The consumer reporter, p.1
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The Consumer Reporter
The Consumer Reporter

  By Jonathan Land

  Copyright 2001, 2002, 2013 Jonathan Land

  Consumer Report: Crest Kid's

  Product: Crest Kid's 
Consumer: Linda Appleby

  Linda Appleby is a woman in her early-to-mid 40s who I witnessed purchasing Crest Kid's Cavity Protection toothpaste at my local CVS pharmacy. I figured I'd start off this column with something light: Kid brushes teeth. Kid enamored with "SparkleFun" (bubblegum) flavor. Kid goes to sleep content with sparkly bubbles of innocent goodness emanating from the cherubic glow of his or her cheeks. Just like the Campbell's Soup kid. End of story. We have a winner and everyone feels good.

  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I was in for much more.

  I tailed Appleby back to a middle-income apartment complex and set up my surveillance equipment on the roof of the building across the street. She put the toothpaste and her other toiletries away and began reading the arts section of the newspaper in her living room. I was trying to see where the child/children was/were, but there was not a moppet to be found. Not so much as a stuffed animal, a prominently displayed alphabet, or a stray crayon mark on a wall. I switched over to the infrared goggles. Nothing. Then I turned to the heat-detection unit, with which I picked up something crawling on all fours. It was clearly too agile to be an infant unless it was alien or possessed by the devil. Appleby seemed to be aware of its presence and unconcerned, so I concluded that it was a cat or two smaller animals in a conga line.

  Whatever it was, it certainly was not a child. What was going on here? This person is light years away from the demographic for Crest Kid's. None of this made sense. I had to get in there. The child must be in a lead-lined crawlspace that my surveillance equipment couldn't penetrate, I thought. I must save the child. My report would be ruined because of my interference, but I couldn't allow this to go on any longer.

  I noticed that Appleby was looking at movie times in the paper, and then she left her apartment. I took this opportunity to construct a zip line from my station over to the roof of her building, and then I rappelled down the wall and was able to get into her place through a window.

  What sort of thing have I gotten myself into? Maybe she bought the toothpaste by mistake? From the dozens of quarter-filled Styrofoam coffee cups, the ashtrays filled with mountains of cigarette butts, and the quarter-filled Styrofoam coffee cups filled with cigarette butts, she clearly meant to pick up Crest Extra Whitening. But I also observed that she kept meticulous lists composed on stickies throughout the house. That cast doubt on my theory that the purchase was an accident.

  I searched the apartment for caches, false floors, false walls, and false ceilings. Every drawer and cabinet was on the level, and her wardrobe wasn't a portal to Narnia. I came to the frightening conclusion that the toothpaste was, in fact, for Appleby herself.

  Then I stood in her bathroom for 30 minutes trying to put myself in her place, to become her and understand why she would brush her teeth with a product that's not meant for her. I unscrewed the cap of the toothpaste and set it on the counter. I picked up her toothbrush and applied the Crest Kid's. It really was sparkly. For a split second I had a little burst of glee. I dismissed it as the novelty of seeing the product for the first time.

  As I began brushing my teeth, the aroma and body of the toothpaste inundated my senses. Very pleasant, like a...comfort toothpaste. I've never been a big bubblegum guy, but this was a pleasant alternative to all the mint pastes on the market.

  But I was still quite curious as to why a woman her age would consider buying this product in the first place. Did she have an aversion to mint flavor? Was she attempting to reclaim her lost innocence? Did she once have a child? Had she been one herself?

  I sometimes wish I could just walk right up and ask people these things, but as a rule I must not interfere (unless I perceive it to be a life-or-death situation, as I did in this case). I must only observe the consumer's relationship with the product.

  I repeated the tooth brushing process 11 more times. I definitely noticed the sparkles each time, and the constant exposure hadn't numbed me to the pleasure of the flavor. That's why she must like this, I thought. It's a constant good time. It's reliable, refreshing in a different sort of way, and it must give her a little kick when she's down (not while she's down).

