in first grade they told us this story:
the world is full of benign, pleasant looking people who want nothing more than to approach you- simple-minded seven-year-old that you are- on the playground and give you a beautiful shiny sticker. you will be ever so grateful! you will thank these strangers profusely! you will take the beautiful shiny sticker, lick it so it will affix to your skin, and then you will discover that the glue on the backing is laced with pcp and, thanks to the resulting paranoia, loss of ego boundaries and depersonalization, you will become detatched from your body and commit violence to yourself from which you will, we were told, inevitably die.
(please note: i am being entirely truthy here. i was told this story. the philosopher was told this story. in 1987/8, this story made the rounds.)
there are two lessons we can learn from this tale.
(1) do not lick the things given to you by strangers.
(2) and run for your life from drugs.
these precepts and this story stuck with me forever. to the extent that when we reached the drugs section in middle school health class and they went through the list drug by drug, upon reaching pcp, twelve-year-old oline broke a years long vow of classroom silence to raise her hand and caution everyone to beware strangers with stickers.
i made this announcement with the self-important solemnity of saint-simon screeding the bastards. the subsequent snap of the thirty thirteen-year-old heads turning towards me was almost as hellish as the idea of strangers plying phenylcyclohexylpiperidine to kids at play.
almost, but not quite.
drugs were HUGE in the 1980s. drugs were so huge that the first lady of the land had to ask us to just say no. in a total misinterpretation of what mrs. reagan meant, i believed the importance lay not in not doing the drugs, but rather in the number of times one turned them down. consequently, the just say no campaign created a lingering expectation as i grew up that life would be a series of scenarios in which people would repeatedly offer me drugs that i would then have to muster the strength to decline.
the philosopher and i were discussing this the other night. this sense that we had in some way been cheated of our birthright because we were so prepared to be a shining light in a dark, dark time. so ready to say no and yet, in our experience, we so seldom had to. our lack of actual drug declinations seemed especially lackluster given that we grew up in a world where drugs were so plentiful that strangers were sharing them by slapping supergrass on unsuspecting students.
i never questioned whether there were actually strangers with stickers. i never once in the 23 years since i heard this story entertained the idea that it might not be true. i like to think the idea that it worked its way down to the philosopher in florida is incontrovertible proof of its veracity, because the more i think about it, the more i want there to have been strangers with stickers.
because if there were in fact strangers with stickers, this story raises the question of what crazy drug addict would ever be so wicked- and yet strangely generous with their stash- as to administer hallucinogenics to elementary schoolers via stickers.
if it is not true, this story leaves us to wonder why an adult would ever be so cruel as to dispense such a simple lesson to such young children through such a heinous tale.