Out of Kilter

Ken Carpenter's Out of Kilter has hit the web. The same original blend of history and humor. None of the editorial restrictions.

Month: October, 2014

Gummers of the world take heed

I have been locked in a creative slump lately, but decided to break my chains and re-write a 2004 story on chewing gum. Don’t smack it, don’t stick it on anything and, above all, don’t chew Black Jack.

Cavemen were the world’s first gum chewers, and evidence indicates that they masticated tree resin for the pure enjoyment of it. When they weren’t chewing on each other, that is.
The oldest identifiable piece of gum is 9000 years old, and I bet it was at least as fresh as the petrified sticks of pink gum we used to get in our baseball cards. Before they started putting gum in the card packs in 1951 they included a single cigarette, much to the dismay of Mom’s everywhere.
Every society in history has routinely chomped on some kind of resin, sap or wax to exercise their jowls and freshen their sour breath. Given the horrible sounds that come out of many modern gum-chewers, I can only imagine the atrocious noises that came out of the supposedly less mannered chompers in the past. I am guessing that more than a few over-exuberant gummers were bashed or skewered in the old days for irritating or disgusting fellows who felt they should keep their darn smacking mouth shut when they chewed.
My own opinion is that a bashing or a skewering would not be out of line for somebody who smacks and pops their gum with an open mouth. Humans are not bovine creatures and they can’t use the excuse that they have a big old cud that needs chawed.
Some people chew their gum fiercely like they are mad at it and they are determined to make it suffer. If they were cannibals they could be gumming the gristly tendons of an especially hated enemy who had finally succumbed to their bushwhacking ways.
I have heard women who could make their gum pop like a pistol shot. The Queens of Gum Popping were the high school girls from the 60’s, who could have drowned out a fireworks display.
I have no idea how the queens decided that gum popping was cool, but they always seemed to be having a competition. I swear my ears still smart from the POP! POP! POP! of any female gathering over two from that era. There must have been some kind of opposite sex appeal thing going with the popping, but I was immune to it if indeed it existed. The whole thing was a little intimidating to me.
Bubble gum was invented by accident in 1928, and was an instant success. It is not with me though, for I am one of those who could not blow a bubble to save my life.
It’s not like I want to hold the world’s record, but it just seems like if a little kid can do something a grown man should be able to. By the way, my 1995 Guinness Book listed the world’s record bubble at a 23-inch diameter, and I don’t really care if there has been one bigger since then. Sniff, sniff.
A ‘Gumbug’ is a blob of used chewing gum, ‘Gumbugging’ is the unsociable disposal of used chewing gum where it can be viewed in public places, and a ‘Gumbugger’ is one who practices gumbugging. A good Gumbuggering with a five-pound cylinder of Gumbugged Gumbugs might dissuade them.
There is one place in the world that hates gumbugging with a passion nowhere else can rival. It is Singapore, where you can be imprisoned for importing chewing gum and fined $1000 for chewing it!
I can just see the shady gum dealers lurking on the side streets, sneakily opening their minty, green trench coats and flashing their chewy wares in hopes of enticing some poor soul down the Dentyne path to destruction.
The average American chews over 300 sticks of gum per year, and the gum companies sell over $2 billion worth of gum to Americans during the same span.
Interestingly, doctors in the 1860’s used to advise their gum-chewing patients to abstain unless they wanted their innards to stick together. I think my Mom used the same story to get us kids not to swallow our gum, and I haven’t swallowed any to this day.
I don’t use much, and the corporations who enrich themselves by wearing out people’s jowls would go broke if they relied on us who gnaw a dozen or two chunks a year. What I do chew is kept to myself, for I work at it with my mouth closed, I do not smack and slobber while I chomp it, and I couldn’t pop it if I was offered good money.
In truth my sparing use of chewing gum in any form can be piled high in front of the licorice flavored door of the murderous Black Jack. I almost gagged every time a fan of it walked up oozing wafts of licorice from their mouth and pores.
I hate black licorice above all other things except the New York Yankees. I wish all Yankees past and present could be lined up, coated with a diarrhea-textured soup of gummy black licorice and set free to scurry like addled Cane Toads on the infield grass in front of a packed Yankee Stadium.
On second thought, cancel the soup idea. I’m sure a horde of crazed, licorice-tongued, New Yorkers would charge onto the field and slurp their Yankees clean, much to the enjoyment of the lickees. Besides that, the mere thought of licorice soup is making me queasy.
Oddly enough, it was the pitiless and famous Mexican general Santa Anna, of the Battle of the Alamo renown, who was directly responsible for Black Jack. He was probably still pissed off about losing the Texas War of Independence, and wanted to dish up a serving of disgust to Americans.
Anyway, the former president was exiled from Mexico and he moved to New Jersey in 1869 toting along a ton of chicle. Long story short, he sold the chicle to a demented fellow who flavored a bunch with anisseed (which I regard as anus-seed) and in 1884 Black Jack became America’s first flavored and first stick form gum. Urp!
Declining sales, “Yay!”, caused it to be discontinued in the 1970’s. It was eventually re-introduced every few years, “Boo!”, and it still is. People who like to nauseate others can buy it online, only $55.17 for 20 five-packs.
In closing I would like to say that if I am ever elected dictator of the world anyone who chews their gum in a loud obnoxious manner will be sent to the plains of Texas on the next bus. Black Jack abusers would get Siberia. They can then spend eternity smacking at each other in the wide-open spaces.


