Thursday, May 22, 2008


My Godfather occupies one of the oldest seats on the NYSE and for some reason everything he’s ever pronounced still resonates economically in my underpaid brain. One such remark was ‘the stupidity of the American people is beyond anything I could ever have predicted 60 years ago.’ This popped into my head as I accepted a promotional bottle on a corner, two days ago, from a shy-looking girl who was obviously embarrassed at having to accept the humiliating work of what is essentially reverse-panhandling.

So to help her out, I took it, and being more thirsty than stubborn, I drank. The words on the side were: Smart Water. Now I’ve seen this label before, but suddenly all those ‘misplaced modifier’ alerts came into my head along with my Godfather’s comment. So if Americans are stupid, how can water be smart? Phones are smart, bombs are smart, so I’ve heard… and the water somehow managed, despite my Norton anti-virus subscriptions and identity theft insurance, to not only enter my house but pass through my intimate organs. What am I thinking? Did it have something to do with the label? Of course not. But I’ll bet there are a few out there who think by drinking this particular brand, they’ll be improved. The same ones who buy the info-mercial stuff endlessly. When it comes down to it, is it any more absurd that some herbs can make your male organ larger or rubbing your face with some rotary vibrator can erase your wrinkles? Maybe the herbs on your face or the vibrator somewhere else could give you a few chill minutes and reverse the temporary scowl-lines.

Do they still make those Baby Einstein toys? Do people think that this stuff improves their kids' SAT scores? How come Princeton Review and all those other services are making nearly as much as a small investment bank? And how come there are like 4000 times as many autistic babies? Maybe all this Smart-labeling is making us stupid. Certainly paying for water is the 21st century version of the Emperor's New Clothes.

We know water can’t be smart. And if it doesn’t make you smart, maybe it’s the brand for smart people. Like the Everyman library, which pretty much publishes the classics, read primarily by the educated. Another contradiction. Or that whole Whatever-for-Dummies series which is published by smarties who have made a killing selling manuals which mostly sit on the nightstands of people who are too lazy to follow directions and certainly are not going to invest the 20 hours or so required to read these things.

How many people can actually distinguish between Poland Spring, Evian, and Smart Water? And where do these actually come from? Are there standards and regulations the water bottlers must comply with? I once saw a truck driver of Poland Spring gallon containers filling up the glass bottles at a roadside gas stand in Maine with the station hose. Same water they used to wash down the outhouse floor. ‘Where do you think it comes from, lady', he laughed when he noticed me watching. ‘It’s the same goddam spring that fills up your toilet!’

The inanity of paying for water is part of my crankiness. And although San Francisco has outlawed plastic bottles, New Yorkers seem to prefer the pretentious disposability of the designer-clear…not to mention the environmental undesirability and the deposit. I wonder if Midwesterners walk around with these bottles? Somehow I get a vision of coke and beer drinkers. Americans are consumers. Bottling and selling water was genius. But how about bottled air? Maybe I should discuss this with Starbucks who have managed to charge monthly fees for the use of a wireless signal which in most places in Manhattan is ubiquitous. Maybe not secure, but for any of us who think our computers are private, think again.

Getting back to Starbucks: how about that new coffee for Dummies? Pike Place? Tastes suspiciously like MacDonalds. Swill and cheap swill. But for those who take their coffee with foam and sugar and flavors, who cares? For me, $2.28 for a dumbed-down version of coffee is unacceptable. I’ll have a smart coffee with that water, please. Trust me, I could write the Starbucks for Dummies instruction booklet; this is not the way to improve stock prices. When Mercedes has a tough year they don’t start putting Honda parts in their product. For that matter, why not serve Christmas blend every day? It’s better than any other of their coffee and it consistently sells out? Why reserve it for December? That’s marketing for Dummies.

In England M&M’s are called Smarties. They’ve been making blue and purple ones for years. Here it took like half a century to figure out that mostly brown and a few yellow, green, orange and red just wasn’t cutting it. Did it cost more to produce colors? Were they afraid of alienating conservatives who maintained that anything chocolate should be a shade of brown? Was there any difference in taste between the pale and the dark brown? Of course not. But now look at the prime real estate they occupy in Times Square. They must be drinking Smart Water.

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