Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.
I was a weird sort of kid. I wasn’t comfortable with other kids my age. If I saw someone walking toward me on the sidewalk, I’d cross the street, pretending to be on an urgent errand. You could call me “shy.” “Weird” might be more accurate.
One reason for avoiding other kids was that I talked to myself as I walked. I told stories,
improbable fantasies in which a kid who looked like me did heroic acts. I engaged in conversations and arguments. And I brooded about various issues.
An issue that troubled me especially in the 1950s was chewing gum.
If there is data to show how many kids chewed gum back then, I haven’t found it, but far more kids chewed than now. Almost everyone chewed. In some schools at the start of the day the teachers ran a gum patrol, walking around with tissues and ordering kids to get rid of their gum. Some kids bluffed by claiming they weren’t chewing. If they later got caught, the consequences were not pretty.
I looked down on kids addicted to gum. The act of chewing gave them a vacant, bovine expression. I wasn’t alone in this. In Hollywood films from that time, if the audience was meant to see a character as shallow and stupid that character would chew gum.
My real problem, however, was with used gum, discarded used gum. Nobody had a good way to dispose of stale gum after the flavor was gone. Some kids just spat it out wherever they were. If you walked the sidewalks of my home town you inevitably would step on a sticky, icky lump of old gum. It would adhere to the sole of your shoe, a repulsive gluey blog that you didn’t dare touch.
Kids spat out their gum because we all knew how dangerous it was to swallow gum. It was common knowledge that gum had magical powers to defeat our bodies from digesting it. Lumps of swallowed gum wouldn’t break down but would drift in our bodies, inevitably lodging in the worst possible place: the appendix. There the swallowed gum would join all the other gum you had swallowed in your lifetime, stretching the appendix until one day—kablooie—the appendix would blow.
Death by Dentyne!
And even that wasn’t the worst of my chewing gum problem. What I hated most of all was the way kids parked used gum on the underside of restaurant tables, school desks or the counters of soda grills. If you ran your hands along the under side of a table you would discover a densely packed minefield of discarded gum, all dry and hard, stuck there forever. To my mind, this was more disgusting than picking your nose in public.
And the under surfaces of virtually allrestaurant tables were covered with these nasty little gum boogers.
This depressed me. If young people were going to be so gross and lazy, I reasoned, how could anyone believe they would solve really difficult issues? I wanted to believe that my generation would get some things right that previous generations had screwed up. But all those wads of dried gum mocked my idealism. Modern kids were obviously disgusting slobs.
Now let’s move ahead about sixty years in time.
About a month ago I tested my sense that things were better. I cautiously slid my fingers under a table top in a restaurant, feeling for lumps of old gum. No gum. None! I tried it again at a different restaurant. And another. No gum. None at all!
I have proved—to my own satisfaction—that teenagers no longer defile tables and counters as they once did. Mankind has made a giant stride forward. That leaves some challenges still needing to be worked out—issues like world peace, economic justice and global warming—but I have high hopes.
When have you worried about something that turned out to be no problem?