Monday, December 27, 2010
Poo Bags and Fire Logs: The Genius of American Marketing
A woman is walking her toy poodle down Rodeo Drive. The dog is elaborately coiffed. Puffs of hair at the legs and atop the head are shaved so precisely that the creature seems to have been groomed in a machine shop by a computer-guided laser cutter. The dog and the woman bear striking resemblance. Both have long pointed noses and hair that is glossed with mechanical precision. The woman is in her fifties, and her face is so full of botox that it looks as if someone has grabbed the skin at the back of her neck and pulled, hard, then pinned the seam shut and buffed it over to make it disappear in the red-brown hair that curls down across her collar. A purse strap rests in the joint of her left elbow, dangling a small designer bag. Her right hand holds the leash that keeps the dog at a careful ten foot distance as it sniffs at planters and street signs. The dog pauses at the foot of a truncated redwood barrel planted with azaleas. It adorns the sidewalk in front of a store that sells expensive shoes. The barrel exudes a woody fragrance that competes bravely with the fumes of passing cars.
The poodle circles several times before it squats, sniffing and searching for the perfect spot. Then its spindly back legs spread apart, the shaved parts of its thighs looking like chicken legs in a butcher shop cooler.
The woman looks into the shop window, regards her reflection layered over the displays of shoes. She refuses to look at the dog while it does its business. When the tension on the leash indicates that the dog is done, the woman reels the leash to bring the animal to her side.
"Stay," she says, and slips the leash handle over an ironwork scroll that decorates a nearby bench. The little dog sits in contentment. The woman opens her purse and removes a long blue plastic baggie. She kneels holding her knees together, thrusts her hand inside the baggie and, using it as a glove, scoops up two warm turds. The expression on her face is only slightly modified. She no longer has the use of a goodly number of her facial muscles, gone to botox paralysis. Her nostrils tighten and a slight wrinkle of revulsion pokes through the artificial smoothness of her forehead.
She can feel the steamy new heat of the dog shit. She makes an effort not to close her fingers over the poodle's production of poo. Still, she can't help but apply pressure to the fresh arrivals on the sidewalk. They squish a little as she neatly pulls them into the bag and quickly loops the bag shut and tosses it into the trash bin provided by the town of Beverly Hills.
I can't prevent myself from feeling a little frisson of pleasure. Oh how close are the woman's fingers to that poo! How much, a thousandth of an inch? A tenth of a milimeter? Her entire soul recoils in horror. She has maids from El Salvador for jobs like this. It would be too ridiculous, of course, to drag along a maid to pick up little Alicia's poo. The rich woman will hold her nose and do her citizen's duty.
It's the bags that interest me. They are products of marketing ingenuity that meet the criteria for brilliance in the capitalist system. They are cheap to produce, they sell in huge quantities at a price that is many multiples of the original cost.
Imagine going online and ordering a box of thirty dog poop bags for five dollars. It's not very wise shopping. The website dogwaste.com sells institutional quantities: a thousand bags for thirty five dollars, or ten thousand for two seventy five. The website "shithappens.com" sells designer poop bags that are fully biodegradable. These clever boutique poo bags claim to have "built-in scoop action" and retail in packages of sixteen for around twenty dollars. Ouch! Expensive! But they look so chic. They have handles and are decorated with images of dog breeds and have humorous printed messages such as "shit happens" and "size matters". Oh boy.
At "Flushdoggy.com" you get a hundred bags for twenty bucks. They're sturdy enough to do the dirty, but they dissolve in water. Flushable dog poo in a bag, that's what they're selling. The easy, "green", thoughtful way to dispose of your portion of the 29,000 tons of poop that are daily produced by dogs.
I live in an RV campground. This is a business whose survival depends upon an infinite supply of cheap poo bags They are dispensed at convenient locations throughout the campground and everyone who walks past a dispenser grabs two or three for later use. We have two dogs and three cats. We fill the bags with used kitty litter and poodle doody. I'm glad I don't have to buy the damn things. Campground management doesn't provide the best in amenities. The TV reception is a joke, and using the internet wi fi is like trying to play basketball on a trampoline. But at least they've got complimentary poo bags.
I wish my dad had been in something as profitable as poo bags. I'd be rich. I could expect to inherit some money when my dad's time comes. Unfortunately he owned a Dunkin' Donuts franchise. He worked hard for every penny. He struggled to provide for his family. He lugged sixty pound sacks of flour, stayed up all night running big mixers and standing over a deep fryer whose grease was popping at four hundred degrees.
Think high margin, dad. Think cheap to produce, high volume sales, a thousand percent markup. Something like fire logs. Nothing but sawdust and paraffin, probably cost a dime to make, sell for five bucks a log.
Or pharmaceuticals. How big is the profit margin in pharmaceuticals? How much does it cost to produce one of those ten dollar antiobiotic pills that my wife needs during one of her bouts of pneumonia?
This is the nature of capitalism. Buy low, sell high. You'd think there should be some kind of line, some restraint on greed. But the degree and nature of this restraint invokes an old argument, a political debate that's been going on for generations.
When you're broke, and you get pneumonia, and you need five hundred dollars to save your life, there is no argument. There is only desperation and anger.
On the other hand, I don't begrudge the wealth accumulated by the makers of dog poo bags. When we got our dogs, we agreed to abide by the regnant paradigm, the social contract that requires people to police their own animals.
What kind of world would this be, if people just left their dog shit where it fell?