Thursday, August 12, 2004

Raiding the Archives 3 - Fishy Funny

Sticking with the theme of being funny, this column, the third one I published in sequence, marked a number of firsts:
1 - My first photo-byline and tagline.
2 - My first reference to my kids as subject matter.

Why our children are subjects in my columns is simple: I was always taught to write what I know. I am lucky to have been influenced by a lot of great writers since the bug first bit me a lot of years ago. An early influence came from a gentleman named Nick Auf Der Maur. He was a bon vivant in Montreal who wrote the city column for that city's last remaining daily, the Gazette, for a number of years when I was a kid.

He often wrote about his daughter, Melissa, and shared simple stories of her life in a way that connected with anyone who cared about home and family. The images he painted were very much like the images that defined my own experience, and as a result I read him religiously.

That his daughter grew up to be the bass guitarist for Courtney Love's Band, Hole, and later the Smashing Pumpkins is virtually irrelevant. He shared his family life in a deft, elegant manner. And in doing so he set the tone for a recurrent theme in my own writing arc. This article represents my first step in that kid-oriented direction. As I gradually work through my archives, you'll notice it's a theme that recurs on a regular basis. I hope my children look back at my body of work someday and treasure these accounts as much as I enjoyed writing
them. Enjoy.

Originally published Monday, July 29, 2002, the London Free Press, on the Editorial page. Column ran over four-columns.

New, yes. Improved? Well...

By Carmi Levy

Our almost-two-year-old son still hasn't learned the art of sleeping through the night. Sure, there's the occasional morning when we hover over his crib wondering when he'll wake up. But more often than not, he's up before the birds.

And when he wakes up, he wants to eat. Not just anything, mind you. Goldfish crackers, cheddar cheese flavour.

He'll stand in the middle of the kitchen, pointing up at the cupboard where they're kept, repeating, "Fishies, fishies" until I relent and dig out a few for his pudgy little hand.

One morning last week, after sleepily delivering yet another handful of this baked-not-fried treasure to my little guy, I noticed a "New and Improved" label on the familiar orange-hued box.

Through the cobwebs of fatigue, I wondered how something as mundane as a cracker could be improved. Then I read the box: No longer content to produce crackers in the shape of fish, the culinary wizards at Pepperidge Farms, bless them, decided to jazz things up by carving little eyes and smiley-faces into the venerable crackers.

After rewinding the Barney tape for the 14th time that week, I asked my now-satiated son whether this product enhancement made a significant difference in his life. He smiled at me, shoved his plastic bowl into my hand and said, "Mo fish, peeze."

Score another win for the marketing department.

I doubt the mere presence of a dimpled eye and mouth on a tiny cracker is all it takes to convince a toddler to choose this particular brand. Let's remember, after all, that little people will eat the knobs off of the furniture if we let them. But almost imperceptibly, manufacturers and marketers have slowly convinced us we absolutely must have the latest-and-greatest if we are to save face with the neighbours.

Examples abound on a trip to the supermarket. Dishwasher soap used to be powder. Then someone decided gel cleaned your dishes better. Still another anonymous inventor said tabs were a neater solution.

Tabs became two-toned tabs. Two-toned tabs then became two-toned tabs with Jet Dry. Finally, they added a funny ball-like thing in the middle that doesn't seem to accomplish anything beyond looking weird.

But it's new, so it must be better.

At some point, it becomes a little ridiculous. Do my dishes really come out cleaner if I use the tab-ball thingie instead of gel?

Will my wife or kids notice? Will they care?

Buying new things validates our position as masters of our universe and makes us feel better about ourselves. Weren't you happy when you brought home that new fluorescent desk lamp from the Building Box?

That old incandescent lamp still worked, but you really hated the yellowish light it gave off. It was so retro, but not cool retro. So it had to go.

Don't forget the new car you bought last year. You smiled when you told your drooling neighbour it had a CD player.

He shuffled back to the stack of 8-track tapes on his side of the fence.

Gloat no more, however, for he just brought home a new vehicle of his own, complete with a CD player that also plays MP3s!

You've already called the sales rep at the dealership to talk trade.

I once tried living with what I had. I ignored the taunts of a friend who said his new 1.6 GHz computer was better than my pokey old 1.2 GHz model. I endured screen envy, convincing myself that my 15-inch monitor was good enough, though not quite as sexy as that sleek 19-incher on my colleague's desk.

I even put up with a dial-up connection to the Internet because I just didn't see the point of always having the latest gizmo.

Then one day I realized even if I didn't buy the latest, I was still being bitten by the same gotta-have-it bug.

Buy or not, we all feel the inevitable pull. As insidious as it seems, there's no escaping it unless we all move to an island somewhere in the South Pacific.

And even then, it probably wouldn't be long before our thatch-roofed hut would need to be bigger than the Jones's.

So as the cycle of improvements continues, their ability to truly improve our lives remains somewhat unproven.

We ran out of smiley-faced goldfish yesterday. I offered my son some plain old arrowroot crackers - store-brand, no-name ones at that. He took them.

And he was happy.

Carmi Levy is a London freelance writer.



Anonymous said...

Maybe you should give your 2-year old some bourbon before bed... I know it helps me to get a good night of sleep...

Your friend


carmilevy said...

Why am I not surprised?