’d get milk thrown in my face or my entire cafeteria tray dumped in my lap.  These people now, I fantasize, are either dead, obscenely overweight, and on huge doses of cholesterol meds and insulin. Or they should be.

And I don’t eat Chicken McNuggets, or McAnything for that matter. I learned that the McNuggets were once made from that pink slime that has been so recently in the news. Ground bones and marrow mixed with carcinogenic chemicals give them a meat-like flavor. They should have been called Chicken flavored McLabarotory nuggets if there was any truth in advertising.  McDonald’s has since claimed their lab nuggets are no longer made of that (God knows what they are made of now, though). To be brave and fair, I took a bite of a McNugget once, but I found that they didn’t taste anything like fried chicken to me. They tasted like fried… I don’t know… fried texture.

So now the food industry is trying to tell me that a sound nutritional choice is a State Fair brand corn dog. As an incentive at the bottom of the ad, there was a coupon for 75 cents off and a statement that read: “NEW! State Fair Hot Dogs available exclusively at Walmart.”

What a surprise, and thank God. That means they aren’t sold at the grocery store where I shop, but I’m sure there are other brands of frozen corn dogs available somewhere in the vicinity of the McLunchables.

When I was a kid, a corn dog was a delicacy. At the Florida State Fair, Pronto Pup stands were the favorite corn dog vendor, and they made them fresh. There was a big tub of batter, and they’d push a hotdog down over a pencil-like pointed stick, dip it in the batter and drop it in boiling vegetable oil until it was golden brown and serve it to you with your choice of condiments. They were a once-a-year treat, and as a kid before I knew I was eating pig lips, I loved them and looked forward to them every year. They even sold the batter mix in a little box that moms could take home and mix with milk and make their own corn dogs. I think the batter box also came with the sticks.

So I look forward to more nutrition-awareness print ads like these. For instance, I wonder how a baloney sandwich on mayo-drenched Wonder Bread stacks up against, say, a snack pack of fried pork rinds? Which is more nutritious and tasty: a pile of dog shit from my back yard or one of dozens of varieties of Lunchables?

Please, convenience food industry, keep up with this kind of comparative advertising. Think of it as a public service to your consumers.

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


Gidget Goes to a Funeral

I just found out that fifty years ago, while my father was being buried, I was in the Britton Plaza theater in Tampa watching Gidget Goes to Rome. This wasn’t even a Sally Field or Sandra Dee Gidget or a Deborah Walley Gidget. It was a Cindy Carol Gidget, probably the least known Gidget of the Gidget franchise. A movie so bad that Netflix doesn’t even offer it.  They never even bothered putting it on VHS or Betamax, much less a DVD. I was watching the lousiest Gidget movie ever made while the rest of my family was sobbing over my father’s casket at a cemetery across the bridge in St. Petersburg.

The 50th anniversary of my father’s death was last week , and it started a seemingly endless stream of e-mails back and forth between my sister and me, and, as it turns out, almost everything I remember about that day for the last fifty years has been wrong.  Two things I got right: our mother told us in the den of our house, and after we all finished crying until we had no tears left, and after my fears of having to move to the Poor House were put on hold, my mother’s best friend was waiting for us in the kitchen with big glasses of Coca-Cola with ice she crushed with a rolling pin.

As my sister and I swapped e-mails last week, I learned that everything else was wrong. I thought we stayed with our next door neighbors during the funeral. I have to believe my sister, because she was 9 and I was 6, so her brain was (and still is) more developed than mine. All I got right is that I learned my dad was dead and I was sadder than I had ever been in those short six years.

I found this realization quite unnerving. I got through the anniversary day fine, but when I learned the rest of this yesterday, I had to leave my desk at work, go out in my tinted-window car and just lose it, sobbing into a rag made out of a returned polo shirt from a police officer.

When a six year old boy loses his daddy, it is something he does not get over. Ever.

Of course with the passing of time, life gets easier. You learn to adjust with just one parent, something I like to refer to as “making do.” As decades pass, you lose all memory of what his voice sounded like, and from time to time, you sit at your desk at a job you’re not all that thrilled with and stare out the window if you’re lucky enough to have one and fantasize about what might have been different had your dad lived. Would he have influenced me and helped me decide on a career that I never ended up having? Would he have pulled strings and gotten me jobs I loved like so many other of the boys I went to school with? Would I have been a happier person? Or maybe I would have grown to dislike him and rebel against him as I did my mother. I know I still would have been gay, because I knew that before he died. How would he have dealt with that? Would I still be taking antidepressants to curb my obsessive compulsive disorder? Probably not, because I wouldn’t be sitting at my office window obsessing over questions I’ll never be able to get answers to, like I am now.

The subject of death in 1963 was something that wasn’t talked about. It was like some dirty little secret that got swept under the rug and ignored. This was before Elisabeth Kubler-Ross formulated the processes and emotions involved in death and dying decades later when people started to treat death as a part of life. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I found out the effect his death had on my Dad’s mother and sisters, and I only found out about that through some letters that my grandmother wrote to my Aunt Kay that I got only after she died. And just a few days ago my cousin told me where she was and how she reacted when she was told about his death. She was working in a bakery and fell apart all over the manager.

So now I’m curious, and I’m going to query the remaining members of my family, of whom there are damned few, to find out where they were and how they reacted. Because back then, we were alone in our grief. We grieved silently and in solitary.  Maybe people were given instructions not to say anything so as not to upset those poor 6 and 9 year old Wiley children. Instead, all I felt was isolation and that nobody really cared or was as upset as I was. And that is something that affects you for the rest of your life, or at least it has for me. I don’t have any close friends, because I spent my life pretending that people who call yourself your friends don’t really give a shit about you, even though they truly, earnestly do.

When a boy loses his Daddy at age 6, it’s not uncommon for him to be seated in a restaurant and watch a father and son sitting across from each other in booths, blowing straw wrappers at each other or playing “football” with a piece of notebook paper folded up into a thick, taught triangle.  And you get a little weepy eyed and blot your tears in a napkin that you pull from a chrome napkin dispenser. And when your partner asks what’s wrong, you just say you’re having a moment, because if you tell him the real reason you might lose it completely, looking silly as a weeping 40 year old inside a Denny’s restaurant, and a waitress might come over and say, “What’s the matter, hon, are your waffles cold?”

I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy with different therapists. I am pushing 60 years old, so this is the way I am. This is the way I feel, and I’m not going to change. This old dog doesn’t have the energy to learn new tricks. And I’m not wallowing in self-pity. For the most part, my adult life has been terrific. And I am one of the fortunate few people I know who even at this point of his life, knows what it’s like to be genuinely, unconditionally loved.

And that is almost as good as having your father alive.

After all, who else is going to recognize the absurdity of life and maybe write to Turner Classic Movies to see if they’ll broadcast Gidget Goes to Rome?

I’m not optimistic. I’m kind of hoping all the celluloid copies of that film have rotted in their cans.

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