  I began to fear that Appleby might be coming home soon, so I affixed a weight to the bottom of the toothpaste tube to compensate for the amount of material I extracted. Luckily, Crest Kid's comes in the rigid type of upright container that makes it hard to tell how much is in it. Then I crawled out of her psyche and into the bathroom vent so I could see the action up close.

  After she came home, she took a long, hot bath and inspected herself in the mirror for a while afterwards, frowning and wrinkling her brow. She put on some pajamas, and finally it was show time.

  Her old container of Crest Kid's was almost empty, even with my conservative usage, but she refused to give up on it. This is not a frivolous woman. If she expects something, she gets it. She chose to lean it over the side of the sink and put all her weight on it instead of christening that tube's successor. As I mentioned earlier, the container Crest Kid's comes in can be deceptive due to its rigid construction but sometimes you just need to cut your losses and move on, unless the sense of having to work for something makes it more fulfilling even on such a mundane scale.

  At last a tiny drop oozed forth, which she collected on her toothbrush. She mercifully then threw the tube away and began to brush.

  After she was done, she turned the light off, and got into bed. I crawled through the vents to her bedroom and put on my infrared goggles to see her smiling face as she nodded off. Was this the same woman who had been disgustedly poking and prodding her naked body in the mirror minutes earlier? Pinching her stomach as if she could yank out the fat through some miracle of psychic surgery? No. This was little Linda Appleby nestled all snug in her bed, at peace with herself.

  Appleby made a good call with this product. As I shimmied up the drainpipe to the roof, I realized: This column would end how I had hoped, after all! Thank you, Linda Appleby, and thank you, Crest Kid's.

  See you in the stores!

  Jonathan Land, Consumer Reporter

  December 9, 2001

  Consumer Report: Microsoft Xbox

  Consumer: Frank Oswego 
Product: Microsoft Xbox

  I needed to modify the aerodynamics of my car to compensate for my speeding tendencies, so I went to a department store in a local mall to pick up a flat-screen windshield. I had attached sails to the top of the car but they kept yanking the mast out of the roof, sending it flying into traffic. The flaps I affixed to both sides of the car kept getting damaged by oncoming traffic that couldn't veer out of my way. So the flat-screen windshield seemed like the next logical step. I don't know why I didn't think of it first.

  The hardened adolescents in the auto department had no idea what I was talking about, so they felt obligated to humiliate me for my request. On my way to lodge a complaint with their supervisor, I had a brilliant idea. I could get a flat-screen TV the width of my car and connect it to a laptop with a web cam overlooking the road! All of it would be powered by the surge protector I modified to plug into the cigarette lighter.

  I detoured into the electronics department where I found the one thing that could make me drop my complaint against the automotive department of the store (which I dare not publicize by naming) and even forget my own revolutionary vehicular idea: a consumer in need of observance.

  Frank Oswego was a man in his mid-to-late 50s playing a display model of Microsoft's Xbox, much to the chagrin of the line of children behind him. "Daaaaad," the child that looked most like him whined. "Let's goooo

  "One more game, son, one more game. Go find your mother in the lingerie section and make sure she gets something pretty."

  It was hard to pin down exactly what sort of game Oswego was playing. I think he was taking on the role of a beaver deity because he kept yelling at the screen, "God damn it!" But my studies of mythology didn't bring anything to mind. His digital avatar had a spear gun which it used to shoot things and liberate gophers from work camps where they were sewing Nintendo Game Cubes together. This all seemed silly since the gophers could probably burrow free.

  It was difficult to focus on the man because his arms were flailing around with every movement of the creature on the screen. When it jumped, his arms jerked up. When it was running away from something, he kept yanking the joystick is if he was landing the plane in the flight simulator on the screen next to his, which displayed the PlayStation 2. Was this new technology that registered a player's every movement? I referred to the Xbox box and I saw no mention of it. Something was definitely wrong here.

  When observing someone playing a video game, it's very important to look at the hands, which was difficult in this situation. Luckily Oswego was standing directly in front of the video camera section, so I was able to record him and slow everything down to track his movements better.

