During my lost and floundering period in the mid ’70s I worked for a New Canaan landscaper named John Calitri, whom I used to call “Big John.” He was a big Italian guy — tough, white-haired, kind-hearted, laughed a lot. But what I remember best about him is based on a memory of a single hot day during the summer of ’76, and how he and his son (whose name I forget) introduced me to the idea of subconsciously muttering a brand mantra.
(l.) Molson Golden Ale label; (r.) Robert Vaughn as Sen. Walter Chalmers in Peter Yates’ Bullitt.
John Calitri & Son both did this on that July or August day, and for whatever reason I’ve never, ever forgotten it.
What exactly is “subconscious brand mantra muttering”? I don’t know if I can describe it in the right way, but it’s the kind of thing you do when you’re feeling tired and bored and in a daydream state, and it just kind of slips out. You’re lugging garden rocks or big bags of fertilizer or unloading fence posts or shovelling sand, and every now and then you find yourself lost in thought and you’re suddenly muttering a brand or a phrase from a film or the name of a TV character or some fast food dish or whatever.
What I’m specifically recalling is that on that particular summer day in ’76 Big John would occasionally (not always but often) finish his sentences (be they orders or urgings or wry commentaries about this or that) with the words “Molson’s Golden Ale.” And on the same day his son was occasionally finishing his sentences with “Walter Chalmers,” the politican character played by Robert Vaughn in Bullitt.
So Big John would say, “Jeff and Dave, you guys stay here and finish up spreading the chips around…you should be done by 4…and we’ll take the truck and get some gas and start on the next job and see you over there…Molson’s Golden Ale.”
John wasn’t saying this “subconciously,” in the precise sense of that term. He was saying it mock-ironically, which is to say he was half submitting to the brand-mantra impulse and half making fun of himself for doing so. He was just in a good-natured Molson’s mood that day or succumbing to a kind of TV commercial ear bug syndrome…whatever.
Is this a very specific form of insanity that I experienced with Big John and his son and a couple of other guys on a single day in Connecticut some 36 years ago, or have others done this or noticed this in other situations?