Okay……. before you read this entry you HAVE to watch the commercial I’m going to reference, don’t worry, it’s only 33 seconds long.
In the late seventies and early eighties TV was a repetitious monster. With only three networks, (PBS doesn’t count here) programming was ridiculously limited and choice of entertainment was quite literally never much of a choice. It had been that way for years, decades at the time, and so too were the inescapable commercials sandwiched between shows. Many were relentlessly ran ad nauseam. By the time some were finally pulled from circulation the child actors had most likely become college graduates.
One of the tricks then, and still today, was to (hopefully) insert contagious catch phrases into our daily lives. Once repeated they’ll anchor themselves back to the item being pitched. It doesn’t matter if the connection is negative or positive because the manufacturer figures we still have their product (instead of someone else’s) in our heads.
One such ad was for “Calgon” which is, for those who don’t know, a powdered additive not normally found in regular laundry detergents. The still above is shows a white customer in a cleaners run by people from an Asian decent. No one thought it was wrong or out-of-place then, but it sticks out now with a somewhat slimy racial feel, at least in my opinion. At any rate the ad ran for close to six or seven years from the seventies to the eighties. Everyone made fun of it and for good reason.
I know I did one too many times…..
Sometime around nineteen eighty-five I was working nights as the lead of the janitorial crew at a local Target store here in the Denver-metro area. The duties were physically demanding and often tedious. When the larger areas were clean and perfect, management had a tendency to (justifiably) look for smaller flaws in harder to clean areas. So did we; and not just out of a sense of duty, but pride as well. Thus it came to be one night when the doors were locked and the customers had left, and while the evening closing crews were facing the shelving and putting things away, that I was approached with a nice complement from one of the store’s employees.
I happened to be on my hands and knees digging some gunk out of one of the corners up front. My back was turned when I heard a voice behind me.
“You know, your floors always look so clean and shiny. How do you do it?”
Instantly the “Calgon” commercial jumped to mind and in a moment of complete un-inspiration, I opened my big mouth.
As I was standing up and turning around to face my admirer I uttered those words tattooed in my brain.
“It’s an ancient Chinese secret!”
As luck would have it turned out he was an Asian gentleman. Not only that he was REALLY pissed. My mind went instantly to another racial stereotype while I envisioned my ass getting kicked Bruce Lee Style.
As I stood there, feeling the blood draining from my face and my I.Q, dropping sharply, I stammered trying to redeem myself with zero effect. I’m sure he knew where my reference had originated, but that made little difference. After staring a hole through my skull, he eventually just turned and walked away.
Have you ever locked your keys in the car and realized what you were doing as you were swinging the door shut? You want to stop the momentum, but it isn’t going to happen and you become witness to your own stupidity.
Such was my experience in this event. I spent the good part of the following week sick to my stomach. After that I was a lot more careful to curb my knee jerk reactions. Those who know me these days might say I’m still over spontaneous with my mouth, and yes, I do taste my foot more often than I’d like, but there was a time where no aforethought existed at all. I eventually found a way to soften those moments of potential rudeness.
I try to ask myself “What’s the kindest thing I can respond with here?”
My cringe-worthy moments are rare these days but I will say this; most of them are bred from an effort to expel humor, not really as an attempt to impress my audience, but instead to amuse myself. In the end, my ego gleefully puts my neck in the noose while I commit social suicide.
Thank God I can laugh at my past now. I’ve learned to forgive those events I used to hold on to that others have let fade from memory, but I really do think the man I insulted over thirty years ago never forgot that night.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood