Where Have All the Infomercials Gone?

We diverted our attention for just a brief moment and in the blink of an eye they were gone. (Well, not entirely gone; just not as ubiquitous as they once were.) In the past, when sleeplessly tossing and turning well past midnight, I have gotten out of bed, gone to the kitchen for a snack, and settled down in front of the living room TV and watched my choice of several late-night infomercials.

The people were so friendly, so eager to help, so positive, so intent on sharing their discoveries.  I loved them all.  In the studio, the small audience of invited participants nodded excitedly with every claim. None of them walked out or even rolled their eyes in skepticism. They showed us a perfect world. Any late-night viewer in a dark, silent house, dressed in his jammies and gnawing on a cold chicken leg, was certain to benefit from whatever they were selling.

But for the past year, I could not find any broadcast at the times I was up. The late-night programs I had to chose from consisted of ancient re-runs of Welcome Back, Kotter, repeat news programs recorded earlier in the evening, and old, bad, movies. I love old movies, but not the Bowery Boys.  Most of the late-night movies shown are only meant to provide movement on the TV screen for an hour or so.  Nobody watching at that late hour cares about the content.

But I have recently found the infomercials again: the joys of a pressure cooker, a cream to cure “creepy skin,”  free seminars on how to make a fortune in real estate. Whatever is your problem, someone has the answer—in four easy payments, shipping and handling not included (or even divulged).

My favorite is when they say order one and they will send a second one for free, just pay a separate shipping and handling fee.  Surprise! taking one off the shelf and sending it to you will cost more than making it.

They are all on Sunday morning public TV, just as I remembered them—just as clearly as I remember those good old days when public TV had no advertisements.


Posted in Commercials, History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Man Who Invented Sex

“The Invention Of Sex,” by Stephen Greenblatt. The New Yorker, 6/19/2017.

Just a guess of his appearance. Other portraits differ.

Of course, sex was invented by St. Augustine, at least as a moral issue. We all know the story. He lived a wild life—sampled all of life’s pleasures (I needed a dictionary to understand what all he did)—until he got religion in about 370 A.D. (which would have been at age 16) and changed Christianity ever since.

Even as a child, he was recognized as unusually intelligent, and his parents made sacrifices to properly educate him. He was born in the city of Thagaste, in what is now Algeria, but was sent to a nearby town for his early education.   He eventually became a Christian and rose to become a bishop in the Catholic Church.

Early in life, despite his reputation as a rake, he settled down with one mistress and remained faithful to her (he claimed) for 14 years. He does not even tell us her name, but such liaisons outside of marriage were accepted at the time, even considered respectable. Marriage was only a legal device to define inheritance.  Love was not part of the equation.

After his early education, he returned to live with his now-widowed mother, Monica, an over-bearing, pious Christian woman with sexual problems, a real piece of work, and to study law. As Augustine was growing up, his mother took pains to insure he recognized God as his true father, not her husband, his biological father.  Augustine records the death of his father when he was 17, but in unemotional terms. His mother at first was reluctant to accept his return, not because of his mistress and now a son, but because he had picked up the views of the Persian heresy of Manichaeism, a form of Gnosticism that held there were two forces in the world, one good and one evil, forever at war with each other. (Sound familiar? That view was incorporated into Christianity.  It is not Biblical.)  After a short time of living at home under his domineering mother, Augustine sneaked off to Rome with his own family, without her.

(Manichaeism was a major religion in the time of Augustine. Augustine was a follower of Manichaeism before he converted to Christianity.  Since Mohamed was not yet born, Islam did not yet exist in Algeria or elsewhere.)

He acknowledged his mother’s suffering from his leaving, but attributed it to the vestiges of the sins of Eve still in her. Later his mother tracked him down in Milan and moved in with him, his mistress and son. She then forced the mistress to return to Africa (was she black?) so he would be eligible to marry a good Catholic girl.  She seemed to think she was the best candidate for her son’s wife.

