Shape Shifting

b6af4a687cc48a29cca10899b048f11120f7e175To pass time on an airplane, I sometimes browse the SkyMart magazine to learn about
the amazing products that are missing from my life. As enticing as the ads can seem, it’s usually easy to keep my credit card in my pocket.  We live in an apartment so have no need for the backyard stereo speaker covers that leave your nearsighted friends guessing where the music is coming from.  They will never suspect those fiberglass lumps. As if near-sighted people don’t have enough to guess about.

We actually have a real dog, so I turned the SkyMart page on the faux canine that could be yours for only $38.98.


“Lifelike puppy that actually breathes. This adorable pet offers a real pet ownership experience without the hassles and expense. An alternative to the pet ownership – The ultimate pet.”

I don’t know if it is still on offer in the SkyMart, but once upon a time the Chin Gym really stirred my imagination.

chingym1“With Chin Gym – the patented, isometric, mini weightlifting system – you can easily trim, strengthen, tone, and firm the three muscle groups that directly affect your “double chin” area. Simply hold the mouthpiece between your teeth for 15 minutes daily – five weights allow 19 tiny increments for gradual progression over a period of a few months. Once you reach your goal of a more youthful chin, maintain with a twice-a-week workout.”

The Lululemon lab is missing a bet if they haven’t cooked up a special outfit for this exercise program.

Apparently chin toning technology has advanced from the tiny increments, “no pain, no gain” days. In a metro station in Seoul, I came across an ad for a “Face Corset”.  To control that seductive, come hither under-chin wobble that drives men wild, I guessed.  But no.  This amazing product promises more. Judging by the photo on the poster, the “Rose-Lace Lifting Span Mask” can transform the face of the average Korean woman into a blue-eyed Caucasian nun with full moist lips and plucked eyebrows.  There is no promise of what it might do if, like me, you have more chins than the Hong Kong phone directory.

face corset

Curious about how the “Face Corset” works its magic, I went on-line and discovered a wonderous new world of facial firming apparatus. The images that popped up with the usual alarming Google speed show models that look like the love children of Gwyneth Paltrow and Freddie Kruger.

Evidently, lifting span masks are a thing in South Korea as are eyelid surgery, lip plumping and other medical tinkering with nature.  Among certain segments of the population there, a woman’s primary task in life is to find a rich husband.  If this means ending up looking like Sister Mary Joseph, so be it.

Those searching for flab free faces should know that the masks have reached America. And men shouldn’t feel smugly immune to the trend. Women have always had to cope with comments about their appearance. But isn’t it only a matter of time before we are being asked, “Hey, Jello jaws! Skip your chin gym workout, today?”

51FhbAezVTL._SX425_Not to worry.  There are manly versions of the span masks just for us.  So what if when you wear them you feel like you put your jock strap on in a drunken frenzy.
Soon your nether chin will look like you are permanently tilting your head toward the stars. As men pursue firmer futures, can span lifting Wonderbutt briefs be far behind?

I probably should be careful carping about different products because these days many people talk about their “brand” as if they themselves were a product. The old Norse villagers who seared symbols into their animals’ hides with a burning log wouldn’t recognize what they started.  What would they make of the herd of Kardashian brands?

This branding business can be confusing.  Our dog Elliot represents a breed – Norwich Terrier – but does that mean he is a brand?  Is that what he is doing when we take walks in the neighborhood: branding the trees?
On brand for Kim Kardashian.

I have trouble thinking of myself as a brand.  I don’t like being in the same category as Tide Pods and Preparation H—or the Kardashians, for that matter.  I’m old fashioned and liked it better when people had reputations, and we talked about honor, fidelity, honesty, courage, truth and character. In those days, forever was a long time and a damaged reputation endured.

But, apparently, now when you’re a brand, you don’t have to worry about your character. That’s the whole point.  You get to walk things back, erase the tape, “clarify” to mean the opposite of what you just said. You can put yourself in innovative packaging with bold new colors.  Just a wave of the Men in Black wand and, “voila!,” you are someone different– definitely recyclable. I wonder if St. Peter accepts re-brands at the pearly gates.  “Is that you?”

From Paris bus shelter – Can’t say they didn’t warn you about the ingredients
Cigarette ad – S. Korea.  This is a lovely wish, and I think we can agree that the world would be a better place.

I am fascinated by the ads, brands and signs that I come across in my travels.  Like ancient cave paintings, they reflect the mysterious folk ways of strange tribes.

56e922873dbd2d1e3dc6a9f0e2c9728a--retro-advertising-retro-adsBy far the most culturally baffling are the advertising campaigns that anthropomorphize objects and animals.  And I’m not just referring to loquacious ducks and geckos.  I mean products and beasts that are sexualized.  If you’re old enough, you might remember a cigarette pack with shapely legs that lured you toward addiction and cancer with triple time steps. We thought it was cute.

In France, Orangina, a popular soft drink, uses animals in its advertisements that are meant to be sexy, I suppose, but the images would keep Freud awake at night.


