This is Jean Shepherd's second piece for Grump, a fact which pleases me immensely, as I have long been a Shepherd Fan. Jean is one of our most cogent, contemporary philosophers, a man who writes and talks about the Way Things Are, not about the way things should be. In an age devoutly dedicated to cant, he remains uncommitted to any sort of moral, political or emotional PermaThink, and his radio show on WOR in N.Y. (six nights a week at 10:15) is, in my opinion, the most consistently entertaining program on AM, FM, UHF or TV. Jean is also a regular contributor to Playboy, an actor, a sports car nut, a former ball player and the author of a fine book published last October by Doubleday called, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash."
YOU MUST BE SATISFIED OR DOUBLE YOUR MONEY BACK!
Ah, what a comfortable, reassuring, warming, cuddly phrase that is, a phrase probably more ubiquitous than any single slogan, motto, epithet, punchline; anything on the scene today. Whole political philosophies and theologies are based on one permutation of that line or another. It may be couched in cloudy Idealistic phrases such as:
"The right of all free men to live in harmony and peace, etc. etc., blah, blah, in hoc agricola conc . . . " or it may come in its more fragrant forms, such as an advertisement inviting you to live forever in Marlboro country, which seems to have only strong, healthy, hungry-eyed, bronzed people of indeterminate Springtime youth existing forever in a land where there appear to be no buildings at all, only endless beautiful canyons and rugged, picturesque riding trails- certainly no used car lots or hospitals with cancer wards.
Or maybe you prefer Thunderbird Country, where no fenders are ever banged, no differentials ever fall out, and no greasy kids scratch:
"Wash me, you fathead!" on the beautiful iridescent bronze rear deck.
The Double-Your-Money-Back, You-Must-Be-Satisfied, Guaranteed Syndrome is now galloping full blown through the great, vast empty spaces of the mind's vacuum of today's resolute Dreamer. He blames the rotten American system, a sick, decadent Society, for the fact that every girl he tries to make puts him down as a pimply-faced weed. No wonder he becomes a militant New Left zealot in the full blush of the Double Your Money Back Hangup. He believes that any planned, Totalitarian, guaranteed forever beautiful, lovely, Forever Singing Folksongs In The Wheatfields society must be preferable to the old Every-Man-For-Himself - And - Let - The - Weeds - Fall - Where - They - May Fordham Road world.
One knothead recently sued a local university here in New York indignantly proclaiming that after four years of toil he was still a notable lout at graduation time, a perfect example of the Satisfaction Guaranteed myth at its best.
"Four years at NYU and we guarantee that you will be wise, profound, brimming with wisdom and totally With It or double your money back!"
No wonder he became a Buddhist monk when after graduation he found that his lips still moved when he read the Want Ads in the Daily News.
The framers of our much-maligned Constitution were men of sterner stuff, and knew a hell of a lot more about Life as she is lived than the average graduate student today at CCNY, who gains much of his "knowledge" of existence from reading various items from the stacks and then filling out multiple choice questions on philosophical concepts of Cosmic complexity. You will note that line at the very beginning of the Constitution which guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. Nowhere is it even implied that you will ever catch up with that particular electric rabbit, or even glimpse it in the distance amid a cloud of dust.
Great numbers of parents today who have faithfully followed innumerable texts guaranteed in one way or another to produce model offspring are dully throbbing in lonely living rooms while Barbie or Kenny slowly volplane around the chandelier at a pot party down the block.
"Where have we failed?" they moan, "we followed every word to the letter in Dr. Spock's golden book!"
Kids, on the other hand, are forever being told that they, being Teenagers, are magical beings closely related to elves, if not outright nymphs and fairies, destined forever to run along endless uncluttered beaches, golden hair streaming in the breeze, with the cry "SURF'S UP!" mingling with the Pepsi-Cola jingle. Instead, they often find themselves short, noticeably fat, near-sighted and with bad molars. Naturally, they feel someone has goofed up on their guarantee.
Whole nations are now in the thrall of this remarkable hangup. For fifty years they've been trying to make the Workers' Paradise paradisical. And still the suits are baggy, the underwear binds, mothers-in-law weep, guitar strings break, and the women are fat. The cry then goes up:
"Who screwed us!? It must be ______ !" Fill in the blanks.
It's always somebody else. No one ever seems to question the concept of the guarantee itself.
Equality today is equated with happiness. We'll see. I already know the answer to that one. As a notably Equal person, I speak with some authority.
The uproar will go on forever and ever. In fact, some are even going so far in pursuit of the Double Your Money Back golden fleece as to arrive at that eventual poor old dead end and Scapegoat of all eternityGod. Already, in the last few months, there have been more and more editorials ranting and raving against a God everyone claims they don't believe in for doing such rotten stuff to Us, and using that argument to prove that's why they don't believe in Him, a classic example of the man who, six months after purchase, finds that Life itself is burning oil and getting lousy gas mileage.
Remember, gang, if you want to get ahead, just offer the mob a guaranteed, gold-plated, ribbon-bedecked Parchment, Scroll, White Paper, Manifesto, Constitution or what-have-you insuring that if the instructions are carefully followed, Happiness, Satisfaction and the golden attainment of Peace of Mind will inevitably result. Whether you peddle creeds, dogmas or drugs, the mob will flock. It's only later that they will turn on you, but by then, we hope, you'll be living comfortably in Switzerland.