I am constantly amazed by what I choose to remember and choose to forget. The small, vital factoids that push me through a conversation drift like breath in 20-degree temperatures. The key word on the very tippity-tip of my tongue never gets out without the serious throwing of shapes and much anguish, yet I can still recall a Datsun commercial from sometime around the 1980s, featuring two Asian men calling themselves The Wong Bros. and announcing a year-end sell-a-thon. In Steve Martin-esque fashion, they shouted at the camera, shaking various degrees of late ’70s bling, “We’re the Wong Brothers! We are two party guys!” I’m dead serious about this.
Clearly this ad wouldn’t have a chance in hell if it was aired today. Even Six Flags came under fire last year for commercials with a barking Asian man rating “fun” situations – One Flag! Six Flags, more fun! This year, he was replaced by their creepy old (meaning younger person in old man prosthetics) dancing man character. If Nissan Motors resurrected those wacky Wongs, it would trigger a thermonuclear public relations implosion. This isn’t about political correctness or incorrectness, though. After several decades, the Wongs are still with me. As a piece of advertising, that means it was highly effective. As anything more than a jumping off point for this piece, though? Not so much.
I know it’s now November and Thanksgiving is just around the bend. That means a few things for a lot of people. The football season, although already plenty serious, now becomes a fight to the finish for some teams, a fight for dear life for others. That cramp in your side pocket is the pain your wallet is feeling due to impending holidays. Economists have already predicted a total outer-thigh-attack this year, but that remains to be seen. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will strut down New York City once again, although the last time I was really into it, they were walking the giant Underdog balloon down with them. (If you’re now asking what the heck an “under-dog balloon” is, the next few paragraphs will mean the cubed sum of zero to you.)
My father was a television repairman once, before people just routinely threw out their broken TVs, but before that he was a short order chef, and Thanksgiving was his day to lord over the kitchen. Not that I or my siblings minded, as his recipe for stuffing is totally killer — in every respect, actually. Aside from the bread and the basic mirepoix, in goes raisins, bacon, bacon fat, apples, black olives — and while the details might not sound appetizing, the taste is something else. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Dad’s stuffing. It wouldn’t be Dad’s stuffing if we didn’t pack three extra pounds on our respective asses for having eaten it.
Almost as ingrained is the Danny Kaye movie Hans Christian Andersen, always played on this holiday, usually after the airing of Laurel & Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers. We’d be eating the holiday meal, smelling Mom’s homemade pumpkin and apple pies as they started to warm up and hearing Kaye sing, “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.” Then, during the station breaks, a cartoon commercial would pop up, an animated globe with a smile on its hemispheric face bouncing across these lyrics, the jingle sung by a chorus of young-sounding voices:
“Playworld! A world of toys, great for girls and great for boys! Playworld, where prices go…”
Then an imposing baritone, possibly Thurl “Tony The Tiger” Ravenscroft, would take over, “So low, low, low, low, LOOOOOWWW…” And the kids would pop back with a last cheer of “PLAYWORLD!”
Now you tell me. Why would this ad have any reason for hanging around my brain? Is it associative — due to the fond recollections surrounding the day, even the commercials get pulled into the nostalgia? Was the commercial really that effective? I wonder about this from time to time and tend to go back to the former, primarily because Playworld folded 25 years ago. The company’s main competition, Child World, collapsed shortly thereafter, both victims of a certain giraffe named Geoffrey and another piece of marketing – the allure of becoming a Toys R Us kid.
Oh, I have that jingle in my brain too, but it appears without pies, stuffing, Underdog or wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. The funny thing is that if I utter “Playworld, a world of toys” to my older sister she, too, will repeat the commercial’s song verbatim, and the look in her eyes indicates she’s suddenly smelling pie and stuffing. Memory is an incredibly powerful thing.
Cut back to 2009. My Sundays are tied up, not with church even though I feel I ought to attend, but with seeing my grandmother at the nursing home. The reasons why she’s there are complicated, and somewhat shocking considering we were going out to lunch every Sunday last year, me picking her up from her house, she being fairly mobile on her own. Now she’s in a wheelchair, but I still take her out to lunch. The facility she’s in is not bad at all, and I’ve mentioned that in comparison to others I’ve seen it’s some kind of role model, but in order to feel alive, you need to get out. Even if it’s only a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, those hours can be spent beyond familiar confines, beyond routines that become grooves in the brain, grooves that shove out small insignificant things like names, dates and memories.
I don’t care that she calls me every other person’s name but my own. I just go with it, as I do when she asks me how this person or that person is doing. It’s not my place to tell her that this or that person has been dead for years and she was just picking up on the crosstalk of her dreams. I do care that she at least knows that on Sunday, even if the Jersey Shore beachcombers glut the Garden State Parkway, I will be down there to see her. And if it’s raining like Noah’s worst construction day, I’ll still be down there. I also care about my own brain and sometimes wonder, when it’s my turn to be in the chair, what will I be left with? What will I get to keep? Will I only remember “Playworld, a world of toys”?
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