This story takes place in 1971. Anti-Vietnam War protestors were marching in Washington. Charles Manson was sentenced for the horrendous Hollywood murders. Disneyworld opened in Florida and the NASDAQ made its debut. The South Tower of New York’s World Trade Center topped out and the 26th Amendment changing the voting age to 18 from 21 was certified by Richard Nixon.
In a world newly sensitized to environmental concerns, a TV ad appeared that captured everyone’s imagination. You may be too young to remember it when it first aired but you certainly have seen it since.
(Who am I kidding…all of you are old enough to remember the original one, don’t even try lying to me.)
A Native American man paddles his birch bark canoe on waters that start pristine but become increasingly polluted the further he travels into an industrial zone. Tom-toms thunder in the background as he paddles. He pulls up to a trashy shoreline and walks toward a bustling freeway. As the stern-countenanced Indian looks on, a passenger tosses a paper bag out a car window. The bag bursts on the ground and scatters trash, including fast food wrappers, over the Indian’s beaded moccasins. The stern narrator admonishes: “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don’t.” The camera zooms in on the Indian’s face to reveal a single tear falling, ever so slowly, down his cheek.
The “Crying Indian Ad” was hugely popular and is still ranked as one of the greatest TV ads. It expanded beyond TV and the Crying Indian showed up on billboards, in print media and even on tee shirts. It was the essence of “woke” before woke was even born. Today it’s a meme.
Great stuff, yeah? Except, man, it was like sooo totally bogus as we used to say back then. Totally.
The first big lie was the “Indian.” We all knew him as Iron Eyes Cody. Problem was, Iron Eyes Cody was really an Italian guy born Espera de Corti. Yup, the ad, whose impact depended entirely on the emotional authenticity of the Crying Indian’s tear, flat out deceived the public with a non-existent cultural connection.
But it gets worse.
The ad was touted as a public service advertisement for the anti-litter organization Keep America Beautiful. Turns out, Keep America Beautiful was really a front for the American Can Co. and the Owens-Illinois Glass Co., who were later joined by the likes of Coca-Cola and the Dixie Cup Co.
The Crying Indian ad was conceived not to promote ecological sensitivity, but as propaganda to deflect the large amount of criticism about solid waste pollution that these entities had been receiving starting the year before on the first Earth Day. The practice is known as “greenwashing.”
The container manufacturers were fighting a heated and losing battle against recyclable containers and the ad was specifically planned to make the public think that the average American was the environmental problem, not the corporations who cleverly stayed anonymous behind the Keep America Beautiful logo. Just as the famous tear starts to fall, the baritone narrator shamelessly intones: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”
Keep America Beautiful used the Crying Indian ad in an attempt to sway Congress that so-called “bottle bills” should not be passed because disposable containers led to litter. KAB did not want anybody thinking about the actual environmental costs of strip mining natural resources, the pollution caused by container manufacturing and the real problems of solid waste disposal. Keep America Beautiful went so far in one case as to label supporters of legislation advancing recyclable containers as “communists.”
But of course none of this has anything to do with today’s story which is all about me, me, me.
I happen to have a dry eye. Just one, the left one. As afflictions go this is a Nothingburger and my Eye Doc says it will probably go away if I maintain his recommended eye care routine. You also need to know that I am absolutely, positively not a crying-type person unless you spill my beer. I can watch Old Yeller, The Notebook, Bambi and Flowers for Algernon back to back with nary a sniffle. But the dry eye can be a problem on occasion.
See, from time to time, with mere seconds of warning, the “dry” eye will suddenly flood and a gigantic tear will form and roll glacially down my cheek. By the time I realize what is happening, it’s usually too late for a surreptitious flick of the finger.
I wouldn’t care much except the involuntary tear seems to appear at the most discomforting moments. Say, for example, I’m at the Five Finger Discount car repair shop talking to Bruno about the price he quoted for my brake cylinder repair.
Bruno stands there, arms folded, pits ringed in sweat while chewing gum silently challenging me for a reaction to his obvious attempted extortion. Instead of intimidating Bruno with the sharp side of my tongue, a huge tear forms in my left eye and rolls down my cheek. Not much negotiating room after that little trick.
Sometimes I’ll get an unexpected tear while at the movies and it is always, always, always at one of the sad scenes and just when someone seated near me has casually glanced over. Same thing at a bar when my team misses a score or loses a game.
This Crying Maltese Owner has even been seen at the Department of Motor Vehicles where being weepy was actually beneficial. I had forgotten to bring along a copy of my appointment form and the clerk decided to punish me out of sheer spite. A wayward tear began to form just as she began haranguing me about my carelessness and how I was just the type of a person to bring the entire department to a screaming halt.
Right on cue, the tear started down my cheek. Ms. Sassafras McNasty (not her real name) saw me crying, apologized profusely and proceeded to accept my paperwork without further comment. She even said she was sorry she hurt my feelings. Meanwhile, I was mentally reviewing a hundred and one ways to attach her obstinate, bureaucratic posterior to an ant hill.
The most recent embarrassment came at Max’s Veterinary office. It was the day we first took him to see Dr. C about his heart problem. Now, you need to know that Dr. C is a world-class empath. That’s a great thing in a Vet, I suppose. She knew that she was delivering to us some bad news about the Malt’s health and it was clear she was trying to be gentle.
As she spoke she kept looking back and forth between the Alpha Japanese Female and me. Eyeballing the AJF is like staring down Iron Eyes Cody – you don’t get much feedback from that samurai visage. So Dr. C settled on me as her primary audience.
As Dr. C got into the details of therapies, medicines and expectancies, I could feel a slight welling in my left eye. “Oh God, no please,” was all I could think. “Don’t do it, please.” “No, no, no…stop.” But I knew that, once started, there would be no stopping the trickle and there wasn’t.
Just as Dr. C looked up from her charts and x-rays and into my eyes, a giant tear rolled out and started oozing ever so languidly down my left cheek. I wanted to rub it away but you can imagine what that would look like. I wanted to explain I had dry eye but, really, would you believe that story? There was nothing to do but sit there staring back at the tender hearted Dr. C and let the tickling of the falling tear continue unabated.
Convinced that she had brought me to tears, Dr. C started apologizing and asking if I would be all right. The AJF, who knows all about my previous dry eye manifestations, started giggling at my torment and that pushed an uncomfortable situation into the category of “wholly inappropriate.”
The wife was laughing while the husband was crying and poor Dr. C just wanted to get out of that room full of crazy people.
I’ve not seen Dr. C since that day but we are due for another appointment soon. I fear what might happen at the next check up. I think I’ll wear sunglasses and stuff some tissue behind the left lens.
Puppy Eyes Maxwell thinks the whole thing is hilarious.
Categories: The Dog From Rancho Cucaracha