Asheville Citizen-Times 1/28/2015 –
Being stalked is scary stuff. Those sickos thrive on fear and intimidation, often planning hours for just a few moments of exposure to the person they’re pursuing. They’re like sharks, obsessed with moving, never resting, always zeroing in.
The guy following me was a little off the beaten path even for stalkers — hoop earring, shaved head, otherworldly smile. I couldn’t always see him, but I knew he was usually behind closed doors, staring, unblinking, enduring.
And worst yet, I eventually realized my wife was in love with him.
As I slowly figured out his patterns, I recognized that he was obsessed with weekends, waiting for the time when I’d open the cabinet below the kitchen sink and lift him to the counter so that he could watch me work.
I’ve known Mr. Clean forever and he never goes away. Every Saturday morning, he’s there. I’ve loudly reminded him at least a hundred times that he gets on my nerves, but he just grins back at me as he watches from the edge of the bathtub, or next to a faucet, while I struggle cleaning.
He’s always annoyingly around, and when he’s running on empty, I know he has a thousand brothers waiting in nearby stores anxious to stop over and continue to observe my labor.
Enough. Who was this guy that’s been following me around all these years anyway? I took a break from cleaning the kitchen floor and called Proctor and Gamble, manufacturers of Mr. Clean, from the 800 number listed on their bottle.
Almost immediately, I was in touch with a pleasant woman who turned out to be both knowledgeable and helpful. According to her, not only had Mr. Clean been around since 1958, but colors, ingredients and caps have all been changed through the years.
From her personal memory vault, I also learned about a contest in 1962 designed to give Mr. Clean a first name. After checking her notes, she mentioned the winning name had been “Veritably.”
Veritably? Are you sure? Veritably? First of all what does the word even mean? And second, why would anyone ever choose it for Mr. Clean? She didn’t know what the judges’ reasoning had been, but did mention that veritably meant truth or true — Mr. True Clean.
Hmmm. OK, on second thought, not too bad. Maybe veritably was a reasonable winner after all, but it was certainly not in the league of what my entry would have been. Taking my new phone friend into my confidence — I felt we were developing a rapport — I told her that my name for the contest would have been John, John Clean.
I emphasized the double meaning: “John, Clean. Get it?”
A long pause grew awkward. I never could tell a joke.
But I did have one other question. Why did Mr. Clean look like a … well, ah … an intergalactic masseuse?
As the story goes, back in the 1950s during product development at Procter and Gamble, “Cleans like magic” was the catchphrase to be associated with an innovative liquid cleaner being formulated. With this new product launch looming on the horizon, a decision was made to create a product spokesman that resembled a magical, mystical genie — an image that would go hand-in-hand with “Cleans like magic.”
As is often the case in advertising, it didn’t quite work out that way. The Mr. Clean character designed to accompany the slogan caught on and remained in the ad campaign while the original catchphrase for which Mr. Clean had been developed, “Cleans like magic,” was never used.
End result: An animated character named Mr. Veritably Clean talks with America about a product that, due to the elimination of the original accompanying catchphrase, seems odd a genie would be associated with — and, in the process, sells tons of cleaning liquid from Washington to Maine.
I hung up the phone and finished sponging the floor. As I lifted Mr. Clean from the counter and placed him on the shelf below the sink, he said, “See you next week, big guy.”
“You’re not funny,” I exclaimed aloud.
“Are you talking to Mr. Clean again?” my wife asked as she walked into the kitchen.
“He started it!”
She left, shaking her head. “No matter what, I’m not going to stop using him.”
After hearing her ringing endorsement, I just knew he was smiling at me from behind the cabinet doors. I knew it! I knew it!
Mr. Clean and I have been involved in a love-hate relationship for more than 50 years. My guess is that he’ll be around a lot longer than me, not because of his bald head or earring, but because when he lends a helping hand, lazy guys around the world really can rid of grime and grease in just a minute, clean the whole house and everything that’s in it.
Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. His first novel, “The Fall of Summer,” a 1960s coming-of-age story, is now on sale at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe and other online and local retailers. Contact him at email@example.com.
Learn more about the author and the novel online at http://tedmalexander.com/Books.html.