I came home one night last week and there were two German girls in my house. One was sleeping on the living-room couch. The other was in the backyard drinking one of my Rolling Rocks. And when I say German girls, I mean as in "from Germany." Monika and Katrin, just off the plane from Munich, capital of Bavaria, founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony.
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.
They even had a video camera set up to record our valuable reactions, and I swear it was pointed right at me. A suave, tanned fellow entered and introduced himself as Dan; he had a package in his hand, our first product to evaluate. It consisted of three yellow stencils you'd use when replastering a wall that had a raised pattern on it. You simply swabbed the plaster onto the thing, removed it, and voil. Instant return of security deposit. The landlord would never know you kicked a hole in the living-room wall.
I offered this honest comment, and Dan gave me one of those stern looks like he was being enlightened or figured I was full of shit. Others were opening up, tossing out astute observations and earnest opinions.
"In the package, those things look like a sponge."
"No way, too flat for a sponge."
"But they're yellow, just like a sponge! It'd be confusing!"
Dan, brow furrowed, encouraged the sharing: "That's good, that's good. I want you to tell me your negative feelings here." It was almost like group therapy. A soft, brave voice came from the back. "I like it. I'd buy it; I think it's a good thing."
The Inventor of the stencils joined us--I'd never seen a real inventor before; he wore glasses--and asked for a volunteer to demonstrate how easy it would be to use the product. The massage therapist stepped up, took the spackling knife and went to work.
"Wasn't that easy?" The Inventor asked.
"That was easy," the massage therapist said. I had to agree, it really did look easy. The newly patched pattern blended right in as I stared at it. I kept staring at it, at the raised shapes. Was this stencil supposed to have the face of Jesus Christ hidden in it? Our next product was an all-in-one putty tube and spackling knife; you twisted the bottom of the tube, putty oozed onto the plastic blade and made for clean, easy, one-step wall repair. This was also from the fecund mind of The Inventor. Dan looked at me.
"What do you think?"
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I'm no Bob Vila, but I told him I'd take to the thing without reservation. It was perfect for fixit morons such as myself. I could tell this made Dan and The Inventor happy; they exchanged pleased Mona Lisa smiles. The product even came in two sizes, large and small, but this fact prompted slight negative backlash from one of my fellow guinea pigs.
"I have large hands, and, well, this little one just doesn't feel comfortable," one said with wrenching sincerity. A pall fell over the room, but, as Dan, The Inventor and the rest of the folks at DPI knew, what doesn't kill a product will make it stronger. Dan asked what we would name the thing, and I suggested Putty Buddy, and Putty Buddy Jr. for the little one. They all laughed, damn them. But I knew better--someday, after the laughter stopped, Putty Buddy and Putty Buddy Jr. would be household names, as loved and familiar as Slinky or The Clapper.
I noticed Dan and some of the DPI officials squinting and nodding surreptitiously at each other; they knew I was on to something. I was actually contributing, making a difference, and it felt good. If only school had been like this. To conclude our test-sesh, they showed us a videotape of someone demonstrating both products. Which looked exactly as it had moments ago in real life. They swabbed the Putty Buddy, they slathered plaster and removed the stencil. The camera zoomed in on the raised pattern, only this time I noticed a difference. Instead of the face of Jesus, I believe I saw that mysterious Sphinx head that satellites have photographed on Mars. Before I could be sure, Dan walked in and turned the TV off.
They cut me a check for 30 bucks, and on my way out I grabbed a piece of broccoli from the hors d'oeuvres tray, anointed it with dip. They had chips, too. Doritos, I think, Nacho cheese. Phoenix Beautiful: Emergency Chiropractic has now brought it out into the open: There is a Mexican-American man who suffers from neck pain, just like that white guy who looks like W.C. Fields! You know who I'm talking about. He's on billboards and bus ads all over town, wincing in pain, gripping himself like someone just shot him in the back of the neck with a poison dart. While driving down South Central the other day, I noticed a similar sign, but the guy looked different! Black hair, whiter teeth, but with that unmistakable wince of pain that only a chiropractor's magic touch can cure. On closer inspection, it became apparent that this man had his hands over his ears. Did they hurt? Was he listening to someone read this column aloud? Can a chiropractor crack ears? I don't know; hell, maybe the guy's supposed to be Greek or Italian or something, or maybe he just dyed his hair black. Maybe I should just shut up. But the pictures are still funny. Really.