It’s true that the bear with the discreet fig leaf in their ads is ripped and has a long tongue, but the lady quadrupeds with big boobs are down-right creepy. Nothing like sitting in the lap of a scantily clad giraffe with silicone implants to get a young man in the mood for an insipid orange beverage.

Other people’s fantasies are often mystifying.  For example, these days, dressing up like a plush animal character is a thing, and not just for four-year-olds playing Minny Mouse on Halloween or Judi Dench looking for an embarrassing screen role. I’m talking about “furries.” You may not be aware of this phenomena unless your neighbor showed up at your Labor Day barbeque resembling a six-foot chipmonk—with curled tail and all.  “Hi, Bob.  Is that one of those new Weber grills?”

A fury coming out to his parents.

The furry phenomena is popular with children, teens and adults from all walks of life.  At first blush, fans who don furry costumes may seem to share the DNA of more upscale people who like to drape headless dead minks about their persons.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye.  Genuine furries are not advertising their wealth or status like the mink people.  And they are doing more than merely displaying their fandom for a favorite character.  Their “fursona” signifies certain values (usually peaceful and benign, I read), as well as an identification with people that have similar inclinations. It gives them a feeling of belonging. I understand this feeling because I was once a proud member of a Boy Scout pack called the “coyotes”.  It must be said, however, that we shared little with those creatures except, after a camping trip, their aroma.

qwcrkz0x15w11In a few cases, people take Comicon cosplay into the bedroom.  A word to the wise:  if dressing in a fluffy white get-up with floppy ears turns you on, you should not wait in the bathroom in your special outfit until after your partner has disrobed to say something. Better to mention your fun idea before you hop into the bedroom dressed like Bugs Bunny.

“Well, that’s just weird,” said the guy with the painted torso, decorated face and large wedge of cheese on his head yelling “Smash ‘em” at the big game.

4bd5f7d7c98f0be3e65d1d9b3539d59bI once was casting a show that I directed in L.A. about W.C Fields.  The men that responded to my ad in the Hollywood Reporter were a motely bunch.  One was obviously too young for the part but did an ok impersonation of Field’s voice.  He was able to mimic other movie star’s voices as well — Jimmy Steward, Cagney, the usual.  I asked him how he came by his talent.

“I’ve been doing different voices since I was young.”  In fact, he explained, the one he was using to speak with us was quite different from his real voice.  He used his manufactured voice to talk to everyone these days.  He had me fooled, and I expressed surprise at how natural he sounded.  No one would guess his secret.

“Yea, it can get me in trouble, though,” he offered.  “On my wedding night, I told my new bride that I wanted to be honest and completely myself with her.  So, for the first time, I started talking in my real voice.“ I could see how his sudden flush of romantic candor could cause a problem.

I got to wondering, “If I were a furry, what would I be?”  It’s not an easy a question to answer. I’m hesitant because my winter coat has a collar made of fake polyester fur that looks just like genuine polyester fur.  It’s itchy and that is the problem.  And I’ve watched our dog scratch his own fur which he does nimbly with his rear paw.  I’ve concluded that fur is basically itchy and being a furry is not for me.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t identify with some animals at times.  Recently I’ve been quite taken with the Lesser Bush Baby.  I don’t know much about it except that this tiny monkey is damn cute, the model for Baby Yoda, I think.  I don’t care, I like it.  If you’ve seen the video on line of a Bush Baby being massaged with a toothbrush you will know why. The animal’s joy, ease and pleasure at having its belly rubbed are palpable.  I can identify.

Click for video Bush Baby

So even though I don’t have the right outfit, I can still express my Bush Baby fursona.  When I daily break my vow not to follow the political news from the US and find myself once again disoriented and disheartened, I go on line in search of my little furry friend.  I watch him stretch out and get his belly rubbed with a toothbrush. And for a few minutes this serene little creature and I are one.  I relax and for a moment, at least, all is right with the world.


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Author: Ted Lorenz

Ted Lorenz was born in Salinas, California in 1944. He graduated from college with a degree in Religious Education and quickly discovered that it was not a handy degree to possess. He began his career in New York City writing for Jerry Lewis Cinemas and drafting press releases for opera and concert stars. Ted produced shows at the legendary Upstairs at the Downstairs in New York and served as talent coordinator for the world famous Bitter End in Greenwich Village where he worked with stars such as Jay Leno and Billy Crystal as they launched their careers. Producing and directing credits include "W.C. Fields, 80 Proof" and the award winning Las Vegas show "Enter the Night." He has produced or directed shows that featured The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra, and Wynton Marsalis. He has served as creative director for major corporate events. Currently, Ted lives in Paris with his partner. His book "Holy Hell: A Catholic Boy's Story" is available on

One thought on “Shape Shifting”

  1. Thanks Ted for another fun, humorous display of your wit and power of capturing some of the absurdities of our species!

    Fred Bailey



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