By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
Monika is the daughter of my mother-in-law's boyfriend, Dieter; she and Katrin were headed to Mexico for two months of sun and tequila. But first they were staying with us for three days, recovering from jet lag and "seeing what is perhaps of interest in Tempe," Monika said. I myself have been trying to find what is perhaps of interest in Tempe for many months now, and my research has culminated in a toss-up between cable TV, video rentals and doing ATM transactions in Spanish.
But there was no stopping these insatiable German fun-seekers; they demanded more. More thrills, more excitement, a little Sturm und Drang from this Southwestern port o' call. They awoke the next morning and requested tea. Hot tea, and toast, also hot. Everything had to be hot, even though it was already 100-plus degrees outside. I offered various other items from my larder--Grape Nuts, Product 19, iced tea, amino acid capsules--but they had no interest in these things.
The only time the pair responded positively was when I began talking to my cat, whose name is Mentos. Monika immediately yelled, "Mentos fresh and full of life!" Some things truly transcend the borders of land and language; Mentos, the Freshmaker, is certainly one of them. My two Euro-pals even knew the plot of that Mentos commercial where the kid pretends to be a mannequin while evading the old lady in the mall. I love that one.
Anyway, I didn't have any tea or bread, so I turned over the keys to Thistle, my trusty Sears Free Spirit, and my rusted silver Huffy guest bike, and off they rode.
Right over to Circle K, three blocks away. Forget about sights of historical interest; they wanted stateside food, the ultimate international good-will ambassador. They returned laden with numerous national delicacies: Wonder bread, Oscar Meyer bologna, Kraft single-slice American cheese, Budweiser, four kinds of Pringles, and bags of Chips Ahoy, which they proceeded to eat for breakfast.
But it was the Pringles that really seemed to make an impression. Apparently in Germany they are only available in specialty shops and cost outrageous sums. I am something of a Pringles man, and this humble chip became a common bond for us all as we sampled the rainbow of flavors the brand has to offer. Sour Cream and Onion, Ranch, Original, BBQ (Katrin's wide-eyed reaction after downing a thick, form-fitting handful: "Das schmeckt!"--"That's good!"). The newest addition to the stable, the questionably named Cheez-Ums, did not go over at all. After ingesting only a couple of the Cheddary bastards, Katrin's face dropped as she searched for the proper words in English. "These simply aren't as interesting."
Of course, Monika and Katrin enjoyed other memorable experiences during their Valley stay--swimming, riding horseback on South Mountain and savoring the company of a number of friendly American men who showed up in my backyard one evening at 2 a.m. bearing thoughtful gifts of Camels and tepid Bud Light. But it was the food, nay, the Pringles, that really brought us together.
I don't know, maybe it went beyond mere flavor. Maybe the deliberate, uniform packaging of each Pringle nestled into the next in the trademark tube was attractive to the ordered German mind. After all, your average American chip has no systematic physical theme, and comes loose in a sack, unordered and willy-nilly. Maybe it was Mr. Pringle, or Pringley, or Herr Pringle--whatever they call him--the neat, grinning mascot on the front of the label. What with that handlebar mustache and hair parted in the middle, he could easily be a turn-of-the-century hofbrau tender.
But I'm just guessing. One thing I do know, any time Monika and Katrin want to stop by Arizona way, they're more than welcome at my table--as long as they bring the chips. Das schmeckt!
This Is Only a Test: Browsing through the New Times employment classifieds, I noticed a lot of opportunities for women. Topless dancing in Yuma, Mesa and Guam, many with motel lodging included. Then I came to "Wanted: Individuals for product testing & opinions. Good pay." I called and spoke to a man named Pepe Velasquez. He told me about Designer Products Incorporated's "focus groups," small bunches of people who gathered to test and discuss new products before they hit the shelves. I would get $30 for an hour's session, and free hors d'oeuvres. Why not? I naturally love to help and advise others; I'm a people person, goddamnit.
The offices of DPI are in a swank building in that area around upper 24th Street where you see the word "Biltmore" in front of everything. I went in. They were waiting for me, had my name on a list. I was ushered into a small room where there were already about 12 people seated, forcing me to take the last remaining chair, front and center. Between a CIGNA employee and a massage therapist. It was the hot seat. The one I'd always avoided in class; I favored those way in back where one could go unnoticed, make sarcastic comments to distract others, or sleep.