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The straw that gave my teeth a headache

A glass of iced tea has relatively few basic requirements.

There’s the tea, the flavor of which is up to individual taste.

A slice of lemon and a choice of sweetener are optional.

In theory, there should be ice.

I added the qualifier based on a philosophical, semantic debate I once had with a college student who stood behind the counter at Bart’s Ice Cream in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Amherst is a three-college town, so you can’t step into a store or restaurant without being attended to by an unctuous undergrad anxious to establish intellectual territorial rights.

Amherst is what Ashland wants to be when it grows up.

One crisp, autumnal day, I took a break from my constitutional tracing the paths of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson to go to Bart’s for an iced coffee and a nuked slice of apple pie.

“Do you want ice in that?” asked Snippy McSmartyPants.

He wasn’t wearing a badge, so I named him myself.

“I’m sorry ... what?”

“Would you like ice in your iced coffee?”

Now, it’s about here that a carefree, rational human being would answer “yes” or “no” and the transaction would proceed.

But young Master McSmartyPants was not speaking to a carefree, rational human being.

He was being snippy with a copy editor.

“Yes,” I said. “I would like ice in my iced coffee. ... Hence the name.”

He clearly was unimpressed with my use of “hence.” Then again, he spoke without contractions ... so we were even.

“It is not called ‘iced coffee’ because there is ice in it,” he informed me. “It is called ‘iced coffee’ because it is served chilled.”

Now, it’s about here that a carefree, rational human being would cut his losses and move onto the matter of whether asking for a heated slice of apple pie meant that he would have to warm it in the microwave — but what McSmartyPants failed to realize was that I, too, had been an unctuous undergrad in this company town.

“Then why,” I asked, “isn’t it called ‘chilled coffee’?”

He looked at me. I looked at the apple pie in the display case.

“I can not help you,” he said, walking away from the counter.

Therefore, there will be ice in my iced tea ... at least in theory.

Which brings us to the final component — a straw.

For some, straws are necessary only in childhood or our senior years. For me, though, a straw is a necessity brought about by a genetically pathetic set of teeth — the remaining members of which are sensitive to cold, to heat, and to several temperatures in between.

I blame my parents. And, probably, their parents as well.

The other day at a preferred watering hole, I took a pull from my chilled iced tea using the state-favored paper straw ... and it wilted like a saturated cheap suit.

I retrieved a second straw. This one made it through two successful sips before it also gave its life to my pursuit of caffeine.

“Well,” I muttered to myself, “this sucks.”

And that’s when the stressed-out, irrational copy editor side of me answered, “Actually, the problem is that it doesn’t suck.”

It was Schrodinger’s Straw.

Now, I realize we live beside a ticking time bomb regarding the overwhelming amount of non-biodegradable waste that has been generated and discarded for decades. (Another scourge for which we can blame our parents — and, probably, their parents as well.)

And all it takes is one visit to Washed Ashore, the Bandon gallery where ocean-themed sculptures have been constructed out of plastics and other materials pulled from the sea, to understand the horrid environmental impact such waste has waged.

The answer to this moral dilemma, some would say, would be for all food and beverage establishments to purchase straws that are sturdier (and costlier) than the type disintegrating rapidly in my iced tea.

Others would point out that consumers now are able to purchase multi-use straws made out of pasta, sugar cane, wood, bamboo, or recycled wind instruments. But, honestly, don’t we already carry around too much all day?

I mean, I have a new pair of pants that comes with seven pockets ... but that doesn’t mean that I should try to fill them every time I leave the house. What next, a modern version of the Bat Belt — so that we are equipped to scale skyscrapers, drink iced tea and bring home the groceries from the market?

A mind troubled by the advent of a caffeine headache is fraught with such issues of moral ambiguity.

As I sat there, with a good 80% of my drink remaining and the ice within it staring to melt, I thought of the stilted semantics of Snippy McSmartypants and the aggravations inherent in living on a decaying planet where the problems seem too large to conquer by simply abstaining from plastic straws.

But I am not my parents (or, probably, their parents), and so I sacrificed the relative calm of my teeth and finished the iced tea, straw-less.

Once complete, I tossed the 16-ounce cup — the 16-ounce plastic cup — into the trash.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin depends upon recycled material at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com