I respect religious faiths even though I belong to none. I was, however, raised as a Catholic and discovered as a child that respecting the religious faiths of others was not something that came easily to many. I had one person in school pass me an anti-Catholic Jack Chick comic and someone on m block who lived a few doors down from me told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Catholic (and that, naturally, being a Catholic was somehow not being a Christian). Sometimes people have trouble even conceiving of people with different ideas about faith. The first atheist I met, a Swiss foreign exchange student in my high school, once brought up in a history class that he was an atheist. “You don’t believe in God?” one female student asked in a shrill voice (it helps to remember this was in Texas). “No,” said the Swiss student. “But,” she cried, “What about the devil???” She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the notion that he didn’t believe in any of the whole ball of beeswax.
When I was a child, in the 1970s, Charlie the Tuna was ubiquitous on television. Charlie was the cartoon tuna who helped sell Star-Kist Tuna (with the tag line “Star-Kist doesn’t want tunas with good taste. They want tunas that taste good.”). The commercials always featured Charlie trying but failing to be caught by Star-Kist, apparently because he wasn’t high enough quality. As a kid, I found the commercials a bit confusing, as the difference between “good taste” and “taste good” was lost on me.
But there was something even more confusing.
Growing up in West Texas, as I did, I acquired the habit of looking down over the railings every time I drove over a bridge. The reason why, of course, was to see if there was any water in the arroyo or canyon or streambed or riverbed below—because more often than not, there wasn’t. If you did see some water, it was like a pleasant little surprise, something always to be remarked upon as you drove past. In Ohio, of course, there’s always water under the bridge, but it took me many years for my subconscious to pick up on that, because I was always looking.
A new employee showed up at a place I once worked and a veteran employee quickly came to the conclusion that she did not like the new employee. She began a whispering campaign about the new hire, attributing certain negative job-related qualities to him, and before you knew it, other people were repeating those aspersions when the new hire’s name came up—even though they had never actually seen any of those things themselves. The new employee was suddenly the victim of widespread preconceived notions, without even knowing what was going on, much less having an opportunity to do anything about it. He struggled his entire time at his job under the burden of those undeserved, preconceived notions. What struck me about this incident was how quickly others accepted the aspersions against him, with no proof or evidence at all. They were simply sheep following the lead of someone more dominant. It was a depressing but useful life lesson.
I never rode in a city bus until I was at college in San Antonio; sans car, I had to beg rides or take the bus. Luckily, San Antonio had a great bus system. As a child and a teen, I was too close to both my elementary school and my high school to take school buses, but I did occasionally go on field trips. The first field trip I ever took, which was when I was very young, was to a dairy. It wasn’t very exciting, but it got us out of school. When I was in the 8th grade, the entire 8th grade went on a day long field trip, first to the El Paso planetarium, then to a state park adjacent to the mountains that are such a big piece of El Paso’s landscape. The picnic at the state park was all fine and good but what my little geek self was excited about was the planetarium. Oh, was I excited about that.
We all got in the buses to go to the planetarium and one of the cool things about not being in school was that you could chew gum. Gum was not verboten in the real world. I have never been a huge gum chewer, but when I was offered a stick of gum by one of my classmates, I took it. Why not live the high life? We arrived at the planetarium and debarked. But as we were filing in from the lobby into the actual arium part, a pinched-face planetarium employee put his hand out to stop me. “Are you chewing gum?” he asked. Well, I was. I forgot to spit it out. I went to put the gum in a trash can but when I came back to the line, the employee would not let me in—he wanted to punish me for nearly having brought gum into his beloved planetarium (heaven forefend). No teacher intervened to help me, and so I was forced to sit in the lobby for an eternity while every one of my 130 grademates got to see a planetarium show. It would be another 10 years until I entered the doors of a planetarium again—although, in a belated soothing of my still-ruffled feathers, that second experience let me know I had not really missed anything with the first. Still, what a fucking mean thing to do.
Sometimes the passage of time becomes abrupt, almost jarring. For example, almost overnight, it seems, people stopped referring to taxis and began referring to Uber. “When did Uber become a thing?” I couldn’t help but wonder. Sometimes it is far less apparent—just as you may not notice that someone you are constantly with has aged. One personal example of this involves the Volkswagen Beetle. Like many families of an earlier age, my family used to play “lovebug,” where occupants of a car would compete to count Volkswagen beetles, the first person seeing one shouting “lovebug!” to claim their prize (there is a less genteel version of it called “slugbug,” the parameters of which are presumably clear to the reader, but we did not stoop to that). Once upon a time, the Volkswagen Beetle—the original Volkswagen Beetle—was everywhere. Then, gradually, it was not everywhere. Eventually, it was hardly somewhere. And that’s when you notice time has passed.
Try and think of the earliest dessert you ever ate. Can you think of anything? The earliest things I can remember, all from the time I was four or less, are animal crackers, vanilla wafers, ice cream (the earliest word I learned to spell, because my parents would ask one another, “Do you want to go get some i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m?”), and chocolate shakes. The latter I remember because I got sick with some sort of stomach bug and had to go for several days without eating or drinking anything except for sips of water—that was how sensitive my stomach was. I started fantasizing about a milkshake and, when I could finally eat again, I pleaded for a milkshake. My parents, bless them, obliged—and I promptly threw it up.