Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Not even Ivory Soap is pure.

I was eating lunch with a couple friends recently when the topic of coffee drinks came up, and one person said, "Well, I went to Starbucks the other day -- I don't usually go there, but someone gave me a gift card, you see," and doo da dippity, she went on to describe a brewed beverage, but along the way, attempted to address what I'll call her "Personal Purity Score" by disavowing any particular affection for Starbucks, a going concern that is also synonymous with "big impersonal national chain that has helped kick the little guy (who must've had character) to the curb." She said, in effect, that someone else created the circumstances under which she actually patronized the joint, and as such, attempted to safeguard our opinion of her. Some people will stick up for Starbucks, noting that the coffee's not bad, and the company isn't either, and besides, there are worse examples of corporate misbehavior in this world (see: Walmart, BP, Haliburton, etc.) This raises a question that many of us consider -- subconsciously, perhaps -- every day: How pure is our behavior as consumers, for starters, but also in other arenas as well: In relationships, with political choices, as regards to the arts (bands, literature, etc.) we prefer, and with respect to the very food we eat, the very drink we imbibe? Would one increase his Personal Purity Score by averring his preference for working-class suds like Budweiser, as opposed to some pricey, fruity Belgian import? Would one increase his PPS by listening to jazz on vinyl as opposed to compact disc or MP3? You may not like the Tea Party movement, but the central plank in its platform -- nay, its only plank -- concerns the various facets of fiscal stewardship, making the movement, arguably, more understandable or accessible, for example, than the Democrats; thus, the Tea Party crowd, in its own way, may be more pure, since it may be more obvious (regardless of political bend) in its focus, as opposed to the bloated, muddled, flip-floppy major parties. Or take the social construct of marriages, half of which in this country seem to fail. Groom and bride make a bunch of promises that may otherwise contradict the essential character of the human animal whereas if they had never married, they may never have contradicted themselves in the first place. What is your carbon footprint? Is vegetarianism better for the world than being a carnivore? Do you -- really -- recycle? Ah, the list could go on and on. Raising another question: Can Personal Purity be attained? Is anyone pure? And if you or I cannot attain a high PPS, i.e., we may be beholden to circumstances that we cannot control, then what's the use of trying? Many years ago, I came across some kind of PETA catalogue and I swear they were advertising a really little ladder that one would install in his bathroom -- to help -- a spider -- climb out -- of the -- bathtub. If you don't own this ladder, and are not helping a spider to escape from your tub, then is your PPS slipping? After all, the average American will swallow, in her sleep, a certain number of aimless, wandering spiders every year, and if she isn't installing a little ladder in her mouth, to help the critters survive, is she taking the purest steps she could take?  A chunk of this is relative to the individual, obviously, but nevertheless, if you don't condemn conservative politics, if you gab on a cell phone as opposed to a land line, if you masquerade as an avant garde poet and/or a "Marxist", if you purchase products from Pfizer, if you waste toilet paper on casual spills, if you are "fashionable" -- Ladies and Gents -- the Big Question looms: Are You Pure? (Do you lose PPS for declaring your relative purity?) You may have a big heart, but when the time comes to meet your Maker, he or she may point out that you didn't exactly stick to the tenets of your faith. Or is religious devotion versus, say, cultural devotion, an impurity? Your conclusion may be that, like Ivory Soap, 100 percent purity cannot be attained, but we should all be striving, nevertheless. What's a good threshhold, then:  75 percent? 60 percent? 45 percent or less? I may be wrong, but the bar seems rather low, these days. Are there certain basic purities that we should all be demonstrating in our daily lives? Have we forgotten? Have we lost our way? Surely, in the grand scheme of Our Modern World, and the way we suffer Our Various Indignities, it hardly costs my friend very much PPS to have taken her gift card to Starbucks, am I right? I ask you.