Friday, February 20, 2004

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, I demand you end this masquerade this instant

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I recently had a week’s vacation, a reprieve from wearing my fingers to nubs in the Fall River news mines. During that week, I drafted plans to accomplish all sorts of noble tasks, like changing the filter in the Brita water pitcher.

Instead, I watched TV. I mean, I watched TV unrelated to world news for pretty much the whole week, becoming intimately acquainted with daytime television.

Normally, I don’t watch much TV. I’m not trying to sound smart — I just don’t have time for it.

Some people I’ve met insist that they watch no television at all. If they honestly don’t like it, then that’s cool — nobody says you have to watch TV. But if they’re trying to establish a lie that they sit around a roaring fire, leafing through worn volumes of Lord Tennyson and sipping a fine port while the rest of the great unwashed are engrossed in “Who Wants to Marry a Big Fat Obnoxious Multimillionaire Dwarf American Idol,” then that’s another thing altogether, and you deserve a slap in the mouth.

So during my week off from news, I was at the Laundromat when a soap opera came on the TV. I would have changed the channel to something more manly, but the TV was high up near the ceiling, and I’m quite short. Besides, I had just finished leafing through the volume of Lord Tennyson I’d brought with me, and I needed some diversion.

I don’t know which soap opera it was, or what was going on with the plot — but there was this elderly woman in the scene with a walker in one hand and a sword in the other. Next to her was an orangutan with an eyepatch. Both were dressed like ninjas.

For some reason, they and a third lady were attacking a man behind a desk, who gave an eerily convincing portrayal of a man being waylaid by an old lady with a sword and a one-eyed orangutan ninja. If anybody watches this soap opera, please stop me on the street, take my hand and tell me what the hell was going on.

I watched so much non-news daytime TV that I gained the ability to chart age and gender advertising demographics by the commercials. Like, daytime TV is filled with ads for diabetes testing supplies, electric wheelchairs, feminine products (of what use I’m gladly uncertain), generic telephone companies with fishy names like The Local Telephone Co., and correspondence courses that promise to hand out degrees like candy.

So advertisers think most people who watch daytime TV are old, immobile women with mysterious female ailments who can’t pay their bills because they need a new career.

Daytime TV watchers need legal services constantly, too. Here’s a tip: if you’re feeling litigious, two words strike fear into the heart of every attorney: “d’Oliveira” and “Morgan.”

This is a powerful incantation, my friends. I’ve seen the results — in grainy black-and-white documentary-style footage, the commercials show insurance company suits plotting your destruction. There are manila folders on the table that they readily admit are full of illegal schemes to swindle you. They have a laugh or two, complimenting each other’s fiendishness. Then some soon-to-be-fired lackey delivers the ill tidings.

“D’Oliveira & Morgan called.” His eyes widen in horror, and he whispers, perhaps realizing that d’Oliveira and/or Morgan may be listening at that very minute (probably through the grainy black-and-white cameras they snuck into their meeting room). “They know what we’re up to.”

Depending on the commercial, either the biggest-wigged bigwig spills his drink — looks like straight gin to me — or nearly chokes to death on his sandwich and is long in reviving. His hair has gone stark white from fear. In another version of the commericals, he clearly seems to have soiled his pants, looking down at his full lap with abject shame. “Settle!” he shouts.

You can tell how interesting my vacation week was when the outstanding event involved that commercial followed immediately by the one for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. You know the one I mean — it’s both absorbing and highly irritating, but mostly irritating.

So this lady is staying at a hotel or something, and she’s got this itch that only I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter can scratch.

“Come with me,” murmurs a bellhop, and they’re both instantly whisked away on a mysterious gondola ride. It’s odd that this hotel keeps the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter someplace accessible only by gondola — but whatever.

The bellhop and the lady climb ashore to find hundreds of people — who presumably all arrived by gondola, too — in 17th century French masquerade outfits, frolicking with toast and croissants. It’s like that scene in the movie “Eyes Wide Shut” where Tom Cruise stumbles upon a medieval-looking orgy, except this has butter substitute in it.

The masquerade people, naturally, have a hoard of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The lady has hit the jackpot when someone hands her a silver tray with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on it, along with several bread items that, out of politeness, it’s best to eat with it — although she looks so happy she could scoop the stuff out with a finger. The lady dances among them, joyously refusing to believe that it’s butter. She’s in the throes of oleo ecstasy when she curtseys to the bellhop. Another satisfied customer!

My wife is smarter than I am, so I asked her what masquerade parties could possibly have in common with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

“It’s masquerading as butter,” she said, “but they can’t believe it’s not.”

My vacation is over now, so I’ll go back to watching mostly news. But as my days off dwindled, I had two thoughts: First, what the hell happens in that hotel if you ask for jelly? Second, thank God I don’t have cable.

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