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A Fool And Her French Fries

April 22: An Introduction
April 23: Philip Michaels
April 24: Gregg Wrenn
April 25: Ben Boychuk
April 26: Greg Knauss
April 27: Jason Snell
May 1: A Loyal Reader
It took me about a month to learn the name "Inland Valley." I don't suppose you've heard of it. It's a produce company. Makes frozen french fries. You can probably find them in your local grocer's freezer.

That's what I did, anyway. I had to go to the store and pick through the frozen peas and the hash browns and the Swansons Hungry Man dinners to hunt down Inland Valley's thrice-damned fries just so I could write this article.

That's how much I hate Inland Valley and all that it stands for.

Sure, I'd seen Inland Valley's TV commercials plenty of times -- more occasions than I care to recall. That's a lot of exposure, believe me. The name may not have stuck, but the spot sure did.

The Inland Valley commerical was the most awful I've seen in a long, long time. Worse than those sissified, yuppie-scum Jack In The Box ads with the cloying music -- you know, the ones they ran before Jack came back and vanquished the pitas and the sprouts and the tofu or whatever the hell it was they were peddling. Worse than the Mercedes-Benz commercial where Cybill Shepherd hectors Kevin, the Embattled Car Dealer. Worse even than Candace Bergen's "Dime Lady" spots for Sprint.

As wretched as all those spots are -- and believe me, I still wake up at night with a bad case of the sweats thinking about the Dime Lady -- the Inland Valley commercial puts them all to shame with its singular ghastliness. Just 30 seconds long, the spot has aged me considerably. Even now it fills me with sadness and regret for time misspent in a world where Inland Valley holds sway.

The shot opens at a fancy gentleman's club. We see three stinking rich white men playing a not-so-friendly game of cards. And the stakes are high.

"I'll see your Rolls and raise you my yacht," the center man says to the man sitting to his right.

"I'll see your yacht and raise you my villa in the Caribbean!" announces the third man. He drops a document -- it's supposed to be the deed to his house, but you know it's really just the actor's dry cleaning bill -- on top of the pot.

Then Mr. Villa looks off screen to the fourth player and says, with a kind of smug bemusement, "What about you Reggie? You in?"

Now, the fourth player -- Reggie, I gathered -- is revealed. And Reggie is a woman. She smiles.

"Oh yeah," Reggie says with the arrogance of a woman you're happy not to be married to. Then she plops down a bag of Inland Valley frozen french fries on top of the pot, on top of all that money, on top of the deed belonging to Mr. Villa.

Just for yuks, try that the next time you're playing a little five-card draw with the fellas over at your buddy Bill's or maybe down at the Knights of Columbus and see what happens.

Like the Man said, you've got to know when to hold 'em. You've got to know when to fold 'em. You should know when to walk away and when it's a pretty good idea to run.

In this case, you better run like a bastard. Because I don't care if you've got a royal flush clinched in those sweaty mitts of yours -- in the real world, tossing a bag of cheap-ass frozen french fries on top of a fat poker pot won't get you a luxury car, or a yacht or a house. It probably won't even get you a cup of coffee.

What it will get you is a severe beating. With fists. And hockey sticks. And telephone receivers. And aluminum folding chairs. And ironing boards. And stuffed buffalo heads. And coat racks. And gardening implements. And hydraulic jacks.

And so on.

But in Inland Valley's twisted fantasy realm, what do these powerful, poker-playing men-of-the-world do?

They fold.

"That's it," say a vanquished Mr. Rolls.

"I'm out," chimes a despondent Mr. Yacht.

"Me, too," says a disgusted Mr. Villa, who can barely stand to look at the woman who just took away his house on the strength of a bag of frozen fries.

At the end of the spot, we see Reggie basking luxuriously in the sun at her fabulous new Caribbean villa, being attended by a studly cabana boy.

"Another Inland Valley fry?" he asks. She takes one. The end.

In my more fanciful moments, I imagine that three seconds after that scene, the cabana boy pulls out a silenced .22 and pumps five rounds into Reggie's head, courtesy of Mr. Villa.

"You're bluff just got called, missy," he'd say. Or maybe, "Those are the last fries you'll ever bet." Or perhaps even, "When you get to Hell, tell 'em Mr. Villa sent you." Then he'd pick up the spent shells and make his escape in a speedboat waiting nearby.

Or something like that.

Now, why is it that an innocent little french fry spot inspires such vitriol and an ad starring, say, a talking chihuahua hawking third-rate Mexican fast food does not? I've spent the better part of an hour thinking about it, and I think finally stumbled on the answer.

Willing suspension of disbelief.

Sure, sure. I get the joke. The fries are just so goddamn good. So good that otherwise reasonable men would give up their property in the face of the fries' golden crispy awesomeness.

Right. I just don't buy it.

Only in the perverse world of commercials could a $2.99 bag of frozen french fries be worth more than a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and a villa in the Caribbean. It offends the sensibilities. It's an absurdity. It mocks the laws of nature and economics. It's insane.

But a talking dog leading a taco revolution? Now that's funny.

Besides, I just love that little son-of-a-bitch.

--Ben Boychuk


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