Apparently, we as a nation and as individuals need to learn the lesson again and again: Seldom do we succeed with a quick fix.

Sure, from time to time we may experience short-term gains. But just as most "get rich quick" schemes are doomed to fail, most long-term solutions to our problems require investments of time, energy and responsibility - in short, work.

Setting aside the political implications of this assertion, let us consider another realm in which examples of folly abound, in the past and today: Quackery.

Recently, such thoughts - that we deserve to be surrounded by quacks when we duck responsibility - heightened in my addled brain when I perused "Yes You Can: Timeless Advice from Self-Help Experts" by Jennifer McKnight-Trontz. The book, which my wife drew to my attention because she knew it would make me smile, compiles advertisements for self-help books, records, gadgets and pills from the 1920s to the 1970s, when self-improvement was a bit more light-hearted than today.

Often, the optimistic purveyors of such products tell us, we can get on the road to bettering ourselves "in just minutes!"

So we should not be surprised, perhaps, by books out there such as, "How to Get the Upper Hand: Simple Techniques You Can Use to Win the Battles of Everyday Life" by Ralph Charell. This was the man, incidentally, who brought us the timeless "How I Turn Ordinary Complaints Into Thousands of Dollars."

I am a believer in the power of positive thinking. But it's hard to remain positive when we are bombarded by advertisements that remind us of room for improvement in every dimension.

"Are you too short?" shouts an ad from the 1960s. "Would you like to become two to four inches TALLER in only six weeks?" I am thankful I am reasonably tall when the Height Increase Institute goes on to tell us how "nobody respects the short man in daily life, social life and love life." Fortunately, for those who are short, there is hope - through a "proven scientific method" of stretching. Or at least stretching the truth.

"Tremendous personal powers lie scattered - useless - within your mind right now!" another product pamphlet tells us. "Here at last are the mental magnetizers that focus and unleash those powers - with all the force of an exploding volcano!"

Sign me up!

Author Marvin J. Gersh tells us about "How to Raise Children at Home In Your Spare Time." His advice might leave additional minutes for couples to listen to "Music to Keep Your Husband Happy: An Exciting Two LP Set!"

A stroll through a drug store today tells us how we continue to struggle. On the shelves we see energy boosters and tummy trimmers. Television "infomercials" still hawk items not too far away from books telling us how to improve our golf game through self-hypnosis or courses in becoming real estate tycoons from the comfort of our living rooms.

I found myself considering new products. What about a special recliner that vibrates, stimulating muscle tone while you watch TV? But wait - there's more! A hidden reservoir in the armrest is attached to a straw, allowing the user to consume liquid Olestra instead of potato chips. The combination, especially with the deluxe model (which provides a plumbing connection so the user never even needs to leave the room to go to the W.C.) allows those unwanted pounds to literally melt away, all without lifting a finger! I call it, "The Couch Potato."

Well, that example may be a bit extreme. It needs refining, just as many self-help products do. There's always room for improvement.

Maybe we have learned some lessons after all. Maybe we can take a sense of hope from the fact that if we can't solve something quickly, at least we will spend decades trying to invent something that can.

Brad Bolchunos acknowledges some quick-fix products, such as duct tape, are effective, albeit not for self-improvement. But he refuses to call it "duck tape," even if doing so quacks him up.

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