  By my count, the joystick had a total of 34 buttons plus or minus ten, of which Oswego was using only three. At no time did he experiment with the other buttons. Was he fearful of the potential consequences? Maybe one of the buttons would steady his nerves? Maybe one would fire Cold War ballistic missiles at Russia. Given Microsoft's global reach and sloppy programming, it's not out of the realm of possibility that such a thing could happen. Those other buttons looked innocent enough, however, and that negative mindset is dangerous. If we live our lives in fear, they win, whoever they are. I needed to get Oswego to press more buttons.

  I gave a kid a five-dollar bill to tell the guy that one of the buttons would allow him to jump higher. He did, and Oswego's right thumb began to perform new contortions, and his body followed with new motions. He was sweating and possibly drooling. I was too far away to collect samples.

  Anyhow, he kept shaking the poor joystick until a screw came loose, and the whole thing started to rattle. If I had a bad feeling about this before, it only got worse. I decided to step in and play a hunch.

  As a Consumer Reporter, I have to be strictly hands-off. The subject must remain unaware of being observed. But in this instance I could not sit idly by, watching this abuse happen.

  I always carry a screwdriver kit. You never know when someone's going to need one. I looked at the joystick, and then at Oswego, and then I assessed my tools. In the kit I have many flat heads and Philips heads of all standard sizes, plus a few custom ones, as well as a Ziploc baggie containing an airplane bottle of Absolut, a packet of Tang, and some bottled water.

  My hunch led me to go for the Ziploc.

  I ran to the men's formalwear section of the store, grabbed a tuxedo off the rack and went into the fitting room. I mixed the Tang into the bottled water, and then the Absolut. I shook it well, and threw on the tuxedo. Hurrying back to Oswego, I picked up an expensive glass and a platter in housewares. Then I ducked into linens, picked up a white towel, and draped it over my arm.

  I approached Oswego with the drink. "Sir, I see you've scored well over 10 million points on this game! Congratulations, this is compliments of the house. We do this for all our big winners."

  "Hey, thanks! This is a great drink! Tangy!" Oswego said.

  My hunch was right. The man was a lush. No one but the most desperate alcoholic could drink a Tang screwdriver without doing a spit-take or commenting on the vile taste of the beverage. I've tried this experiment before with spiked punch made from rum and Kool-Aid. The only people I could get to drink it were high school seniors.

  The booze loosened up Oswego enough that he had started using another two buttons. But he was jerking around more violently than before. His movements looked so unnatural and painful that I realized I might have been too quick to label him a drunk. Since I now suspected that he was having an epileptic seizure, I rushed to administer medical aid.

  No one assisted me as I tried to dislodge Oswego's tongue from his throat. Actually, shoppers and store employees tried to pull me away from him. Was no one seeing this? I know that people nowadays have no interest in the welfare of their fellowman, but this level of contempt for life was beyond the ordinary. Helping people can be messy sometimes, but doing nothing is shameful.

  Of course, it did take me the better part of an hour to realize what was happening to Oswego, and I'm an astute professional who can learn more about a man from observing him for five minutes than most people can learn about themselves from a lifetime of therapy.

  "Are you f***ing crazy, you crazy f***?" Oswego yelled, putting on a brave front for his children and the crowd of onlookers. I played along and let the mall security officers remove me. I felt I had drawn enough attention to Oswego's problem. Paramedics would be summoned soon enough.

  Sitting in the mall detention center, I still wondered whether Oswego's problem was epilepsy or alcoholism, but I gave up after a while. It was out of my hands. I had done all I could--short of finding Oswego's wife in the lingerie section to tell her about her husband's pitiful condition.

  Regarding the Xbox: Would he buy it? I don't know. After the scene he made in there, he damn well should. I wouldn't want to see the sad look on the store employee's faces if he walked out empty-handed.

  I've seen that look before on the faces of the workers at the Lucky Dragon food counter in the mall's food court. One of them stands out in front with a tray of food speared with toothpicks. People say, "Mmm, that's good," drop the toothpick in the little waste cup and move along. How can someone thank you for a taste of Bourbon Chicken, and then turn around and grab a hot dog? How can you use a person like that?

  I've got to stop this now and move on. I've run out of tears. I need to make more.

  Jonathan Land 
Consumer Reporter

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