The age of Political Correctness came into its own in coincidence with the advent of bottled water, the widespread use of personal computers, and the lost art of telling a joke. Sound far-fetched? I don’t think so.
Bottled water came into being when people started distrusting the municipalities for the quality of drinking water they were being offered. There were all sorts of discussions about fluoride, usually started by conspiracy-mongering wing-nuts who think that a destructive evil lies behind everything. Suggestions that the urban filtration systems were designed to make raw sewage potable—a concept that is disgusting in every conceivable way—were rampant.
Before that, we drank from kitchen or bathroom faucets without giving it so much as a thought, although we all knew the water from kitchen faucets was far superior in both taste and clarity than that which came from the bathroom. Proximity to a toilet may figure into this comparison. Then again, perhaps it doesn’t. What we can agree on is that this is an argument that began in the innocence of childhood and has become one for the ages. Who among us doesn’t harbor thoughts about crossed pipes?
And then there are the French: eau de toilette. Really?
At school, from kindergarten all the way through post-Doctoral studies abroad, Americans drank from drinking fountains, a rather fanciful name for a clunky porcelain water dispenser that hung from a wall. Drinking fountains are dangerous because bullies and rival gang members like to push the other kids into them, face first from behind, which results in huge dental bills and leaves the victim looking an ice hockey goalie.
In suburban yards we drank from garden hoses—sometimes without even wiping off the end. Now, of course, we know that garden hoses are responsible for most of the cancers that plague mankind. Why drinking from them is bad but watering our food with them is okay is a question of equal import to that of the whole kitchen/bathroom taste controversy.
We also drank from the streams, creeks and ponds to which we rode our bicycles. Cupping the slightly murky, tadpole-filled water in our dirty hands while watching cows graze along the shores, we’d slurp it down as if it were a 1949 Chateau Margaux.
THERE ARE PERHAPS NO TRUER WORDS EVER SPOKEN than “boys love canteens.” Being of the somewhat privileged class, I had two of them. And for good reason.
One was flask-shaped and was housed inside an olive-drab canvas pouch that easily clipped to an olive-drab canvas belt that also held up to a dozen hand grenades as well as a holster for a .45-caliber sidearm. On those days when my pals and I were charged with defending the corner of Cermak Road and Austin Avenue in the famed Battle of the Bohemian Bulge, I would bring my flask-shaped canteen.
For the historically accurate, epic cowboy-and-Indian battles in the vacant lot on 12th Street, I had a round canteen decorated with a horsehair-like fabric in colors no horse has ever been. It was damn near like the one Festus was always filling from streams featuring thirsty cows taking care of business.
Neither of those canteens would be acceptable today. Both were made of aluminum, which made the water taste a little like aluminum, which is quite possibly a known carcinogen. Drinking tainted water from aluminum is thought to be a bad thing on many levels. Today, those canteens would have to have a BPA-Free plastic bladder inside the aluminum. Or, they can be made of stainless steel. Of course, then the water will taste either like plastic or stainless steel.
Either way, my canteens cost less than a buck each—about the same price as the Davy “King of the Wild Frontier” Crockett coonskin cap I wore to bed every night. Modern canteens—most of which look like cremation urns for Munchkins—cost an average of $74.99 and come with a 10 percent discount on 45-day survival kits. They stopped manufacturing coonskin caps when anybody who wore one was thought to be from the Tennessee hill country and, therefore, a devotee of fresh possum meat and banjo music.
Most adults are too self-conscious to bring canteens to the office, though they have no problem bringing an adult sippy cup for the coffee they brought from home. Coffee is cheap to make at home, about 7 cents a cup. The triple-insulated cup that comes in your choice of some 300 colors and patterns, costs about as much as your first car, provided your first car was a Ford that leaked oil, which all of them do. Amortized over 30 years, the adult sippy cup is part of a break-even financial proposition, unless you leave it at Frankie’s Fitness First & Brew Pub.
People who arrive at the office with paper cups, plastic lids and corrugated cup sleeves are announcing to the world that they have no problem waiting 40 minutes with their devices in hand to pay $7.55, plus tip, for a coffee with a minimum of six ingredients—one of them possibly being coffee. Baristas think this is funny, which is why they’re so damned cheerful before 9 a.m.
Chances are that the latter group of office workers drink bottled water. There are two reasons: They think that a $4 bottle of Smart water makes them look smart or that a bottle of Fiji makes them look Fijian; and, that group also all drive hybrid cars (proof that they don’t need their employers to buy them water from a communal dispenser whose intermittent glugs are quite amusing to the lower classes). This same group doesn’t seem to care that dolphins and killer whales are now living on diets consisting of plastic water bottles that appear to be translucent fish adorned with sponsor logos.
Outfitted with under-desk mini refrigerators, today’s office workers no longer gather at the water cooler to share pictures of their children, talk about how awful Aaron Rodgers’ State Farm commercials are, call the boss unflattering names that begin with the letter A, or tell jokes.
And that is precisely why we as a society are going to hell in a hand basket. It has less to with Trump than you might imagine.
Jokes are no longer told, except by comics in comedy clubs. But even they don’t really tell jokes as much as weave boorishly long, vulgar narratives of their tragi-comic childhoods. If the comics happen to be Jewish, there’s a level of angst added that the goyim know nothing about but laugh at anyway because they are embarrassed to admit their native tongue doesn’t include the word schmatta. If you share any of the same experiences as the comic, you laugh. Otherwise you sit nursing a $14 scotch and wonder whose dumb idea it was to ban cigarettes from nightclubs.
Today’s jokes come from the Internet. We watch or read jokes alone in a cubicle and laugh silently so the boss won’t figure out that we’re using the Internet improperly. (“At least it’s not porn,” is a lame excuse, by the way.) Then we email those jokes and funny images to various cubicles around the world and send supporting texts on a cellular phone named for a brand of bottled water.
When we do seize the opportunity to tell a joke, we choke because a good joke is anything but politically correct, which is what we’ve become. If you’re a paid comic, you can say whatever you want, no matter how insulting, provided you apologize for the punch line before the laughs die out. Don Rickles was the master of that technique, but he’s dead now.
In my youth, blacks and Jews were exempt from jokes unless you happened to black or Jewish. Sammy Davis, Jr., had the best of both comedic worlds. Everybody else was left telling the same old jokes about Polish, Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Armenian, Greek and Bohemian people, and Chinese laundries. There has never been anything funny about Germans.
Conspiracy whackos will agree that the Politically Correct are ruining a meaningful exchange of jokes, although they’re likely to care more about vaccinations. They are also responsible for the plastic water bottles and the most militant of the PC are trying to keep kids out of creek bottoms. The only antidote is to bring back the office water cooler.
Hey Culligan Man!
Photo Illustration by Courtney A. Liska