Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life. ~ Kitty O’Neill Collins
I’ve had white hair for a long time now. Not as much back then as now, but still a lot. Of course, there’s also less hair now at the same time there’s more white. I was what you might call prematurely gray – that is, until I was not. So, for a great many years now I’ve used a shampoo called Silver-Brightening from Jerimack. I’ve had increasing difficulty finding the shampoo, then recently found it again. Only now it’s called Silver-Plus Ageless Shampoo. New and improved, I’m certain. Oh, and the bottle is smaller and it costs more.
I’m wondering if I have a valid case for deceptive advertising here. I mean, after all, I’ve used this shampoo for the past thirty years and rather than being ageless, I appear to be age-ing. What’s up with that? Am I perhaps using it incorrectly? Maybe they meant me to massage it into my face rather than my scalp. Come to think of it, I do believe my scalp is looking pretty youthful.
To shampoo. Origins: Hindi & Urdu cā̃po, imperative of cā̃pnā: to press, massage – first known usage 1762. Hm, perhaps I’m on to something here.
Think about how our lives have been surrounded, submerged even, in advertising. A friend was recently in San Francisco and says he thinks he was gypped. A whole week there and he didn’t find Rice-A-Roni on a single restaurant menu. Does that mean it’s not really the San Francisco treat? Or, consider Marlboro cigarettes. I used to smoke them and I can tell you I never once found myself riding a horse across the plains in my chaps and spurs, all the while looking terribly manly. I wanted to, as I recall, but it didn’t happen.
Seems to me television and print ads when I was growing up were for the really important things in life – the necessities, you know? Brylcreem, for instance. It was very important when I was a kid, for some reason, to make sure your hair was sufficiently glued down to your head. It presumably looked groomed. The same went for women for most of the sixties. White Rain hairspray gave the hold needed for those tortured “ratted” big-hair hairdos of the period. Ah, the romance of nuzzling up to a girl with hair the texture and hardness of a brick wall.
To this day, I have a problem walking down the aisle where they stock the, er, ah, feminine sanitary napkins. Gee, did that mean I wasn’t supposed to use napkins? I’d hoped all napkins were sanitary. I recall any number of jokes surrounding the name Kotex. As kids, none of us, I think, had any idea what these products were used for but there was mystery attached to them, so you laughed at the jokes anyway. They were a taboo topic around the house. They must have been important, though, since they allowed girls to swim, bike, play tennis, and such. It left us boys wondering why the girls should have all the fun. Some mysteries, I’ve found, are better left as mysteries. The literal mechanics of the human body can be rather disturbing, even after you understand them.
Yes, Charles Atlas, I was one of those skinny kids who was tired of having sand kicked in his face. Okay, perhaps I was tired of having dirt kicked in my face – Quanah, Texas being some distance from any sort of beach. Nevertheless, I still got the point of the ads in the back of my Superman comics. Skinny bad, muscled good. I didn’t order the course Mr. Atlas was selling, though. I suppose I was already used to being the kid with dirt kicked in his face.
I was one of those kids who snuck letters off for all sorts of offers in the back of comic books. Imagine my surprise when a representative from Art Instruction Schools, Inc. showed up at our door. I’m sure he was as surprised as I when he discovered that “Mr. Ben Eakin” was, in fact, a twelve-year-old boy. What should he expect, though, given the ad was in a comic book? My mother graciously handled that one just before I got into trouble as soon as she closed the front door. I find almost fifty years later that the answer to the question in the ads, “Can you draw me?” is still no.
One television ad today promises to get real about what goes on in the bathroom. Then, they simply try to sell you their brand of toilet paper, again without getting real about what goes on in the bathroom. I think it was simpler in my youth. Mothers could just ask, “Number One or Number Two?” See, it was a simple math lesson. Consequently, most toddlers knew how to count, at least up to two, long before they made it to trigonometry. And, long before McDonald’s seem to find the need to redesign their cash registers with pictures of food in order to help teenagers who were never expected to learn any math without the use a calculator.
In my youth, any indication of sexual matters was conveyed through the use of innuendo. You know, rockets rising vigorously into the air, fireworks going off, the tide coming in. Sort of confusing to a child, I suppose, but probably intentional. Today, there are unending ads for Viagra, Cialis, and the like. The focus on youth and being youthful today is off the charts. The message is that men are something less than men if they don’t have the youthful sexual vigor they may have had in their twenties. Of course, there’s the obligatory caution that you should consult a doctor to make certain this sort of vigor isn’t going to kill you. I’m fairly convinced that many women might prefer their men lift a finger on occasion to take out the trash, perhaps to clean up after themselves – rather than strutting around the house with their sexual vigor showing. Besides, this advertising is aimed at men who likely have reached an age where all that sexual vigor may finally seem hardly worth the effort.
I had my share of Sea-Monkeys,® lizards, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, alligators, ant farms, and birds as a child. I managed to make it home on my bicycle once with the materials necessary to build an aviary before my mother got wind of it and made me return it all to the lumber yard. My grandmother raised parakeets in an aviary just like the one I planned to build. Mother was not amused. Amused or not, my mother must have been far more patient than I gave her credit back then.
Back then, there was the term “keeping up with the Joneses.” Today, it seems more the message would be “keeping up with the Rockefellers.” Advertising focuses on the need to be young (or at least youthful), prosperous, and, well, greedy. Want is increasingly defined as need. I need the latest, greatest, shiniest, newest, most expensive. Even many churches sell the idea that God wants us to be wealthy – if only we “do” religion correctly. I wonder what that says about the poor of the world. What, surely, are they doing wrong to bring so many problems down from God onto them? Talk about cherry-picking scripture! Makes me wonder if some of these people have ever actually read the Bible.
I probably have less stuff than I’ve had in a long time. You know, material goods – the stuff that supposedly makes the world go round, or at least the economy go round. Still, funny how less can feel so much like more.
Would I trade my aches, pains, and white hair in order to be twenty-one again? Oh, no. Life in youth is filled with so much uncertainty, so much needing to define oneself. In some ways, I feel I’m coming rather late to an understanding of who I am. In other ways, however, I feel I’ve come to that understanding much earlier than many of my peers. Now, there’s a frightening thought!
But don’t ask me to be younger today. I barely made it through being young once as it is. The thought of repeating all that is just too much to consider. Catherine Aird said, “If you can’t be a good example then at least be a horrible warning.” Perhaps it’s possible to be both in one lifetime. If nothing else, I’ve been a pretty horrible warning to myself. It’s taken a while, but I’m working on becoming a good example – of what I’m still not entirely certain.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for openness. Most parents probably wait too late to discuss with their children the things they need to know. But it seems to me we’ve entered the age of TMI – too much information. How’s a body supposed to absorb it all? How’s a child supposed to make heads or tails of it all? I paid dearly for having too much information at too early an age without something to counter-balance that information. So, information is good but only when we get it from the right places. The wrong place to get it? Advertising ranks right up there with getting your information from the older kids on the playground. In fact, it surpasses that. At least the older kids on the playground aren’t trying to sell you something with what they don’t know themselves.
You see, Sea-Monkeys aren’t really monkeys who live in the sea. Nope, they’re a combination of brine shrimp and a registered trademark, which means it’s probably we who are the monkeys. Yes, yes, I know I’m probably bursting another one of your bubbles – kind of like that Santa Claus thing. But I’m now convinced that it’s possible to live in the real world because there are some bona fide wonderful things in it. Sometimes the world looks pretty ugly when we view it at its speeded-up pace. The trick is to slow down enough to allow our eyes to adjust to what’s really there – minus all the hype, the lies, the hucksters trying to sell us a bill of goods.
When we’ve adjusted our sight in order to see what’s around us, we are allowed to be amazed, to be grateful, to be at ease. Godspeed. What a wonderful word. I imagine the word as describing what I’m trying to say. At God speed, the wonders of all creation come into view. At God speed, we are allowed to be who we really are (and perhaps once knew we were) because that’s the way we were created. At God speed, we are able to allow others to be who they are without judgment because we realize no judgment comes to us through God.
I imagine there are some who would be shocked or perhaps merely amused at a silver-brightened guy who was considering getting another bowl of those amazing Sea-Monkeys. Wonder, after all, shouldn’t be reserved only for the very young. It’s still there, though it may be buried under many years of developmental sediment. Stir the waters a bit and you’re likely to find it again, just where you left it.
Godspeed, my friends. God speed.