Sunday, March 6, 2016

Just one word...

The Graduate: Plastics

Let me start by pulling out of the old memory bank a couple of memories from my youth that will be forever emblazoned in my mind. First, there was that fateful Saturday morning in the late '50s. On that day, as was my mother's perrennial weekly ritual, she drove us a mile or so from our apartment to a moldering old A&P supermarket where we'd buy our week's worth of groceries. I kind of liked this place; knew it was something special because it was so old school, really an oversized pre-WWII style grocery store.  And it looked it in all of its details. My mom liked it because the A&P had the lowest prices on food of any store around. I got a kick out of wheeling a shopping cart through the aisles and looking at the old fashioned shelves stocked with cheap canned goods, the old fashioned plywood bins for the common varieties of fruit and produce that were carried. I remember the ancient zinc basket suspended by chains below the produce scale  and the little magazine rack where Ladies Home Journal, TV Guide, and the like could be leafed through. At any rate, my reward for being a good boy and 'helping' mom for the hour or two we scoured the aisles for the things on her hand-written list, was to be taken across the street to the 5 & 10 Cent Store (Woolworth's? Kresge's?)... and if  my mom could muster up a spare nickel (not necessarily an easy thing for her in those days) I was allowed to pick out of the bin in this bare bones pre-cursor to a family dollar store, a shiny new 'Tin Soldier'.

These were actually miniature figurines of soldiers that had been made by casting lead into a mold and then hand painted with bright, shiny enamel paint. They just felt so good in your hand - the hefty weight of the lead, the shiny finish of the enamel paint - you just knew that they were special! And then, one day, oh, maybe I was 9 years old or something; they were gone. And in their place was an assortment of plastic, injection molded miniature soldiers instead. Yuck! The plastic version, although it was roughly the same size and shape as its enameled lead predecessors, just came off as thoroughly CRUMMY. I shied away from them instinctively and held them with the same regard I might a big glass of chocolate milk that looked so good, but when I finally got it to my lips, tasted strongly of milk that had soured. Ugh! THAT was my first lesson about Plastic. Worse, pretty soon all toys for kids were made of plastic; an unending tide of crappiness was spreading over the world and taking over. It may sound funny, but I've never recovered from the shock of encountering that first plastic soldier.  It was one of the first instances I can remember of finding out that life is not likely to be what all of  us kids had hoped for.

Fast forward 10 years or so, to a time when the lesson described above had been gotten over and internalized by myself and all of my peers. I was now a freshman in college and out to the movies with a girlfriend. We thrilled to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. It was so much about the world we were discovering we had inherited. And its heroes were college kids, just a couple of years older than we were. And then came THAT scene. The one at the fancy party for family and fiends and neighbors held by Benjamin, the hero's parents to celebrate and announce his graduation from college. This is a cultural icon of a scene, in which Mr. McGuire, some friend of the family or other, someone who's superficially known Benjamin all his life, someone who we surmise get's caught up in the moment and spontaneously decides that he just has to share some wisdom of high value with this kid who is just about to launch his life into the real world, the one he must navigate now that school is over for him. And what does he have to offer as the cutting edge "Answer" to what the world needs and wants and what a young man should devote his life to to become successful?

The pompous ass, with his arm round the kid's shoulder looks deeply into his eyes asking him if he's listening, because he's about to reveal something of great import, and he says "I just want to say one word to you, just one word... PLASTICS!" And in that instant we understand something dreadful. We understand that the adults who control the world are clueless and something is so wrong with the world's values that it is doomed! The inmates are running the asylum and the quality of Crumminess that overwhelmed me a decade before in the guise of a cheaper toy solder, the only kind that would be available from that point forward,  was about to swallow the world.

Fast Forward another half century and we come to this startling video (below) that warns and advises us about just what it is that we humans are reaping due to our having taken Mr. McGuire's advice about Plastics being "The Answer" so thoroughly to heart..

Watch this! Inform yourself! And take some sort of action.  Tell the lady at the check out counter that, NO, you don't want any plastic bags.  Do something! There just MAY be a little time left, maybe...

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