At the loss of his mistress, Augustine writes,”My heart which had fused with hers, was mutilated by the wound, and I limped along trailing blood.”  Pretty words, but he still had enough blood to soon take on another mistress.

As you would expect, the toxic mix of wife, mistress, and mother, forced him to rethink the nature of sexuality. He wanted to understand the peculiar intensity of sexual arousal that led to intercourse, which he realized was necessary for reproduction. His revelation came to himself and his mother together, when he was 32 and his mother 55. He describes the episode in his book, “Confessions,” as a simultaneous climax rising to a moment of ecstasy, that he said was the most intense in his life, and then it was over. A few days later, his mother fell ill and died. (Whoa! I am only reporting on what he wrote.  No questions from me.)

He rationalized sexuality by considering the curious story of Adam and Eve in the Garden as a metaphor for arousal in sex.  Arousal, whether by voluntary subjection or involuntarily as in a dream, is evil, yet is necessary for reproduction. The desire to have children is not evil, but the process is. We cannot escape it. All of us were conceived in a state of arousal, even those who now live in celibacy. This is the original sin that we are stuck with. It stems from the old Manichaeism beliefs of simultaneous good and evil. Submission to sexual arousal is what got Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden, not the apple, not the Tree of Knowledge, not the snake, except as metaphors.  Only Jesus was free from the lust of original sin because of the virgin birth.

This explains why the virgin birth is so important in Catholicism.  Without the virgin birth, even Jesus would be stained by original sin.  If he was stained by original sin, how could he absolve the rest of us from it?

Paul, much earlier, also believed in original sin, but did not know what it was. He attributed it to some mysterious contaminant that got passed on through the generations.

Adam and Eve still have sex in Paradise, Augustine reasoned, but do so by conscious control of their bodies, stiffening this, relaxing that, with no more passion or arousal than brushing their teeth.  (That’s Paradise?)

Augustine discusses this in “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” that took him 15 years to write. Lesser known than his “City of God”  and “Confessions,” it has been the cornerstone of Christian belief ever since.


Posted in History, Religion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Feet Almighty — And Still Growing

Our feet keep growing as we age. I was always a size 9 through high school, college, and many years after. Then I found 9 ½ to be more comfortable. More recently, I went to a 10, and now even that is too small. I need to go to a 10 ½ or an 11. Will it ever stop? Will my shoes someday fit Shaquille O’Niel?  No and Yes.

How could this be? Everywhere else on me seems to be shrinking. I understand as we age, the plantar fascia, that large, flat tendon that covers the bottom of our foot, relaxes and spreads out, making our feet both longer and wider.

Back in grade school days, my mother took me to a special shoe store to get especially narrow (expensive) shoes. Those days are gone. For awhile, I was happy that standard, average-width shoes fit, but I’ve gone past that point.

The lesson is don’t buy high-quality shoes, expecting them to be worth the expense in the long run. There will be no long run. If they fit now, they won’t later.  I wish someone told me this earlier, so I am telling you now. I have a pair of almost-new LL Bean waterproof shoes that I will have to donate or give away to someone younger.


Posted in Aging | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Slow-Walking Wake Up Call

About a month ago, I was walking up a paved path, much like this famous Robert Crumb figure, to begin my shift at Longwood Garden’s Peirce–du Pont House, when a 15-year-old girl passed me like I was standing still. Yet she was casually walking, looking up at the trees, without a trace of exertion.

Fifteen-year-olds do everything quickly. Wait until she gets to be my age, and we’ll see how fast she is then. Ha!

But, just last week, the same thing happened again, same place, only now it was an out-of-condition woman in her 50s breezing by me. (I still think of myself in my 50s.)  She, too, was just ambling along, looking up into the trees, with all the time in the world. I picked up my pace to keep up with her, but I felt like I was power-walking while she looked like she was just out for a stroll. I was soon getting out of breath. She wasn’t.

