A Yankee Notebook, Columns

These Were Especially Offensive

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EAST MONTPELIER – It’s just past lunchtime up here on the little hill, and I’m feeling extremely grumpy. This is not my usual post-lunch mood. Normally I’d collapse into my recliner, wait for Kiki to jump up into my lap and turn around till she found a spot, and begin reading the day’s paper. It would be a race between slumber and the end of the funnies, but in any case a very pleasant time.

Not today, though. I almost always listen to the news on CNN while I cook and dine, which normally takes about 15 minutes. I find CNN the network best attuned to my taste, halfway between boring (PBS) and outrageous (Fox); and I’ve never forgotten the lessons of junior-year English in secondary school, where we were taught to spot the nuances distinguishing news from commentary, opinion, hyperbole, and propaganda. If we spotted an adverb, for example, something was likely bogus, or at least not straightforward.

Today, though, after dropping a tease about an item that interested me, and that would be covered after a brief break, the little TV up in the kitchen cabinet above the pastas began a series of commercials that, because my attention was engaged, were especially offensive.

The networks know, of course, who’s watching at various hours of the day. Midday, when the working classes (as I call them) are having their lunches, we old-timers are watching the news to ease our loneliness as we eat our salad, soup, and cookies. And here they come! Today I’d finally had it, so I made a list of outfits never to do business with, while singing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I’ve Got a Little List.”

Leading the pack was the still-handsome actor Tom Selleck, flacking reverse mortgages, the purported answer to the prayers of cash-strapped oldsters. “This is not my first rodeo,” he declares, as if to add gravitas to a message that is at best of questionable value and at worst extortionate. The commercial even has a clip of a typical pair of old folks (with awful Midwestern accents) singing the praises of the plan. I don’t know the company, but I do know that if anything seems too good to be true, it most likely is. So I just put Tom Selleck at the head of the list.

Next came a pair of professional basketball players shouting at me (a definite no-no) the virtues of Subway sandwiches. Subway instantly became NoWay.

Then, heaven only knows where they found her, or who coached her, a young woman with one of the English language’s worst idiosyncrasies, a strongly rising inflection at the end of almost every sentence. Drives me nuts (there! She’s got me doing it!), so I resolved never to buy a Jacuzzi. Besides, I’ve already got one.

The commercials, one after another (I counted seven one time recently) make me wonder if it’s worth waiting for the promised news item. Increasingly, it’s not.

Now, here’s one especially attractive for old folks: life insurance for $9.99 a month, no matter your age (up to 85, I think it was). No medical exams, either, and they can’t cancel you except for non-payment of premium. Just what you need! Another little drain on your assets. So who’s the beneficiary of this too-good-to-be-true insurance. Your kids are retirement age. If they’ve been productive, they don’t need it; if they’ve been slackers, it’ll do more harm than good. Go away, whoever you are.

Liberty Mutual: nope. Not only do they use a sacred object as their logo (an object that brought tears of joy to thousands of storm-tossed immigrants), but their script-writer employs what I call a wandering only (“Only pay for what you need!”), which should read, “Pay for only what you need.” I save a bit of babbling gibberish to accompany the ensuing jingle: “Libbity, bibbity, dibbity.:

The killer is the commercial for Viking Riverboat tours. “Killer” because I rather fancy a trip down the Rhine or Danube in a “Viking longship,” but I’m damned if I’ll go as long as they employ that woman with the utterly ersatz English accent to narrate the ad: “Explaw the wuhld in comfut with VEYking.” If she should turn up on a cruise and open her mouth, and I’m there, it’ll be over the side with no ceremony.

There! I’ve had my little vent. I’ve got to go take a nap.

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