The woman in line ahead of me at a fast food restaurant obviously was nervous as her jaws furiously worked a wad of chewing gum.
Watching her, I suddenly realized that gum chewing in public seems to be on the wane, along with smoking. It’s about time.
My mind flashed back to a similar scene when, standing in another line, I heard something that sounded like a pistol shot.
I turned to see the woman behind me desperately licking the remains of a bubble gum explosion from her upper lip and the corners of her mouth, apparently reloading for a second volley.
Bubble gum has no reason for being. But when you run into raw talent in any form, you are obliged to salute it, in much the same way you would honor Michelangelo’s painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“Where on God’s green earth did you learn to do that?” I had blurted.
“Oh, in first or second grade, “ the woman said proudly, and popped off again.
Jane and Michael Stern, in the 1990s, wrote “Encyclopedia of Bad Taste.” After the bubble gum incident, I checked to see if gum chewing in public is in bad taste. Amazingly, it wasn’t listed.
Apparently, good or bad taste lies in the eyes of the beholder.
My mother, for example, had her own ideas about what constituted bad taste.
For one thing, planting petunias inside old tires in the front yard was extremely bad taste. So were lying, stealing, allowing cats and dogs indoors or, heaven forbid, bringing a hoe into the house.
I love salmon, especially my wife’s recipe for baked salmon. But I seldom eat salmon without remembering a confrontation with our friend Alice.
We were dining out with her and her husband when, after studying the menu, I said, “I think I’ll have the samen.”
“A.C.,” she said, “did I hear you say ‘sal-mon’? It’s samen!”
Now I really like and admire this woman, despite her occasional corrective moments. (She once reprimanded me for wearing navy socks while walking on the beach in my Reeboks. She said I reminded her of Richard Nixon.) It’s hard to accept that this princess of protocol grew up across the river from me in Yadkin County, which is not considered to be nearly as sophisticated as Surry, where I grew up.
“I did not say ‘salmon!’ ” I insisted.
It’s true that I was married and owned a mortgage before I learned that one drops the “l” in pronouncing salmon. Far removed from the ocean, folks in the foothills probably ate more ’possum than salmon, although I never tasted ’possum. Anyway, they had little cause to check out the pronunciation of salmon.
Although “The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste” didn’t address the salmon issue, it included other interesting “bad taste” practices. Chihuahuas and flaunting enormous bosoms, à la Dolly Parton, are in bad taste, along with loud ties, which came in during the Eisenhower administration, and are “the sure mark of an oaf ignorant of what polite men are supposed to wear.”
The Sterns also cite nudism as bad taste, as in “the occasional naked stroll from bedroom to kitchen in search of a snack.”
Nudism, at its worst, say the authors, is about “Mom and Pop sitting outside their trailer home on web-strapped lawn chairs, roasting weenies on the grill and wearing nothing but pin curls and vinyl house slippers.”
Other one-time “ins” that have fallen from taste include Tupperware, tuna casseroles, bodybuilding, beer, baton twirling, mud wrestling and nose jobs.
My older sister, now deceased, who used to spoil me outrageously often served salmon when I visited. When I corrected her pronunciation, she said stubbornly: “Well, Honey, tonight you’re having sal-mon. When you return to Raleigh, you can have samen!”
It may be a matter of generation gap, but it seems that in today’s culture, the bad taste list seems to get shorter and shorter.
Snow: 919-836-5636 or firstname.lastname@example.org