by Hugh Gilmore
Normally, I’m just your average crank who doesn’t want other people breathing on his neck while he’s napping. Don’t want it on a train. Nor while standing in line. And certainly not when I’m on the Internet, reading about pandas. But lately, these nosy people, these buttinskys, these phony empathizers, these overly concerned-about-my- happiness people, have been buggin’ the heck out of me. They’re wilting my carnation with their foul breath.
My latest blown circuit happened back in November when my wife’s car lost a face-down to a city sewer-cleaning truck. Her car door got shoved in and was made non-functional. Okay. Things happen, so what? But her car was a 1996 Corolla and she loved it. It was like your most perfectly broken-in pair of jeans to her. My attitude was, “Let’s go buy another, a newer, a safer Toyota Corolla.” But, no. Madam wanted it fixed. Oops: not so easy: We canceled collision coverage years ago because the car is 18-years-old. Oh well, we’ll just eat the cost of the replacement door.
But, I was curious about relative costs so I did a very, very stupid thing. I subscribe to Consumer Reports, so I went online, trying to find the “average” cost on a new Toyota Corolla, 2014 or 15. The button prompt said, “See what Local dealers are asking for your dream car!” I typed in my item of interest and a form appeared on-screen. I filled it out. It asked very little info and it was from a source I thought I could trust: The Church of St. Consumer Reports.
Five different dealer ads with prices came up. Reasonable enough. I now had a baseline. But Jan did not want a new car. It took a little while, but eventually a replacement door was found and installed by some nearby auto repair guys who are so good I will never tell you their name.
So, everyone’s happy now, but Hugh. For a while, the phone rang (I did NOT give them my number) five, six times a day, every day. “Hello, just wanted to follow up on your interest in a 2014 Toyota Corolla. We still have lots of exciting 2014s in stock and wondered if we …” Click. Again. Click. Again. Answering machine placed on 24/7 duty. This went on for six weeks steady, then they trickled down. Now phone calls only come in occasional spasms on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when some poor salesman is so bored he or she starts working the Cold Case files again.
Okay. We all know that happens. Stupid me, for trusting Consumer Reports to behave above the fray. But, simultaneously, emails had started dinging in, merrily slipping through the fiber optic cables and jumping into my Junk box. A few occasionally managed to burrow under the fence and get into my corral. Delete! darn you, delete! Scat, scat. Where’s that stinkbug-collecting cup I made, honey?
Somewhere up there in the Corolla-pushing think tank, they’re asking: “Where else does Hugh look? What else does he do with his eyes? And ears? Hmmm … maybe we can customize his TV shows so that when he watches “Jeopardy!” we can make sure he sees nothing but Corolla ads … yeah, all those actors you see in the Cialis, Plavix, Viagra ads, the folks you normally see go from suffering to cured in 30-second ads, well, let’s have them all driving Toyota Corollas!
“And we can reroute the Septa buses with the giant bus-length billboard-style ads and send them down the narrow street where Gilmore lives and divert them into his driveway to do three-point turnarounds. Toot the horn, so he’ll look out the window and know we care about his needs.”
Okay, enough. That’s all hypothetical. What they actually have been doing has been embedding Toyota Corolla ads into nearly every website I go to for information.
I look up pandas: there’s a Toyota ad I have to read around. Look up honey badgers: Another Toyota. And so on.
Meanwhile, if you, my reader, go to the same panda site, you’ll get a different ad, say, for a Honda CR-V, because you made the mistake of wondering out loud one day, “Gee, I wonder what a new Honda CR-V costs?” Or you said, “Do they come in a six-cylinder version?” And so your panda research and honey badger research are polluted with embedded Honda ads.
Life in America has become like what happens when you get off the bus in a third-world country and dozens of beggars follow you down the street, either asking outright for money, or tugging at your sleeve and trying to sell you something. “Mister, you want to see filthy panda pictures?” Only you don’t have to travel to get this treatment. See, they come to you now. They’re out in the rosebushes right now with parabolic mikes. Or perhaps a chip has been embedded in your cereal box. Recording your number of chomps per second and whether your eyes dilate as you chew. I’m not making this up, much.
I’ve come to find the Olympics, as one example, exhausting. I see it as an unending parade of lies and liars playing bait and switch with our hopes and dreams, or trying to implant new hopes and dreams into us. Ones more suitable to their needs. (Hint: $$$$) Our tired heads barely have any cell room left for mere TV watching.
More to come as we investigate the sneaky world of “affective computing.”
Hugh Gilmore’s funny and compassionate new memoir, “My Three Suicides: A Success Story,” was just released as a Kindle e-book and is now available at Amazon.com. The print version will be ready in time for the book launch/reading/signing to be held on Feb. 27 at the Bombay Room of the Chestnut Hill Hotel, from 7 to 8 p.m., sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Book Festival. The public is invited.