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  • Decisions, Decisions: The Other Side on Shopping and Modern Life

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A bewildering trip through the pharmacy aisles leads to an idea for a needed hotline.

It started with vitamins. Even without the aid of gingko biloba, I can remember when vitamins fell into three types: One-a-Day, Geritol or Flintstones. Having been raised on the third – pink and purple Freds, Barneys, and Bam-Bams that tasted like chalk — I usually avoid vitamins and instead try to eat wisely from the four basic food groups, even after they transformed into six basic food groups, reassembled in the attractive “food pyramid” form.

Recently, however, during a bout of jet lag that wouldn’t leave, I shuffled to the corner drug store for a vitamin fix. A brief glance at the jarring selection of bottles made me feel more discombobulated than the trans-Atlantic, multiple-Bloody-Mary flight. Nutritional supplements, once a small, contented fiefdom of standard ABC’s fortified by no-nonsense additions such as Iron, are now an encapsulated empire of exotic herbs, amino acids, rare roots, shells and bones.

Did I want multivitamins that healed fraying nerves, boosted energy or addressed muscle wear and tear? Vitamins with antioxidants or natural antidepressants? Formulations that helped blood or bones, that aided sleep or sight, that battled colds or rejuvenated the skin? Did my body cry out for ginseng, ginger, gingko biloba, green tea or yohimbe, shark cartilage and/or flaxseed?

What I needed, I realized after twenty minutes of supplemental head-scratching, were vitamins that could help me make rapid drug store decisions – the one malady that no vitamins seemed to address, though by the time I left that aisle, empty-handed, I needed the kind that helped stress.

Feeling further fatigued, I glanced at the next item on my list: Bandaids. Alas, what was formerly “the bandaid shelf” now bleeds onto a dozen. There were bandaids that hastened healing, battled infections, or conditioned while they protected. Bandaids with aloe vera, antibiotics or Vitamin E. Sheer, clear, cloth, water-block, non-stick, or comfort fit? Knuckle-fingertip, elbow-knee, buttons, butterflies, wings, or strips – and of which width? Liquid bandages or flexible foam?

I looked at my paper cut and decided it could heal on its own.

I hesitated in the hair coloring section – the sort of stress I was enduring is the root cause of instantly-sprouting gray. But finally making it through the maze of decisions about how long it should last –o permanent, semi-permanent, temporary and “wash-away” — I became deadlocked on shades, unable to  pick the winner between “Nutmeg” “Cocoa” and “Clove,” bottled colors which by the end of the hour had induced only more confusion, and hunger.

I marched to Aisle 12b to find that one last item to add to my still-empty basket: licorice. Here there would be no debate: I wanted strawberry Twizzlers — something I could sink my teeth given my frazzled state after finding every other drug store aisle a decision deadend.

I scanned the rows of hanging bags — round prom-pink mints, gooey snakes, caramels with fondant centers — then eyed the shelves of boxed sweets below. And there it was – a gaping space where the Twizzlers were supposed to be, and where instead hung a yellow “Please Reorder” sign. I read the cruel reorder notice in disbelief – my one simple decision was not to be.

Then I saw a heartening notice on a package. “Preferred Two to One Over Twizzlers!*” it said.

I leapt for the Variety Pack of Starburst brand fruit twists that made the “Preferred Two to One” claim and feeling a victor of an Olympic feat, dashed to the cashier, holding up my sole selection like a hard-won trophy, wondering why nobody had ever thought of orange or lemon licorice before.

My euphoria was shortlived: when I broke into the pack I suffered online casino nbso great disappointment, soon to be followed by even online casino greater indigestion. The neon-colored vines somehow tasted fakier than they looked: the faux-citrusy flavors seemed to be have been squeezed from a plastic orange/lemon tree, right down to the waxy texture and goo left on the teeth. Even the cherry and strawberry zinged with so much artificiality that the flavors of Flintstones Chewables seemed – relatively — not only tasty but real.

“Preferred two to one over Twizzlers?” I asked aloud, rereading the package’s oversized boast. The proud claim on the front, I now noticed, came with a qualifying asterisked aside on the back: “*for those who had a preference.”

Then, not far from the asterisked qualifier, I noticed the friendly “Questions or comments?” call-in invitation, and ran to the phone. Alas, the Mars/M&M 800-hotline was closed – shutting down at 5 pm; thoughtfully, they left a number to call in case of emergencies.

