When I was a little kid, I remember being in awe when I learned about teenage/college kid fads like eating goldfish or stuffing kids into a phone booth. I have no idea how I even learned about these activities. Look Magazine, maybe? As far as I know, my knowing and sophisticated older cousins didn’t engage in such shenanigans. Oh, my cousin Charlie famously won a sundae-eating contest. But I don’t recall any mentions of goldfish-eating or phone-booth stuffing.
I also had a teenage uncle and aunt, the youngest sibs in my mother’s family. Bobby did sport Elvis-like sideburns and had foam dice in his car. And I seem to recall that when Kay was initiated into her high school sorority, the girls had to eyebrow pencil on beards and wear Fidel Castro caps while they used toothbrushes to scrub some steps. But Bob and Kay were in Chicago, and we only saw them once a year. So no confabs about teenage life.
Among my childhood friends, only Bernadette had significantly older siblings. Her sister Rosemary was an impossibly distant and glamorous character, engaged to marry a brainiac scientist who’d immigrated after the Hungarian Revolution. Bernadette’s brother Tommy was a student at Holy Cross. In his moments of boredom, he would draw irreverent, and, we thought hilariously daring cartoons: Pontius Pilate and the Flight into Egypt. (Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilot. Get it?). And the doings of Sister Mary Filter of the Holy Smokes. He also gave us nicknames based on our initials. One he gave me was Mad Rapist. (Can you imagine?) I had to go home and look up the word rapist in the dictionary. The definition didn’t help. Something about unlawful carnal knowledge.
Between his studies and letting us hanging around with him and his weirdness, I suspect that Tommy had no time for goldfish swallowing or phone booth stuffing.
And it’s not like our babysitters – nice girls, all, in their Bermuda shorts and crewneck sweaters – were letting us in on these secrets of teen life. (And it’s not like I can envision Gail O’ or Judy L swallowing goldfish.) As for the cool teenage boys who hung out at Sol’s Pharmacy, The Oval, and Bennett Field, in their khakis and Chucks, they wouldn’t give us little kids the time of day.
Mostly what I knew about teen life came from the dopey books I read (“Double Date,” “Donna Parker on Her Own”), from dopey magazines, and from the dopey “Teen Topic” column that ran in the Worcester Telegram. (Advice on how to ask boys questions about yourself, and how to manage your expectations that no boy would ever ask you a question back.) That from watching American Bandstand. (Little did I know that I was watching my friend Peter’s older sister Joanne, one of the South Philly Italian kids who were among the regulars.)
Things didn’t seem so mysterious, glamorous, or interesting once I became a teenager. It was just, well, life. If there were fads beyond madras, I wasn’t in on them. Especially when it came to ones that were slightly dangerous.
Did kids shake aspirins in Coke bottles and get high? Do whippets with the Redi-Whip can?
Maybe they did, but they weren’t members of the Notre Dame Academy Latin Club.
In college, it sure wasn’t about how many kids you could jam in a phone booth. It was about how many hundred of thousands of kids you could jam on the Washington Mall to protest the Vietnam War.
Long way of saying that I’m not quite sure what to make of biting into a Tide Pod, which, as much as they’re fun-colored, are full of all sorts of chemicals that can do grievous harm if you bite into them.
I don’t use Tide Pods, but I do use dishwashing pods, and they’re bright and candy-colored. Just like Tide Pods.
Which always makes me wonder – especially when I see an ad in which an fortunately observant mother snatches one out of the hands of her toddler just as he’s about to pop it into his little mouth – why they don’t make these in dull colors – white and gray, maybe.
Making the colors less attractive and candy-like might help with the toddler problem. But what’s it going to take to stop the current fad among high school and college students to chomp down and spit out Tide Pods.
And it’s not just a meme, although there’s plenty of that. The bright, funny kids are photo-shopping and meming away. The not-so bright daredevils are biting down, spitting out, and recording it all on Insta. The dumb and impressionable are being carted off in ambulances with burnt esophagi.
I know that, with PETA and everything, no one these days would be caught dead swallowing a goldfish. And there aren’t any phone booths to stuff yourself into anymore. But I don’t think anyone ever died from swallowing a goldfish or stuffing themselves in a phone booth.
Oh, those crazy kids!