Gullible makes the world go around

This story was done in 2011, but it could easily have been from any era since mankind first developed. Fooling other people is an international institution that fills pockets, empties wallets and places smooth talking idiots in control of their country’s destiny.

Gullible makes the world go around

I made the mistake the other day of mentioning to a friend that I was once again stumped about a subject for my next story, and was just hoping for one word with potential to pop into my head.
“How about gullibility?” she said without hesitation.
“Any particular reason?” I asked with suspicion.
“Oh no,” she lied, “But I was thinking how easy it was to convince you last month that you don’t really look your age.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, slightly offended, “That was the same day I conned you into believing that you could pass for forty.”
Gullibility is simply the tendency to be easily deceived or cheated. A person who is easily tricked or manipulated into an ill-advised course of action, and can be conned into believing unlikely propositions that are unsupported by evidence, is gullible.
Politicians could not survive without the support of the gullible.
You don’t have to be stupid to suffer from gullibility though, plenty of smart people are as easy to fool as the run-of-the-mill boobs.
There has always been a saying among con men that “There is a mark born every minute, and one to trim ‘em and one to knock ‘em.” The meaning is that the population is evenly split among the gullible victims, those who will take advantage of them and those who will protect them.
There is no scientific evidence to support that claim, but I’m guessing it is pretty close. I also know that almost all of us can occasionally be naive in some way, or take advantage of somebody else’s gullibility to pull a joke on them, but that third of the population that prospers from “weasel words” are the ones to look out for.
There it is, my new favorite term, weasel words. Words or claims that turn out to be empty upon analysis are known as “weasel words.” The phrase first appeared in a political story published in 1900, in which they were referred to as “words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell”.
It is doubtful that a weasel actually sucks an egg, but anyone with half a brain knows that advertisers, politicians, journalists, salesmen and a legion of others use “weasel words” to lull the naive into falling for their con and parting with their hard earned cash, votes or simple decency.
A shill is another interesting foe of the gullible. My first hardcore exposure to a shill was at a carnival in 1977. He was outside of a tent featuring a “Shark-boy”, and he repeated the same phrase over and over like a broken record: “He’ll meet ya, he’ll greet ya, watch out he don’t eat ya!”
Thirty-four years later and I still hear his shrill shill bleating sometimes. Now that is a successful shill. Most of them are a lot subtler, trying to help out a person or organization by pretending to be an independent customer with a heartfelt enthusiasm for whatever product is being marketed.
They thrive on the Internet, where those who are prone to gullibility can have their minds crammed with lies and their pockets emptied of cash in record time. They also pop up at some auctions, where they drive up prices with phony bids and are called “potted plants”.
“Crocodile tears” are very useful to some psychological manipulators who are trying to steer a gullible victim in a direction that is advantageous to them. Guilt tripping is also a handy tool to elicit the proper amount of sympathy for a cash-starved enterprise, and should be met with a stern “Did you learn that from your Grandma Maizie?”
My youngest brother is nine years younger than I am, and I must confess that I often took advantage of his gullibility when he was younger. We loved tea, and I would frequently heat up a teapot of water and make cups for my next youngest brother, my sister and me.
Young Nate was usually zipping around somewhere and I would holler out a “Teatime!” to which he would respond. We three older ones would sit smacking our lips, raving about the stupendous quality of the tea.
His cup was always the black one, and it was almost always filled with hot water instead of tea. Soon he would join in, sipping and raving, until he happened to notice us shooting each other sneaky glances and trying not to laugh.
At that point he would scowl, march over to the sink, and pour out just enough water to see that, “Yes!”, he had been duped once again. Howling, cackling and wrestling ensued.
I honestly don’t know how many times this same trick worked through his gullible years, but I loved every one. It was a good lesson too, because he is not one of the gullible ones now.
So gullibility is not always a bad thing. Without a little bit of it, we’d never be able to trick anyone.