Pussy Cow gets put out to pasture: Retro L.A Local Television commercial La-La Land

Cal Worthington and his dog spot died this week. Most people my age who know California local televsion commercials expressed their heartfelt condolences for “Pussy Cow”. Here’s a well written obituary in case you don’t know who he is. I have to wonder if there is a screenplay out there on Pussy Cow’s life. Depression era flour bag clothing, electric pogo sticks and a Rag’s to Riches story set amongst the ruins of California’s public transit system (at ease San Francisco, I’m not talking to you) is magical stuff that can really entice a popcorn audience.

My clearest “Pussy Cow” memories come from my childhood, living in the small desert town of Calexico where Los Angeles Broadcasting emitted from my television screen.
Calexico, California is at least four hours away from Los Angeles but I was growing up in a designated market area (DMA for you media types) where L.A Super Stations flexed their powerful transmission muscles. Rogers cable system, the cable carrier in Calexico around this time picked up many L.A broadcast T.V stations as it was truly the closest major market. San Diego, while a bonafide city in the 1970’s and 80’s, still lived in affiliate TV land. So while looney toons, the Gong Show, and Battle of the Network stars were universal to any network viewer, it was the localism that undoubtedly customized my viewing experience. Simply put, Los Angeles local T.V and its commercials warped my young mind. So much so that here I am, an overgrown 39 year old writing about it. I’ll go one step further. I even sold T.V air time for several years. Reach and Frequency followed me into adulthood and I never even suspected a thing. Until now.

My favorite painter is Marc Chagall. First time I ever heard someone mutter his dreamy russian name? I was 4 and Candice Bergman was breathlessly stumping for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was a commercial that usually aired on KCOP channel 13 during its morning program, Romper Room with its kindly Latina Los Angeles franchise host, “Miss Soco”. This apparently was the preschool exposure I was going to get as my mother didn’t want to enroll me in the only preschool that existed in Calexico because all the “chuzma” went there. So instead, she opted for sticking me in front of a TV set with all the “chuzma” urban kids on Romper Room. Needless to say, I loved it and while the desperate attention seeking behavior I shamelessly exhibit today was because of that evil “Magic Mirror” Segment, my first form of education came from a studio in Los Angeles while living in a land of lettuce fields and their irrigation canals.
As a Mom of two, these days I am concerned with being in shape as opposed to when I was single and didn’t give a shit because of my bunny rabbit metabolism. I refuse and I mean refuse to suffer the consequences of that doomed middle-aged picnicking mother in those Schick weight loss commercials. She just can’t seem to control her urge to scoop a big helping of that mayonnaise smothered potato salad onto her styrofoam plate or pound a hot dog and wash it down with a few beers that we all know would certainly lead to her having to sign up for Schick’s handy dandy Alcohol treatment program too. I learned back then as a little girl what I know all too well now- being a mother is a real bitch.

In getting older there’s always that fear of being irrelevant. Especially when it comes to technology. And these days it’s social networking, smartphones and tablets that are all the rage. Proudly, I’m up on everything as a blogger, a tweeter, a facebooker and I utilize every device imaginable making sure I stay on top of the “now”. I acknowledge that I owe this to the Control Data Institute and their creepy spokeperson doing his best impersonation of a coldblooded scientist set destroy the universe with his oversized “computer data machines”. His preening nature and his condescension towards a
five year old viewer, asking me if computers scared me simultaneously made my skin crawl and really evaluate my future. We both knew that I didn’t want to end up like the pudgy fro’d out white guy in Control Data Institute’s other commericial, sitting all alone in a dark wooded restaurant booth talking about how there’s always “tomorrow” to figure it out. Poor bastard, little did he know that once he uttered those hopeless words, the ominous repetitive sound of his voice kicked in and a vortex that the evil CDI spokesman created had him sliding into a black hole of nothingness. I bet that guy only has a rotary phone in his home and still gets an actual paper deliverd to his doorstep everyday. Trapped in the white pages of technological doom, what a loser.

A big pet peeve of mine is when people mispronounce my name. How hard is it to say Dominique and not call me Dominick? What, so I look like a little martyred boy saint to you? And yes, I know “Dominique” is a french man’s name too. It’s also the name of an American chicken, a former black basketball player, two former american gymnasts, and a italian neo-realist actress that posed for Playboy. The latter of which my mother named me after when she found the magazine under her and my father’s bed. At least I wasn’t named after the American chicken. You know who also hated the mispronunciation of their name? Poor Jack Stephan. The good natured wrench wielding plumber with his very own plumbing mystery machine had such a contentious relationship with his commercial’s voice over man, I could of sworn he was going to shove the wrench up someone’s ass at the end of the :30 seconds. My conspiracy theory is that Adee-doo plumbing was behind it all. That white haired albino was hell bent on destroying his competition.