Wound up though I was by the licorice letdown, I restrained myself and waited, while imagining what a Mars/M&M emergency might be. Panicked, late-night calls from licorice lovers so disenchanted with their fakey-flavored variety pack that they threatened to strangle themselves with tied-together vines? Emergency questions/comments from crying children outraged to find that M&Ms not only melt in your mouth, the cracked ones can in fact melt in your hands? People who saw the face of Mary in their Mars bars?

The next morning I called back to solve the mystery. “So what sort of candy emergencies do you encounter?” I asked hotline representative “Violet” (not real name).

After-hours candy calls, Violet assured me, were mostly “perceived emergencies” – perhaps someone whose candy bar “didn’t taste right” or who couldn’t find his favorite sweet on the supermarket shelf (“How’d they get the 800-number if they didn’t have the candy?” I silently wondered).

Violet lauded my self-discipline in not submitting to the urge to place an after-hours “perceived emergency” call. Besides, she confessed, the after-hours question/comment line is staffed not by professional question/comment personnel, but by security guards (untrained in the wily ways of candy commentary, but who, in the case of a true candy emergency question/comment, which “rarely happens,” she assured me, will pass on the call).

“We have security here at all times,” Violet added, warily, as though fielding a call from an M&M villain or conniving Twizzler spy.
While she could not tell me who had participated in the “Preferred two to one over Twizzlers” licorice survey — “Ma’am I have no idea!” she snorted — Violet readily took down my comments on the Starburst fruit twist Variety Pack.

“Too artificial-ish and generally fakey?” Violet repeated, “Too sugary-sweet? And too plasticky?”

“That’s exactly right,” I said, “and they gum up your teeth.”

“Anything else?” she asked.

“Well, I do have one other comment.”

“Yes?”

I paused for dramatic effect, praying that my call would be taped to monitor quality assurance. “Whether it’s licorice or bandaids or vitamins or hair dyes for that matter,” I said, “there are too many options and too many choices. The selection’s far too wide for a simple mind such as mine.”

“Well, ma’am,” Violet said, “that’s not our fault.”

I hung up the phone feeling as satisfied as I had after tasting the licorice, which is to say not at all. Well, whose fault was it then – that whenever I went to the drug store I couldn’t make up my mind – and whoever was responsibe, did they have a “question/comment” hotline? Were consumers the ones to blame for encouraging overwhelming selections with their purchasing dollars, or was it focus groups that requested wider range in licorice, vitamins, hair color and coverage for cuts? Stock holders who demanded more presence? Marketing executives? Ad execs?

Or perhaps the problem was mine – that my brain was addled from too much licorice, not enough vitamins, and infections that seeped in from unprotected papercuts.

While pondering the now-multifaceted problem – the overwhelming array of products combined with my ability to make decisions about them AND the ineffectiveness of consumer hotlines coupled with the lack of anyone to blame — I came up with a service that hasn’t yet been offered to the public perceived to clamor for more, more, more.

My idea: A hotline — 1-900-MY-FAULT – where paid professionals, such as me, accept entire blame for any and all problems in life — for a hefty fee.

Eureka, I thought, I shall soon be a rich woman, who can hire help to buy all her drug store needs. My hired help can select the bandaids, the compounds of herbs, roots, and bones – they can choose the shade of hair dye, and I say “they” because with the complexity of consumer decisions today a decision-making team is recommended three to one. The sole thing I’d ask, and I’d be a real stickler about, is that when they return they come bearing the right kind of licorice.

Happily, with all the improvements and advancements being displayed in the drug store today, I assume the right kind of licorice will soon be vitamin-fortified. And if it isn’t, you can personally blame me. Note: Perhaps my call to Violet was indeed monitored. Starburst’s Fruit Twists have been discontinued. It’s all my fault…

 
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About Melissa Rossi

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Melissa Rossi's first words were, "Get me outta here!" She's been moving around since she was 17 — living in Seattle, Portland and assorted other parts of the Pacific Northwest as well as in New York, Vermont, and Florida (let's not talk about Iowa and Kentucky). After writing a book about Courtney Love (Courtney Love: Queen of Noise), which Courtney didn't like, Rossi decided to become a world traveler, and has visited most European countries. She has also lived in assorted parts of Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Fluent in "Spitalnishsian" — an Italian, Spanish blend with a dash of Russian thrown in — Rossi has written for such publications as National Geographic Traveler, Newsweek, MSNBC and George, and is the author of What Every American Should Know about the Rest of the World (Plume/Penguin, 2003). A chronic sufferer of "Urban Deficit Disorder" — she can't focus on one city for long — Rossi probably will never settle down long enough to call one place her home.

© 2012 The Other Side | Nourish your mind, body and spirit.
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