A clerk at an area drugstore has a habit that is enough to keep me away from the store. To open the plastic bag in which she places the customer’s merchandise, she licks her finger, and that same finger helps to place merchandise, which often is food and drink, in the bag. If I stop at that store, I either avoid that clerk or I say I don’t need a bag. The best solution is to use the reusable bags that I keep forgetting are in my trunk.
I saw the same behavior at a Stark County office last week. Changing a five-dollar bill, the clerk licked her finger to count the ones she handed me. I hated to take the change and stuffed it loosely in my shirt pocket to keep it separate from the only slightly less dirty money in my wallet. I rid myself of the money as soon as possible, a good excuse to stop for Mexican food.
People lick fingers all the time when handling paper, and I think they, like the clerk with the bag and the clerk with the money, don’t realize they do it. There’s a product called Sortkwik that is meant to eliminate the nasty business of spreading saliva. It comes in a small round tub with a lid and is used by dipping the fingers in the cream before handling paper. Of course, one must be aware of the habit of finger-licking and must believe that habit is bad and should be eliminated before one will turn to Sortkwik. I wish more people would think about it; that habit is finger-lickin’ bad.
I hoped to find “Lick not your Fingers before handling Paper that you will shortly pass to another Person” on George Washington’s “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation,” which he transcribed in his youth, but the list lacked such an injunction. Perhaps this distasteful habit had not yet surfaced, or perhaps folks of the 18th century, less aware of hygiene than we are these days, saw not the practice as bad, although our awareness hasn’t stopped finger-licking paper-handlers from purveying their saliva.
Washington’s lengthy list includes such guides to good behavior as “In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet,” “If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside,” and “Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.” Washington failed to mention finger-licking, but he offers advice on clothing that I wish people of the 21st century would take to heart:
“Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.” “Wear not your Cloths, foul, unript or Dusty but See they be Brush’d once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any Uncleaness.”
Washington would be shocked at clothing of the 21st century. Even more recent presidents, such as Truman, would be surprised. In an elementary class photo from the 1960s I saw recently, the children wore good clothes, and some boys even wore ties. Children in general dressed more nicely for school back then — girls wore dresses and boys wore shirts with collars and slacks, not jeans. T-shirts were undergarments, not billboards. When I came home from school in the 1960s, I changed from my school clothes to my play clothes, but nowadays I see no difference. Look at any photo of school kids in any issue of The Review, and you’ll see an abundance of T-shirts with writing and an almost total lack of collars, even for special events and photo days. Gone are the days when Mom made sure her child dressed extra special for a performance or for class photos.
This adoption of the T-shirt as the national article of clothing spans all ages and classes. Bank tellers wear T-shirts advertising the latest checking account promotion, and every charity giveaway includes a T-shirt and a cheap pen. We’re living in the age of slovenliness, which I see as a lack of pride or an unconcern for personal appearance. I like to watch movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, even from the 1950s, because people dressed with class. Working class people in the 1930s dressed up compared to nowadays because they wanted to look respectable as much as possible. They understood that clothing to a certain degree made the person.
A person can dress casually and still look good, and casual, which is popular because it is comfortable, need not be slovenly. I know that my stance is unpopular these days, and I’m reminded of that high school kid in California who started a no-swearing club. His stance was unpopular, but other people felt the same way and joined his club. So I challenge you to abandon slovenly dress and to join me in my quest to return to classy clothing. Put the T-shirt back where it belongs, underneath the shirt with the collar.
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