Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Take my arm! Take my leg!!"

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.


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11:21 PM  
Anonymous Jellynail said...

Hmm, that's not how I remember the Art Haack jingle. I remember:

Come on down/
To Art Haack Buick/
Come on down/
And get the Art Haack price.
Come on down/
To Art Haack Buick/
We've got some deals/
That are really nice.

Maybe that's a later version; I remember it from '77 or so. But the tune was the important part; there's no arguing that.

So, do you also remember the happy (non-cartoon) guy wearing a dollhouse from the same time period, waving at the camera as they played this tune:

For a hole in your roof/
Or a whole new roof/
Ehret (?) Roofing

Almost as catchy, in half the time.

And maybe I should ask you this: do you remember anything about children's Saturday Morning TV at that time? There was a series of animated educational shorts that were aired (think Schoolhouse Rock, but aimed at a slightly older age group) featuring a bizarre animated machine. They would show the entire machine for a while at the start, and close-ups of various spinning gears and parts at the end. The weirdest part, though, was a box with tubes connecting to it, slightly left of center, that had a MOUTH on the side that sang "AAAAAH" every few seconds. That thing FREAKED ME OUT as a kid. In between they had different puzzles or quizzes that related somehow to whichever part of the machine they zoomed in on.

I don't remember what it was called, or who did it, or anything. No one I've described it to remembers it, and it seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.

If you can tell me what it was, or even just verify that you, too, saw this mechanized 70's technicolor nightmare, you would surely help bolster my slowly-crumbling sanity.

May the D.B.'s Delight star shine over you,



2:23 PM  
Anonymous Grant said...

Very few people remember this, but, many years ago, Becky, Queen of the land of Carpet, annexed the Tile Kingdom. Video footage has been lost, but Becky betrayed Wanda, dethroning her in a violent coup. It was there on the footage: Becky and Wanda were on their daily flight over the Arch when Becky announced her scheme, to annex the Tile Kingdom, and she pushed Wanda off the carpet. I don't need to tell you that Wanda plummeted to her death, or that Becky moved in swiftly, taking the Tile Kingdom as her own. Few people remember this, but I have not forgotten. To this day, I refuse to recognize Becky's rule over the Tile Kingdom, and I hope it can, one day, return to its rightful ruling family.

The end

8:29 AM  
Blogger swirlogirl said...

hahah i came across your entry looking for some footage of becky and wanda during my visit home.. also noticing how much has changed... but how some things have remained. i'm so glad becky is still here. i think it's funny they keep rotund becky on the sign and delivery truck out front (at the fairview location at least. do all of them have that sign?) i too immediately wondered what happened to wanda!

and the schweig engel part took me back immediately to their xmas commercials singing "no money down" to the tune of jingle bells. oh those were the days.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a delightful post! I came across it as I was browsing the internet for pictures of Becky.

When I think of bad St. Louisan commercials, I always think of the Insta-Credit Auto Mart commercials where the ventriloquist lady makes her collie Buckley and her puppet Barkley talk to the camera. Those commercials have always been very unsettling to me.

Also Brown and Crouppen comercials are not to be seen very far outside of this area.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you!!! I too found your blog when I was I was trying to find footage of Becky and Wanda. I'm in NY now and reading your blog brought back so many memories. You are very clever, and I hope to read more of your posts in the future. And I can't believe one of the comments referenced DB's Delight!!! that's outstanding :)

12:52 PM  
Blogger JuggaletteSTL said...

I LOVED this! I too have always wondered what happened to Wanda. I just assumed Becky ate her.

Becky in her current state creeps me out! I mean, seriously, that woman is scary looking.

I came across this looking for comments on the Insta-Credit lady who's hair seems to get shorter and shorter. I just sat through that commercial where she "raps". WTF?

Anon, you hit the nail on the head about her. Thank you!

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There really was a commercial where Becky threw Wanda off the carpet and she tumbled past the arch. I always thought that was terribly violent!

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the Weber Chevrolet ad's with Big George saying his unforgettable "Hi, I'm George Weber". And what were those tv ads with the cavemen rolling a huge stone wheel? I think it was a car insurance company ad.

8:55 AM  

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