The first profession I ever wanted to attempt was being a lawyer. Actually my whole family wanted me to be a lawyer as they all thought I should put being a smart ass at such a tender age to good use. I attribute my technique to Larry Parker. He got a very menacing but wounded motorcyclist over two million dollars while looking like a caricature of the nerdy weakling on the beach who gets sand kicked at him by a big buff beefcake stud as he sits trembling on a towel. As I ate my chocolate hostess donuts and drank my coke ( Thats right, my parents really were health nuts) I figured that if that wimp could get someone that kind of cash, surely I can be a hard nosed lawyer and argue my way towards a later bedtime.

And last but not least as a 26 year old working for a local TV Station in the Bay Area, I hated selling ad time to car dealers. Most of them are more bi-polar than all the TV sales people I know. And that is saying alot. Cal “Pussy Cow” Worthington exemplifies this. I think his over the top antics scared the living crap out of me as a kid. I in no way wanted to go into a dealership that had a man-eating tiger skulking through it’s premises. I now understand the panic attacks I used to get when I set foot into a dealership to make a cold call. It’s all Pussy Cow’s fault. Bastard cost me thousands of dollars in billing each month. Not mention the endless therapy.                                                                                         Ah but it does not matter anymore does it? Pussy Cow is gone to that great big used soul dealership in the sky and many quirky Los Angeles local commercials have been replaced with droll trade school recruitment ads. Southern California’s population has grown exponentially and out of all the Los Angeles local stations, Calexico only carries KCOP now. The Yuma- El Centro affiliates have become legitimate represenative to their DMA. I live in Los Angeles now where all this magic used to happen. Gone are the days of  commercials with no area code or graphics that weren’t centered properly.

I moved away from Calexico in my teens but San Diego’s local commercials in the 1990’s like Los Angeles where better, less clunky more network commercial’s ugly little sister as opposed to their illegitimate child.

Nowadays, we live in an era where there are a thousand channels and several ways to avoid commercials. These clumsy works of marketing couldn’t be fast forwarded so their messages stuck. It was during my youthful T.V watching that I realized how far away Calexico was from real civilization, where Santa’s village offered a year around Christmas fix high above the San Bernadino mountains or where the nice jewish man at The Money Store could loan you a few bucks. All these commercials where fueling my need to eventually escape the Imperial Valley. A few years into college however the tables turned. While visiting my grandmother in Calexico, I couldn’t sleep one night. It was a hot and my grandmother had turned off the air because like many elederly folks, she got cold easily. As I sat in a secondhand nightie that my grandmother loaned me because she tended towards holding on to every discarded piece of clothing our famly had ( She and Pussy Cow could have swapped depresion era stories although she probably would have thought of him as another gringo loco) I was watching KYMA, the Yuma-El Centro NBC affiliate and to my sheer childlike delight (which at that point I thought had faded as I was a very jaded 20 year old) a local commercial came on. It was from Yuma which is about an hour away from Calexico. A heavily mustached man dressed like a vintage soda jerk was behind a counter cooking hot dogs. And the voiceover was a wonderful crappy jingle that was clearly ripping off Mahattan Transfer which is bad because I think they were aiming for an earlier decade of acapella. “Kip’s Hot dogs’s, get em’ at his hot stand” played over and over and the :30 second ad’s powerful ending came when “Kip” said “That’s me!”. Brillaint, I thought. I think I even squealed in delight. But this was a new feeling. I didn’t want to escape to Yuma Arizona. Instead, pangs of a newfound nostalgia came over me as I missed the days where I watched crappy commercials on the unslick L.A TV Stations of the early 1980’s. It made me feel like I prefered a world that was smaller and kitschy. You know a simpler time. Huh? What? Kip’s commercal haunted me so much during those dark days. I recently found a passage devoted to him in old journal of mine. I wrote it on a train headed to to Airolo, Switzerland to visit some distant relatives for Christmas while I had been living as a student in Madrid. The entry had me complaining that I could not get his opus of a jingle out of my head. Truthfully, I really think I was hungry and craving hot dog.

And so the marketing gods were succesful. Too bad Yuma was so far away.

-D.B

CAUGHT ON CAMERA!  The cult and its follower.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA! The cult and its follower. Circa 1983