I am severely irked by the silver security foil protecting the tip of my tube of toothpaste, which I must pry off with my thumbnail before I can squeeze Colgate onto my toothbrush. It suggests that insidious persons are out to poison me via my habit of twice-daily brushing. When I order a cheeseburger in a café, it doesn’t come to me locked in a tin box; when I go to the barber, she doesn’t offer me a metal shield to prevent her from cutting my throat; the oranges in the grocery store don’t come wrapped in steel foil to prevent evil persons from injecting strychnine with a hypodermic: why the security cap on the Colgate?
I buy Colgate because they sponsored The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, a very classy show, and also I assume that Colgate University gets a percentage of the price; I know nothing about the toothpaste. I assume that all toothpaste is alike, Crest or Pepsodent or Natalie’s Natural, that probably it’s all made in a factory in Topeka. But the little silver foil offers a taste of paranoia that I don’t need.
Once you start imagining toothpaste terrorism, you can go down a road that leads to a single life in an old RV in the corner of the parking lot of an abandoned factory in Scranton, and I choose to live in New York and walk along the street without imagining someone on the 14th floor dropping a toaster on my head. It’s a wonderful life, as Jimmy Stewart told us long ago when the angel prevented him from jumping off the bridge in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve.
The movie got mixed reviews and was a box office bust when it came out in 1946 and eventually became a classic on everyone’s list of all-time great flicks, which gives hope to all of us unsuccessful writers whose work disappeared without a trace, but never mind that. I like to think I live in a world where people care about each other. In New York, I’ve seen elderly persons take a tumble and within seconds, three or four helpful strangers are at their side, saying, “Are you okay? Don’t get up. Where do you live? Can we call you a cab?” and someday I may be one of those elderly persons and count on friendly strangers. The contemplation of toothpaste tampering is a poisonous thought.
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I am at an age when one is grateful for every day. I find this overwhelming. There is no room for paranoia. I don’t remember ever being so happy as I am these days. I was brought up, as many Minnesotans were, not to express personal happiness lest it hurt the feelings of the less fortunate and if asked “How are you?” you should say, “Not bad,” never go beyond “Okay,” but I am grateful for it all. I’m glad I never bought a summer cabin and spent my vacations repairing things. I am grateful for home because I know how the shower works. I’m grateful for the wireless phone that enables you to go into the next room for privacy. We didn’t have unscrewable bottle caps years ago so we spent hours, days, weeks, years, searching for a bottle opener. I’m grateful for growing up strict fundamentalist, which makes the idea of romance terribly thrilling, the thought of putting your arm around a girl — Oh my God! — and this stays with me all these years later and when my wife awakens in the morning and comes into the kitchen and sits on my lap and I put my hands on her shoulders, it is terribly exciting, thanks to the preaching against carnal desire. I am also thankful for Eskimo Christians. Eskimo Christians, I’ll tell you no lies.
I enjoy reading the paper for its sense of impending doom, which is similar to the preachers of my youth, and journalists note the melting ice cap, the racial violence, the persistence of COVID, political inertia, the specter of American authoritarianism, the vulnerability of toothpaste, but this is a great country that gave the world baseball, the blues, the bacon cheeseburger, not to mention Irving Berlin, the Bethel Gospel Quartet, Balanchine, Robert Bly, Billie Holiday, and Bob & Ray, and the other night in Georgia, I stood in front of a crowd and started them singing the national anthem a cappella in a comfortable key, no ballpark organ drowning them out, and they all knew the words and sang with sweet enthusiasm. I did it for no reason other than to hear it done and it was remarkable. I wish you’d been there.
Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Productions