There are few places where we can compare our walking speed with other people. The Ocean City boardwalk is the only other place I can think of off-hand, at least with those who are not holding napkins and snacking as they walk (which eliminates 99% of them). Even on city streets, people are moving erratically, rushing to a bus, or slowing down to wave to friends, or waiting to cross the street.

So, now I am consciously walking faster wherever I go, just to get into the habit. I now know the problem, and the problem is me.

Or maybe not. No 80-year-old walks fast. John McCain doesn’t. Perhaps I should be grateful I am still upright.

Yes, that attitude is a lot better.



Posted in Aging | Leave a comment

Unfunny TV Commercials: Sonic, DriveTime, and the PA Lottery

You would think an expensive TV commercial would tell you about a company’s products, why you need them, why you should choose those over the competitor’s. You would think the ad writers would lie awake nights trying to get this right. But no.


So often, they think they need to entertain us with comedy to hold our attention. This is true, but the keyword is “comedy.” My current peeve is the Sonic commercial (a fast-food drive-in chain that is not in my neighborhood) that shows two guys sitting in the front seat of a car parked at one of the Sonic establishments. The one in the driver’s seat is the straight man. The other guy tries hard, but is not funny. Maybe mentally challenged, but not funny. We can readily understand why he has no woman in his life and lives on fast food.  He is also the writer, so he dissevers double blame. Neither one is a role model as a customer we would want to copy.

The company does change the commercial frequently, which is a big plus. Still, a commercial that is supposed to be funny, but is not, quickly becomes irritating. Sonic commercials are irritating. If I saw a Sonic drive-in, I would drive right past, afraid I would meet those two guys in the parking lot.


Running a close second in irritation are the DriveTime commercials, showing two women, one black, one white, in some sort of electronic van that can detect when a car customer is given a bait-and-switch car estimate over the phone. Their company never does this, and they drive the customer to their lot to get a real deal (not necessarily a good deal). The humor comes from their spastic antics in the van that makes you wonder who would ever get in with them. They must drink way too much coffee.

I admit caught my attention the first time I saw it, but the same commercials air over and over, and the jokes, if any, have long passed  their sell-by date.  I blame the sponsor for these.

You can see the DriveTime commercial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1wB_xsSm-Q/  YouTube makes you watch another commercial to see this one, but you can quickly opt out of theirs.

Pennsylvania Lottery

This is cute?

Then we have the obnoxious “Gus,” the newly created groundhog mascot of the Pennsylvania Lottery. He is meant to appear cute, but doesn’t come close. Cuteness is deceptively difficult to create. Even Walt Disney took time to evolve Mickey Mouse into an acceptably cute character. A mouse is not an inherently cute animal, and early versions of Mickey look too rat-like. A groundhog is not inherently cute, either. (Disney discovered cuteness comes from human baby characteristics: big eyes, bulbous forehead, fat cheeks, tiny nose and mouth, but not overdone or it will look alien.)

Gus is a visiting celebrity, highly honored by the other people in the ads. He does not seem to know them. He is among acquaintances, not friends. He makes very weak jokes and laughs alone at them, a low, mirthless laugh. But mainly, he pushes any new version of the lottery. No one blames him for all of the loosing tickets they bought. They are of mixed race and gender, but not Asian.  I guess Pennsylvania doesn’t have Asians. No Indians, no Native Americans, no Hispanics, either.  Just whites and blacks.

I know it must be hard to come up with an animal associated with Pennsylvania. But a groundhog is only associated with Punxsutawney (and now Bill Murray), not all of Pennsylvania. Having graduated from Penn State, I know a variety of Pennsylvanians. I would have picked a deer, a dead deer whose head is mounted on a wall. (The Penn State campus emptied out on the first day of deer season. That is a holy day in Pennsylvania, and many public schools close. Most of Pennsylvania is very different from Philadelphia.)

Although showing a deer, even as a mascot, even mounted on a wall, would have many Pennsylvanians reaching for their rifle.  “Oh boy! Venison for dinner, Honey!”

Trivia: “Punxsutawney” is an old tribal name meaning “land of the mosquitoes” (and you thought “Schuylkill” was hard to spell).

