The Rant 

Whatever happened to soap? I envision some

genius in the marketing department at Procter & Gamble saying, "You

know, our soap smells far too pleasant and produces a rich lather. Let's change it to a

slick bar with no discernible scent that leaves an oily residue that is hard to wash off, but also put specks of grit in it that

are uncomfortable on the skin and tell the public that it's good for them." Before you know it, every bar in the soap aisle is either anti-bacterial or Ivory, which brings back bad memories of childhood punishments for cursing. I gave my heart to Safeguard, and then they took it away from me. The whole concept of lather disappeared in order to sell you new gel "body wash" in a plastic, disposable container. Of course, that makes the bath net on a rope a necessity, and now you're into a whole new category of bathroom accessories.

A similar thing happened with Vanilla Pepsi. I finally found the proper mixture of cola, carbonation, and taste and was pledging my loyalty to Pepsi by listening to Michael Jackson records and watching old Joan Crawford movies, when they cut me off cold-turkey. I protested the bait-and-switch like a true Southerner and turned to Royal Crown Cola. It's hair tonic today and Bug Be Gone tomorrow. Packaged groceries are shrinking in size, trusted brands are disappearing from the shelves, and somehow the Watson's Girl just doesn't sound as sexy in her new incarnation as the Family Leisure Woman.

That's why, ever since the age of awareness, I have tried to be cautious of developing brand loyalties. But then I'm not like other people, if only for the fact that I put my pants on two legs at a time. Always have. I sit at the edge of the bed, britches in hand, rock back, place both legs in at once, and spring to my feet fully trousered. I figure it saves me 15 to 20 seconds a day, which may not seem like much, but accumulated over many years it gives me an extra few hours at the end of my life to mess around. That sort of thinking, plus a few college advertising classes, made me cognizant of tricks used by image peddlers who know that if they hook you young enough on their product, they've got you for life. Joe Camel was no accident. Neither were subliminal images contained within advertising, mostly in popular magazines. I saw devil heads painted into ice cubes in liquor ads without actually having to drink the stuff. I once considered advertising as a career until I realized I'd be lying for a living, and had I wanted to do that, I would have gone to law school. Over the years, I cast away the brand-name products for common sense, but there was a time when brand preferences went a long way in determining social acceptance.

click to enlarge The Watson's Girl
  • The Watson's Girl

In junior high, trying to be cool, we created a self-imposed, official outfit and became slaves to fashion and brand names. I wore Oxford-cloth Gant, button-down shirts in white, blue, yellow, or pink, H-I-S slacks in navy or khaki, Burlington Gold Cup socks, and Bass Weejuns. Upon enlightenment, I shed the "uniform" for simpler garb: a light-blue workshirt, bell bottom jeans, and chukka boots. Then one day I looked around and realized everyone was wearing exactly the same outfit and that I was in uniform again.

Back when American cars were the world's standard, they produced the fiercest brand loyalties. Beginning in 1934, my grandfather owned one long series of Buicks for his entire life. My first car was a Pontiac Tempest Le Mans ragtop, and I loved it dearly. I had read in one of my big sister's Teen magazines that a gentleman should keep a scarf in the glove compartment so his female passengers wouldn't mess up their hair when the top was down. I had a variety of colors. After a few hundred trips back and forth from Knoxville, however, I began to notice something known within the industry as "planned obsolescence."

After an angst-ridden stretch in a doomed 1969 Mercury Cougar and a stripped-down, short-lived VW bus, I opted for an alternating group of Hondas and Datsun/Nissans, the last of which I drove for 10 years. In the cola wars, I prefer to drink whatever is on sale. I am very fond of the Fender electric guitar, although I have owned others, but I have played the same cracked, hollow-body Gibson acoustic for 47 years. To power my home stereo, I still use the Marantz amplifier I bought for $75 from my former college roommate in 1972. That was a good deal, but the one I'm not so proud of was selling a 1962 Fender Stratocaster to Buddy Davis for $175. He was a good guitarist, I wasn't, and I thought he could make better use of it. That same guitar is worth over $12,000 today.

As I have aged, my brand loyalties have dropped away one by one: Ultrabright toothpaste, Mennen Speed Stick, English Leather, any razor of any type, and since I've been married, Stouffer's Lean Cuisine and Sweet Sue Chicken and Dumplings. I have no favorite football team, although I can't say the same for basketball, and I always root for the hometown, as difficult as it sometimes gets. I hate cell phones and I refuse to text because that's essentially typing on the phone. I've entered the digital age but saved my record albums, and yes, I'll probably end up buying the newly mastered Beatles albums for the fifth time.

All it takes to make me happy these days is a box of real Kleenex with aloe and my remaining three undying brand loyalties which perfectly illustrate my priorities: Charmin Ultra, Jockey, and the Democratic Party.

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