By Carter B. Horsley
You're walking down the street and then there's
that sudden stickiness.
Ugh. It's not dog poop, that squishes and slips.
Ugh. It's not bird droppings that merely splat
Ugh. It's not a drunkard's retching that you
can whiff from afar.
No. It's chewing gum!
Worse than the proverbial banana peel, that
is biodegradable and humorous, chewing gum is the single worst
defiler of the city environment, to say nothing of what it does
to your new Reeboks, or Nikes, or whatever.
Look down at the pavement next time you escape
your computer. Chances are you will see a non-Jackson Pollack-inspired
smear of gum every few inches, a black splotch on our asphalt,
concrete, slate, cobble and paver jungle!
It is an expectoration disgust!
It is unsightly!
It is not neat!
It is horizontal graffiti without any artistry.
Now there are many slobs in cities, including
ours, people who flick their cigarette butts cavalierly, usually
with some style. They, the butts, usually get swept up by one
of the city's Rube Goldbergesque sweeping machines, an instrument
of torture not yet used in the movies and certainly more scary
and not as much fun as a pull-through car-wash machine, the best
reason yet made for an automobile.
Now New York has made great strides in dealing
with pedestrian care. The scooper law has been remarkably effective
in bringing dog-lovers back into the folds of urbanity, if not
humanity. Some might also say that the recent smoking prohibitions
have made the city a better place, but not this puffer who does
not think that Humphrey Bogart and all the movie stars of the
past were thoroughly evil no most Europeans and Asians who still
indulge and are addicted, probably saving the world more medical
dollars in lesser anxiety lives than are saved in second-hand-smoke
fantasies, but this is not the major SMOKING column.
We are not dentists or morgue habitues so this
gum problem is not addressed here as a health issue.
It is the more important aesthetics issue.
These blobs offend pedestrian aesthetics! Some
pedestrians, the really serious ones, focus on the pavement as
they scurry about, their peripheral vision honed in on intrusive
feet not of their own extension that might prove obstacles to
their oh so important paths. Imagine their dismay at finding their
rhythm upset by gummed over cracks in the sidewalk.
You don't just kick aside a juicy, dropped
deposit of gum unless you are really a pervert! Now it is true
that my in-depth analysis of the artistic erosion of the city's
surfaces has spotted one or two nicely splayed out patterns created
by a stretched-to-the-popping point gum thing that was a bit reminiscent
of an Adolf Gottlieb rosy-fingered sun or a Cy Twombly mess, but
they were not all that special. The City Review will display my
non-gummy Spooks, my recording, over the past two decades, of
the animated figures to be found, briefly, embedded in the streets,
in the future.
Aesthetics, although always our primary concern,
is not the only issue here.
Economics, not humor, are at stake.
The city, the state and the Federal governments
tax cigarettes, a lot, to put it mildly.
Well, let's tax the chewing gum users, a lot.
Shall we say at least as much as cigarettes?
The alternative is to ban chewing gum altogether.
I don't think that is nice. Bubble gum is fun.
I don't have statistics, I am very sorry to
admit, on how many packs of gum are consumed daily in New York
City, but I suspect it is not insubstantial. I suspect the city
could raise as much money from this new tax as it does from giving
out parking tickets and since we are going to ban all private
cars except for the handicapped and the Fire Commissioner, aren't
we, the city will need the revenues.
This will, of course, be met with some protest,
the chewing gum tax. It will mean that parents will have to increase
their children's allowances and unfortunately it will fall disproportionately
on the less than rich.
There is a precedent, of course. Disneyland
prohibits chewing gum. As noted elsewhere in print, Disney is
trying to take over New York City. This is not pro-, or anti-Disney
tirade. Nor is it a Clean Streets/Clean Minds fundamentalist mantra.
This is a pragmatic approach to helping make the city more livable,
cleaner and more fiscally fit to carry on its major social and
civic responsibilities, which do not include tolerating non-residents
on the payroll, but that's another story, thank goodness.
There is a sad corollary. Smokers who have
been squeezed into impossibly small corners in this city and on
domestic airlines have often resorted to gum to cope with their
oral fixations. (C'mon, I couldn't write a column on gum without
getting into oral fixations.) They turn to gum not because they
think cows are cute chewing their cud, nor teenagers sloppily
exercising their jaws, but because they're addicted and withdrawal
creates major anxiety. Anxiety is a difficult thing, about which
more to come in other columns. These smokers, and plain old vanilla
enjoyers of gum, will have to learn to keep those nice wrappers
and take a lot of lessons from the dog poop pickeruppers and then
we'll be many giant steps closer to the best of all possible cities.
Hardly anyone thought New Yorkers would adapt
to the scooper law. They did, and New York is a better place.
Let's show the world, again, how great we are
and in the process raise some money for really good causes like
beautiful streetlamps, cobbled streets, decent shelters for the
disadvantaged, decent housing and health and the like.
If the tax proves very successful, and gum
chewers learn decent habits of disposal, it should be repealed,
or lowered at some point, of course. In the meantime, property
owners will hopefully be relieved of the really difficult problem
of removing the gook (hard to believe I almost forgot that word)
from their sidewalks. The city owns the sidewalks but property
owners are responsible for cleaning them and not every property
owner has yet invested in super high-powered water/steam machines
to deal with the gum problem.