Saturday, April 29, 2006

tiny pills

Originally this entry was about spam: how the ads in the back of magazines have a remarkable resemblance to the spam that shows up in my junk email.

I'm not complaining. I like my spam.

I don't get very much email these days. Some of my long-time correspondents no longer use email. They don't trust it. They don't want to leave a written record. Or they just don't speak to me any more because I'm anti-social and never leave the house. For whatever reason, spam's as good as it gets some days.

I was going through a copy of Movie Life -- dated November, 1956 -- to prove my point. I found some fabulous ads, very much the analogs of what's in my Junk E-Mail folder today. There was also ample coverage of James Dean's death, Rock Hudson's dating habits, and how Marlon Brando fights the "Nobody Loves Me" blues

But never mind the articles; in 2056 no-one will care about Brangelina. One of the standouts among many fine ads, hidden near the back of the magazine, occupying about 2 column-inches, was a cryptic ad for Chi-Ches-Ters.

Chi-ches-ters. Turn "problem" days into party days.

I misinterpreted the ad the first time around. I was thinking, Pamprin masquerading as some kind of have-a-party painkiller. Naturally I wondered what was in this medical marvel, what the magic ingredients were. What was in over-the-counter "prescription-like" formulations in 1956? Codeine? Aspirin? Caffeine? laxative? sugar? activated charcoal? puma urine? Was it just another Chaser-Plus?

My glued-to-the-chair research strategy turned up little in the way of a satisfying answer. But I began to get an inkling that maybe there was something interesting to pursue here. A reprinted article that discussed how abortion became illegal in the Oregon Territory in 1845 included several anecdotes about Chi-Ches-Ters tiny pills:


Virginia Proctor of Canyonville graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1937 and recalled her sorority sisters used Chi-ches-ters.

"The girls used them to bring on their periods or induce abortion if they could," Proctor said.

"Not only that, but they used them when they knew they were going to a prom and they wanted to get their period over with early. Girls are like that, you know. They're no different today than they were 50 years ago," she said with a laugh.
Ah, so that's how 'problem' days are turned into party days. Neither the author of this article nor I could find out much about what the magic ingredient was. Patent medicines weren't regulated and there's no good record of what was in these party pills. Pennyroyal is what I suspect. It must've worked, at least some of the time.

Much like the spam I read with relish (or other lunch-worthy condiments available in packets), manufacturers and distributers invented creative ways to advertise what they had to sell. AMBtExN. V v I e A g G p R i A h. Chi-Ches-Ters.

Chi-Ches-Ters.

Will my spam start advertising Chi-Ches-Ters? I hope not, although there are plenty of indications that we're headed back to a Chi-Ches-Ters era. In junior high, girls -- bad girls, good girls -- would disappear for a term, then they'd be back. We knew better than to ask.

Other advertisements are much easier to interpret from today's vantage point. The spot-reducing massage. The model demonstrating the device looks awfully happy for a girl who's simply after a graceful figure. Even more to the point is the Marvel Whirling Spray Syringe for Women. Certainly the message is not as obscure as Chi-Ches-Ters.

The real fat reduction -- so much like the current spate of Hoodia ads -- comes in the form of an "improved formula" chewing gum. What does it have in it? This time they're not so coy. It has the miracle ingredient Kelpidine. Yum. Isn't that in the periodic table? Wasn't it an amino acid at one time? I bet it's almost as effective as Hoodia, which my buddy Bolstering T. Flagships assures me is backed by the endorsements of doctors and celebrities alike.

Here's a 1950s novelty item that's inexplicably missing from my spam: a holy water font. How can something that's so decorative be so truly useful? The ad suggests that a pair of holy water fonts may be used as bookends and that "deep religious significance makes the 'Pontiff's Font' an ideal Christmas gift." A holy water receptacle! What a great Christmas gift! Long after the family has tired of the animated singing Big Mouth Billy Bass novelty plaque, they'll still be enjoying the holy water receptacle bookends for all their holy water needs. Which are? I'm not sure what in-home holy water is used for, but perhaps it's something akin to the ubiquitous Evian bottles that you see tucked into the side pockets of backpacks. No water needs to be consumed to receive maximum hydrating benefit from having it at your side (or on your back) throughout the day. Those holy water fonts are a useful and beautiful way of setting in earthquake supplies.

In 50 years, someone'll be wanting to get ahold of spam circa 2006. Just you wait. Someone'll be looking for Marietta Le's enticingly-titled message Hey that unravels the mystery of why Cialis Sof Tabs are better than V.i..2a.g.1.r.a6. There'll be scholarly monographs investigating the meaning behind Russsian superb Slut haardcore actiion. What's with all those sibilant s's and prolonged vowels? Surely there's significance to this purposeful misspelling. There'll be plenty to puzzle over.

Tell you what. I'm going to keep all my spam. Just in case we need it later. It might be exactly what we need in 2056 to remind us of what was on our minds in 2006.

Chi-Ches-Ters. Spot reduction. Holy water. At least.

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