Maybe you have never seen these commercials.  I tend to watch daytime TV and shows that are watched by unemployed people with marginal credit and living with their parents.  You can get a clue of who the real you is by the commercials you see.



Posted in Commercials | Leave a comment

Tar and Feathering

We have all heard of tar and feathering as a punishment in colonial times, but the question is if it was simply a method of humiliation, or a truly horrific method of torture. The question hinges on what is meant by “tar.” Is it the asphalt tar used today which has to be heated quite hot to become liquid, and also retains much more heat than water? That tar would certainly burn and blister the skin enough to cause death.

(I have experienced a spot of hot asphalt tar in my lifetime.  It burns like crazy, it sticks so tightly to your skin you can’t shake it off, and it delivers so much heat, it continues to burn even when the body part is rinsed in cold water.  Evil stuff!)

But today’s asphalt tar was largely unknown in colonial days. It probably was “pine tar,” a sticky liquid at room temperature and widely used to preserve wood. That would have been available in almost any farmer’s barn, and it was well-known to be very sticky. It is still used in baseball for its stickiness. Also, drawings I have seen of someone tarred and feathered shows the victim riding a pole (as above) or running off, which he could not do if hot asphalt tar was used. “Pitch” could also refer to a pine-tree product, and not asphalt pitch.

Pine tar is a destructive wood distillate.  Turpentine is a naturally-occuring ingredient.  Some claim the more turpentine, the better the product.

Even the nickname North Carolina as a “the tar heel state” probably refers to pine tar that they have long produced from their many pine trees. The origin of the nickname is unknown, but one theory is that it began during the Civil War when North Carolina confederate soldiers were said to “stick together like they had tar on their heels.”

Maybe the story is true, but probably not.


Posted in History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pedophilia And the Cause of Homosexuality

I was a loner growing up (still am, basically), often wondering around Philadelphia alone, going to the Ocean City boardwalk alone, so it is no wonder I was often accosted by homosexual pedophiles (two separate impulses, only sometimes overlapping). When I was still in my early teens, I counted 13 times I had been accosted. (I had a cute butt back then).  Being accosted was common for me, even expected, and my reaction when feeling a stranger’s hand resting on my thigh was only a bored sigh and rolling of my eyes, “Here we go again.”  The last that I remember was at Penn State when I was about 20.  I guess I lost my appeal after that.  Every accoster quickly backed off, full of apologies for the misunderstanding, when I loudly said, “Hey, where’s a cop? I’m no queer!” —this coming from the squeaky voice of a skinny 13-year-old, directed at an adult man.

I was once accosted on the Ocean City boardwalk.  The guy paid my way into the Strand movie theater to see an Abbot and Costello movie.  When I pulled my “Where’s a cop?” routine, he claimed to only be reaching for the popcorn in the dark, and we quickly left for the boardwalk.  He wanted to take me back to his room, which no way was going to happen.  I was still figuring out how to get out of the situation (Simply running off was not an option. I don’t know why.), when I saw our classmate, Dick Kitts, of all people, walking alone.  Mutually fortified, we both ran off together.  We later saw the guy on the boardwalk again, alone.  He looked scared to death to see us.

In retrospect, this was cruel, but probably the best response at the time. In those days, even gays thought gayness was an acquired taste, no different than developing a liking for broccoli. You wouldn’t like it at first, but you would learn to like it if experienced often enough. And many adult men were eager to provide the experience.

Since gayness was thought to be learned, the result of some early perverted influence, it could also be unlearned. Just keep an open mind.  If you were not a normal heterosexual, it was because you had learned to like homosexuality too much too early.  You needed to experience more of the much superior heterosexual activity.

So, today when I see gay parades with marchers holding signs, “We were born this way!” I am happy they are finally getting it right, and when this concept becomes widely accepted, such parades will no longer be needed.  And trolling for young homosexual candidates will only be a quaint historical activity of a different time, long, long ago.


Posted in History | Leave a comment