Dave Barry

Classic '97: Dave Barry's message to graduates: Please fix our plastic wrap crisis



This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, May 11, 1997 with the headline "Life Lessons"

Members of the Class of 1997, as I stand before you to deliver your commencement address, I am reminded of a humorous story. Unfortunately, I can't tell it, because it's dirty. It's the one about the two guys who are golfing, and one gets bitten by a snake. Ha ha! That's a good one!

But seriously, you are about to leave this high school or university and enter into a new era -- an era that, if current trends continue, will be: the future. Speaking of the future, I am reminded of a quotation by Steve Miller, who wrote: ``Some people call me Maurice, because I speak of the pompatus of love.''

No, sorry, wrong Steve Miller quotation. I meant this one: ``Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future.'' How true, true, true, young people! But by the same token, you must not forget another very important part of your lives: the past. As students, you have spent the past in school, memorizing facts such as who was the ninth president of the United States, and what percentage of the atmosphere is nitrogen. Many times you have said to yourself: ``What good will these facts do me in the real world?''

Young people, you'll find that the things you learned in school will be vitally important to your success, provided that you are a contestant on Jeopardy. Otherwise they're useless. In the real world, there are few occasions when your boss rushes up to you and says: ``Tell me what percentage of the atmosphere is nitrogen RIGHT NOW or we'll lose the Winkersnood contract!'' In the real world, it's much more helpful to know things like what the area code for Fort Lauderdale is.

The answer, I am outraged to report, is ``954.'' What kind of area code is that? You are too young to remember this, but there was a time when there were only about five area codes in the entire world, and they all had either a ``1'' or a ``0'' in the middle, the way the Good Lord intended area codes to be, as in ``212,'' an area code that came over on the Mayflower. But today, in this ``anything-goes'' era of drugs and crime and inter-league baseball, ANY random three-digit number can be an area code, and the phone companies, which are all run by Candice Bergen, are adding mutant new ones at the rate of hundreds per day. Do you want to know why the phone companies are so eager to get your long-distance business? Because pretty soon EVERY CALL YOU MAKE WILL BE TO A DIFFERENT AREA CODE, INCLUDING CALLS TO OTHER ROOMS IN YOUR OWN HOUSE, that's why.

Who is going to fight this injustice? Not my generation. My generation is currently occupied full time with applying skin moisturizers. No, it is up to you, the Class of 1997, to take on the telephone companies, and also the companies that make the cardboard food packages that have the little dotted-line semi-circles that say ``PRESS TO OPEN.''

Let me ask you, the Class of 1997, a question: Have you EVER been able to open a package by pressing that little semi-circle? I didn't think so. Those semi-circles are reinforced at the package factory with titanium; they can easily deflect bullets. NASA pastes those semi-circles on the nose of the Space Shuttle to protect it during re-entry.

Let me ask you another question: Have you ever tried to wrap leftover food in clear plastic wrap? Have you ever tried to tear off a piece of that wrap using the so-called ``cutting edge''? If so, did you get a nice, square piece, like the one the cheerful homemaker always gets in the commercial? Don't make me laugh until saliva dribbles onto my commencement robe. What you got was a golf-ball-sized wad that looks like a dead jellyfish. THE ``CUTTING EDGE'' CUTS NOTHING, YOUNG PEOPLE! Fact: For every leftover food item that American consumers are able to successfully wrap, they waste more than 37 square miles of plastic -- enough to cover all of Manhattan Island, or the late Orson Welles.

And what is the Scientific Community doing about these problems, young people? THEY'RE CLONING SHEEP. Great! Just what we need! Sheep that look MORE ALIKE than they already do! Thanks a lot, Scientific Community!

Oh, I could go on, members of the Class of 1997, but I see that the man with the tranquilizer-dart gun is here. So let me just close here with some inspirational words from the ninth president of the United States, Steve Miller, who said, and I quote: ``Jungle love, it's drivin' me mad, it's makin' me crazy.''

I blame all this nitrogen.