January 11, 2002
For as long as I can remember, children
have been told to not take candy from strangers.
Drug companies have spent billions on
making their bottles and capsules "tamper-proof".
Depending on your preference, you can
have your fruit and vegetables made safe for human consumption
by buying ones that have either been grown organically with nothing
on them, or ones that have been sterilized with radiation until
And even though anthrax has sort of turned
out to be the Stockwell Day of bio-terror weapons (initially
scary but not as big a deal as we feared, even if keeps coming
back), it was enough to have people boiling their mail and calling
the fire department every time they spilled the baking soda.
Why do we do all these things? Quite
sensibly we don't want to be exposing ourselves to unsafe or
unhygienic substances, especially if we don't know where they
come from or where they've been. The world has been a pretty
nutty place the last little while, so we've been walking around
in a state of hyper-awareness about any and all threats to our
health and safety.
So explain this one to me. The other
day I was talking to a friend while she opened her mail. She's
the kind of person who is very careful about anything that looks,
smells, or feels odd. Not paranoid just very cautious.
As we're talking she comes across a stick
of gum stuck to a bright piece of cardboard in her mail. So what
does she do? She puts it in her mouth.
Of course it's a harmless promotion by
someone convinced that what the world really needs right now
is more people chewing gum. But it shows that when even the most
cautious of us are presented with a free treat from an unknown
source, we forget all about terrorists, biological warfare and
our mother's warnings, and our automatic reaction is to stick
it in our mouth.
I've seen it first hand. My first job
was in a grocery store. The Cheese Lady liked me, and gave me
first shot at the free samples. It's a good thing too, because
as soon as the doors opened, you'd think that people had never
seen cheese before. Not only would they shovel fistfuls into
their mouths, they didn't care that a couple dozen strangers
had already pawed their way through the stack of cheesy cubes
with their sticky fingers. After that, I wouldn't have one without
a penicillin chaser.
But again, it was a free sample, so the
regular rules of safety and hygiene apparently don't apply.
Once in a while you'll walk by someone
in my neighbourhood standing in the middle of the sidewalk holding
out a tray of broken cookies. I assume they're from the bakery
around the corner, but they could be from Libya for all I know.
The crowd that quickly gathers doesn't seem to care one way or
the other. They're more interested in fighting their way to the
front to get their mitts on the bigger crumbs.
I don't want you to think I'm immune.
I've been tempted by the slightly irregular pound cake they set
out on the grocery store counter too.
So I suppose there isn't any harm in
free samples than come in the mail, as long as the return address
isn't "Cave 9, Kabul".