On the black uniform of Polish police officers is a patch with a gold embroidered scorpion. There's a saying in Polish: "Don't get stung," or "Don't get stung by a scorpion." I only know how to say "hello" and "goodbye" and "thank you." I'm at the foot of a statue of a poet, pigeon feet skritching at the stone around me, wings flapping over me. In my fingerless, gray wool gloves, I'm tearing off and eating bits of a warm pretzel that has hunks of salt the size of pebbles. I bought it from my favorite pretzel cart, a little yellow one by my hostel. The pigeons are angling, eyeing, and pecking at the crumbs.
In the morning, four-man squads of cops march from the barbican to the castle through the main square in Krakow. One tall cop with a broad, flat nose and square jaw breaks off and approaches me. The cop says nothing as he grabs the notebook from my hand.
The blue lines on the paper are smeary with salty oil from my thumb. I've drawn a calendar on its pages. November I was in Germany on Thanksgiving. December I was in Scotland on Christmas. January, three weeks ago, I was in Ireland for New Year's.
Today is a holiday, too, but I can't remember which one. It's not marked on my calendar.
From beneath his black cap, the cop eyes me, the book, my pretzel, my ratty gloves.
"Dzien dobry," I say. "Good day."
"Dzien dobry," he says, in a deeper tone and thicker accent than mine.
He hands my notebook back and says, "Ah-mari-CAN?"
"Tak," I say. "Yes."
"Ah," he says, and leans back a little. "Soo peer bohl today," he says.
I set my pretzel down and the pigeons attack it. Flipping through my notebook, I look for my page of common phrases.
He holds his arms and leans over in a classic Heisman-trophy stance and says, "Soo peer bohl too day. Ah mari can fyoot ball."
"Oh!" I say. "The Super Bowl's today. American football, tak! "
He points to an Irish pub a block down to his left. "Play soo peer bohl on TV there," he says. "Raid eers. Buck an eers."
His black boots turn and clomp on the cobblestones, moving away from me, and I wave and yell, "Dziekuje." "Thank you."
"Do widzenia," he says. "Goodbye."
"Live the Flavor"
Some dufus spots a hot chick while eating a bag of chips and crashes his car. The characters portray all the supposed qualities of a corn chip, including crunchy, cheesy, bold, spicy. There's no mention of the real essence of Doritos because I don't think a small-time actor could pull off "oddly powdery" or "aftertaste that makes you want to go 'yang, yang, yang.'" Only an Oscar-caliber thespian or professional mime could do "lacerated soft palate," and then we're getting into weird art-house performances and interpretive dance, and nobody likes that crap. When I think of Doritos, I don't think of surreal avant-garde. I think, I'm drunk and there's nothing to eat in this dump . Rating: No stars.
Oh, how hilarious! Two men, working on a car, "accidentally" kiss because of a log of chocolate wedged between their mouths and their uncontrollable urge to chomp on it. They then rip their chest hair out in a display of manliness. This commercial was obviously written by and for women. Insecure, dumb men, good only for menial maintenance tasks and overcompensating to correct for insufficient societal coping skills. Plus, there's chocolate. The end title reads "Snickers: Most Satisfying," but should read "Snickers: When You're Feeling Bloated and Just Can't Stand to Look at His Stupid Face Anymore." Rating: No stars and exasperated look on my face that says, "Great. This time of the month again."
Here's a romantic idea, a corporation on the moon. An ad exec looked up at the night sky, behind deadline on his big package-shipping campaign, and felt the rushing inspiration that's fed the imagination, quills, and sheets of papyrus of every creative mind from Socrates to Ginsburg, and he thought, Huh, What if we put an office complex up there? WOE! WOE TO YOU, FED-EX AD EXECUTIVE! WOE, I WISH ON YOUR HOUSE AND HEAD! Rating: One finger. You know which one.
All Bud Light commercials this year
Anyone notice anything about the Bud Light commercials? There are no women. Bud Light, why do you think we drink? That's right. Your product makes us more intelligent, better-looking, and confident, and therefore much more attractive to the opposite sex. Stop with the competition between guys, racing, tussling, and gaming for the "last" beer as if it isn't sold in stores. Tout the benefits of watery American lager: drinking this + women in bikinis = removed articles of clothing. Or, if you want truth in advertising: lonely + beer + chubby girl = phone number. It's not that complicated. Rating: No stars. No fingers. No grades. No thumbs. Nothing, as these ads are not even eligible on the basis that they're missing the point.
"Coca Cola Video Game"
Ostensibly, this is a reversal of popular video-game themes. A tough street character hands out sodas instead of carjacking and looting. Toward the end there's a parade of twirling, dancing, singing people, rejoicing at the happiness brought to them by carbonated sugar water. A less obvious interpretation is that Coca Cola's psychedelic attributes can make things seem cartoonish, manic, and exciting. Caffeine -- the first gateway drug. Nobody wants to blame Coke for street junkies, but there it is. A kid gets his first buzz off a beverage today, and tomorrow he's dancing on the yellow line of University Avenue in tattered rags. He's 45, but he looks like he's 60. He's toothless and his fingernails are burnt and yellow. Above the old man's head is a red and white billboard with an iconic bottle; a child in a passing car tugs on his mother's sleeve and asks to stop in at the next gas station for a drink. The deadly cycle continues on, Coca Cola. For shame, Coca Cola. For shame. Rating: F, for little Johnny's undone homework when he gets strung out.
A shop owner and larger, stronger male dog chase a scruffy white dog from neighborhood to neighborhood. He sees a dalmatian in a parade, gets splashed until he's spotted with grime, and jumps on the float. The final shot is the scruffy white dog being held by a beauty queen. Here it is. Budweiser understands what Bud Light doesn't. Alcohol gives you the strength when you've been kicked around by life and business, when you've got no self-worth. Alcohol is there when you can't possibly cope. Alcohol is there and always will be. Beauty queens guaranteed. Rating: Thumb up in salute, clutching a bottle of beer; my other hand gently wipes away my tears.
An unruly roadmap grows into a terrifying monster. A man with a GPS receiver on his dash transforms into a silver-outfitted superhero and battles the Godzilla-style map beast. I like the tacit connection to Japan and the understanding that the Japanese are better than us at technological advances and cheesy, rubber-suit, mutant horror movies. Rating: Go go GPS man super happy fun time and good luck gadget!
After it drops a bolt while assembling a car, a yellow robot arm is put out on the street in an attempt to convey GM's commitment to quality manufacturing. The robot then commits suicide by jumping off a bridge, only to wake up back at its rightful place on the line. It was only dreaming. This is the direction I want all things to progress toward: sentient discarded robots. Yes. I will collect all the robot arms that have been displaced. Then phase two of my plan to take over the world. Rating: Three little robotic fingers held high in an allegiant salute to me!
Lions Gate Films
To prove to white rivals that they're good enough -- no, better! -- a team of inner-city youths rallies around a swim coach. Oh, no. I'm not touching this one. I already get a lot of hate mail. No comment. Rating: The two hands of Joe Frazier on Battle of the Network Stars , splashing, pawing, and clawing but going nowhere.
In a stunning turn of playing on men's insecurities instead of women's, Sprint equates Internet connectivity with male potency. I'm ambivalent about this commercial. On one hand, I want to congratulate Sprint on turning the tables and instead of creating a feeling of inadequacy in women about their looks, they've found a way to do it to men. Well played. On the other hand, I'd like to beat the ad executive into next Christmas and blame it on suppressed performance anxiety and rage. Rating: Right here, Sprint. Right here.