by JIM HARRIS
“Do what you’re told!” Who among us has not been given that piece of sage advice time and time again from parents, teachers and all manner of authority figures while growing up. But is it always a good idea?
Back in the 1980s I befriended a young Russian immigrant named Vladimir. He was fresh off the boat, barely spoke any English and considered himself lucky to have found a job as a dishwasher at a Center City restaurant.
The thing about Vlad I remember most is that he always did what he was told. He was almost fanatically respectful of authority and the status quo. He was afraid to make waves of any kind. If someone on a TV commercial said, “Call now,” he would call. I remember he always used to change his clock over to daylight savings time at precisely 2AM so that it would never have the wrong time.
I lost touch with Vlad in the ‘90s, but over the years I’ve often thought of him fondly and wondered what it would be like if I always did exactly what I was told. I recently decided to give it a try for one month.
The first week was easy. All I had to do was “Enjoy” a meal, “Stop and smell the roses” and “Have a nice day.” Things started getting a little weird, though, in week two. I had to “Go fly a kite,” “Jump in a lake” and “Play ‘Freebird’” 17 times in a row while doing a bar gig with my band.
It gets worse. In week three, I was leaving a store and saw a sign on the door that said, “Please come again,” so I turned around and walked right back in. After several rounds of trying to get me to leave, they had to remove the sign so that I could go.
But my biggest problems have arisen from watching TV. For example, following the instructions of a TV commercial, I called my doctor and asked him if Nasonex was right for me. He asked me what I wanted it for. I said I didn’t know, but that there had been a giant talking nose on TV who told me to ask. The doc said he was very busy and that I shouldn’t call him again. I promised not to call again, but then I saw the ad once more and I HAD to call again. I have a new doctor now.
Also problematic are those special interest TV spots disguised as public service announcements. You know, the ones that say things like, “Tell Congress to raise the debt ceiling, lower the minimum wage and allow the sale of assault weapons to orangutans.” I used to think, “If you’re so worried about it, YOU tell them, but since taking the obedience pledge, I now spend half my time calling Congress. I’ve tried watching less TV, but I keep seeing ads on buses telling me to watch more TV.
And even when I’m online, I get tweets and emails telling me to sign petitions to “Bring back the Gong Show,” “Ban prayer in churches,” “Send the homeless back where they belong” or “Make public belching a federal offense.” It’s all very time-consuming. Once, when I was surfing the net, an ad popped up and told me to “Find a self-storage unit near you,” which I did, then to “Reserve your self-storage unit online.” Okay, so now I’ve stored myself here in bin number 7143 at the Public Storage facility. Not bad. It’s air-conditioned, and it has 24/7 security.
Over the last three weeks, in the interest of doing what I’m told, I’ve become a Jehovah’s Witness, joined the Communist Party (I tried to join the Army but they laughed at me), donated half of my life savings to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and agreed to vote for both Romney AND Obama.
I’ve also purchased a used car, aluminum siding, life insurance, and magazine subscriptions to “Men’s Glamour,” “Animal Porn” and “Gravedigger’s Monthly.” It’s been a harrowing few weeks. So far, at least, no one has told me to do anything obscene or immoral, but THERE’S STILL TIME! OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY! CALL NOW!