An Asterisk-free Life

I was watching television the other day and a commercial for Stouffer’s frozen lasagna came on the screen. I like Italian food so I started watching. I love lasagna so kept watching.

As I leaned toward the screen to get a better look at the noodles covered in rich tomato goodness and cheese, I discovered something quite disturbing: While the announcer stated that Stouffer’s is “America’s favorite lasagna”, an asterisk on the bottom of the screen reported, “*Based on frozen lasagna sales”; meaning that they aren’t comparing their lasagna with ALL other lasagnas from ALL other sources. They are only the best selling product within a very small category of all other lasagnas. Their tiny-asterisk-marked notation leaves out any hot, baked lasagnas from Fazoli’s or Carrabba’s or Olive Garden. It doesn’t take into account local vendors. It doesn’t weigh the sheer volume of lasagna sold in Italy. Most hurtful, they didn’t even consider my dear, departed grandmother’s recipe.

I was shocked! I was insulted. I was disappointed. But I soon realized that it isn’t just Stouffer’s that employs the helpful and sometimes deceiving asterisk.


wendys-cod-sandwich-large-7-e1495969446254.jpgTake for example the Wendy’s ad proclaiming the goodness of their fresh Atlantic Cod sandwich. It hooks you every time. But be careful if you actually want to eat one. The disclaimer under the sandwich (which never looks the same on my table as it does on the ad) announces that this seafood wonder is only “At participating Wendy’s for a limited time.”

If you look carefully, you will learn that Claritin isn’t a magic pill. It has to be Use(d) as directed when symptoms first appear, (not after) then daily while your allergy triggers remain.” Which, in Indiana would be spring, summer and fall and if you are allergic to pine, most of winter..

Nissan’s commercials show cars skidding into parking spaces, spinning around the announcer and flying down the highway. The asterisk at the bottom of the screen reveals that these are a “Simulated image. Do no attempt.” Duh.

The other day I called Olive Garden and queried about making reservations. The very nice hostess asked, “For what day and how many people?”

“There are five of us…for this evening.”

She confirmed that the establishment does, in fact, takes reservations. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly to me), she informed me, “We do take reservations but only if they are more than 24 hours in advance and only for groups of 8 or more.”

I couldn’t believe it. Even over the phone I get an asterisk.

The asterisk is nothing more than a disclaimer, a qualifier, a slight alteration of a previous pledge. Fantastic promises often come with fine print. Sadly, I’ve done it myself.

A few years ago, my son and I and our friends “hiked the Appalachian Trail”. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? In reality, we slogged almost 4 whole miles into the woods huffing and puffing the entire way. Fully exhausted, we set up camp a feeble camp in a shelter. The night was crazy as a terrible storm blew through. In the morning we awoke to temperatures in the 20’s and snow scattered across the ground. We decided to chuck the entire trip and hiked to a service road where we piled into the back of a pickup truck which took us to our car. If you ever hear me boast about my hike on the A.T., please remember that it comes with a HUGE asterisk.

But asterisks come with more than claims of quality food, fast cars and tails of adventure. How many times do I drop an asterisk in my own promises? How many times do I make a pledge that comes with a caveat?  “Yes,” I say, “but…”

“Of course I can help. How about next week or the week after? The next month or the month after? What does 2019 look like for you?”

“Thank you for calling. Can we talk another time?”

“I would love to come to your party. Who else is coming?”

What if we dropped the asterisk all together and just let our yes be yes and our no be no? What if we simply owned our responses, without the wavering and waffling that so often accompanies it?

“No. I don’t want to come to your cat’s birthday party.”

“Yes. You do smell like old tuna cans.”

“I’m not busy at all, but I can’t see myself wearing lederhosen or joining your yodeling group.”

There is a way to be honest without being hurtful and it doesn’t require an asterisk to make it so. We can still say no while maintaining a level of respect for others. We can still honor our own desires without being hurtful to those we love…or complete strangers, for that matter. We don’t have to make outlandish claims, only to pull them back with a disclaimer in the end.

It’s not easy but worth a try.*

*And that’s the truth.

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