I think I’m going to have to figuratively add Becky, Queen of Carpets; the Schweig-Engel Posse; & Art Haack to my family.
Every time I return home for the holidays, one truth becomes more & more evident: America is homogenizing to a standardized strip mall. No matter what city/town/state you visit, you’ll come across the Westfield Boilerplate Mall or the typical Target/Best Buy/Wal-Mart combo strip mall, inset from Applebee’s/TGIF’s/Ruby Tuesday’s or other eatery arrangement, sometimes all three, only distinctive in their choice of wall-mounted bric-a-brac (though scarcely so, I couldn’t tell you which had the old-timey bicycle or which had the old-timey weather vane). However, some small businesses strive to stay alive in the face of the Wal-Martization of the country, carving out their slice of local celebrity. And the only weapon in their arsenal: The Local Commercial
. In a world with an ever-converging suburban design, I find comfort in the late-night, basic cable local commercials as the last remaining signs of regionalism. When the customary family squabbles, inevitable depression & Midwest isolation aren’t enough to make me feel at home, I can always turn on the TV late at night & before too long, I’m welcomed by some old familiar faces:
• First off is Becky, Queen of Carpets, current proprietor of Becky’s Carpet & Tile Superstore
, formally Becky & Wanda
’s Carpet Superstore. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the disappearance of Wanda, Princess of Tile: For years, Becky & Wanda flew tandem on a carpet in front of the St. Louis Arch, Becky rotund & jolly, Wanda getting up there in years, but cheerfully overseeing her carpet kingdom, seemingly happy in their royal hierarchy . . . until one of my trips home I discovered Wanda no longer held her place on the carpet & there was no explanation for her departure. But there was Becky, bigger than ever (clearly the flooring aristocracy had been good to her in Wanda’s absence), smiling & flying solo in front of the Arch. Most surmise that Becky’s imperial tastes grew so rapacious, Wanda was actually consumed by Becky; her growing girth would certainly corroborate that claim. I like to think that there was some political upheaval, w/ Wanda (so obvious as Becky’s elder) holding an actual seat on the throne & Becky just a figurehead, but the insurgency actually got to Becky & convinced her to usurp Wanda of her throne. Wanda may be wrapped in remnants in the bottom of the Mississippi River. We may never know the truth behind the scandal. The only thing we can definitely deduct is that I’ve had far too much time in my annual visits to contemplate Wanda’s whereabouts.
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed Becky’s weight dropping rapidly, & my brother tells me she’s been on local talk shows invalidating claims that gastro-intestinal bypass is the cause, but rather diet & exercise. I don’t know, though, how can we believe Becky, whose kingdom is built on lies & betrayal?
Still, it wouldn’t be home without Becky.
• The newest addition is the Dirt Cheap Cigarettes & Beer mascot (sadly, not anywhere to be found in a Google search) is a bird that looks a little like the San Diego Chicken with a terminal case of mange or some other avian mite infestation, definitely not the sort of mascot you’d encourage your kids to run up & hug.
The bird, we’ll call him “Cheep,” dances in place pointing at cigarette cartons & booze calling out, “Cheap! Cheap!” while the owner wisely imparts, “The more she drinks, the better you’ll look.” Elaboration on why I love this is not necessary, I think.
• And the last two are from the “Gone, But Never Forgotten” files: This lasted only a couple of years after I left, but the appropriately named animated spots for Art Haack Buick were so damned catchy & annoying that they’re burned into my head for a lifetime. No amount of information displacement will ever clear its mesmeric jingle, “Come down South / To Art Haack Buick / Come down South & get the lowest price / Come down South / To Art Haack Buick / Come down South & get the ART HAACK price!” Reading doesn’t do it justice. As a kid, I was always bothered by the shoddy animation; the Art Haack (I’ll never get sick of the unintended meaning of “Art Haack”) commercial made South Park look like Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” What really used to give me the fits about the spot was the way every character on screen blinked simultaneously, like those damn Shop ‘N Save bags.
It’s a good thing they had that shitty jingle.
• Finally, though I never quite knew what they were selling, you were guaranteed a treat whenever a Schweig-Engel commercial aired. A little recent research clarifies their business: Schweig-Engle was a Rent-a-Center specializing in furniture, appliances, electronics & well, everything. They parodied Ghostbusters (Price
-busters!), John Wayne, nothing was too sacred to promote their wares. My personal favorite is the S-E ad where a hapless customer gets his bill from some other
establishment & breaks down exclaiming, “Here, take my arm! Take my leg!” as he places inaccurately colored limbs on the counter.
Who knows, maybe someday, long after I’ve left Los Angeles, I’ll return & catch a Crazy Gideon
spot; or the “We The People”
jingle (“bringing JUSTICE to all!”); or L&S Carpet; or another poorly dubbed Leeds Mattress
ad (“I WON’T be beat!”); or of course, Sit ‘n Sleep
, where they’ll “beat any advertised price or your mattress is FREEEEEEEE!!!” Maybe the exclamation, “You’re killing me, Larry!” will someday make me homesick.