When You Ask For My Last Piece Of Gum

(And we aren’t even friends.)

It is 9:26 AM and you, Glenn, have asked me for a piece of gum. Quite frankly, I am taken aback, for I would hardly even consider us friends. This seems like an incredibly hefty request from someone whom I only know because our desks share borders.

You have asked me so respectfully that it would be considered impolite to say no (or nyet in Russian, which I prefer because it has a very clipped, no-nonsense type of sound that I think the English “no” lacks). Of course you ask politely, because I am the one with the gum, and had you lacked the grace to ask in such a tactful manner I could have refused your request rightfully and without explanation.

As you can see, I have some qualms over giving you a piece of gum without the promise of eventual repayment. My feudalist European ancestors surely wouldn’t have given wheat or hens or their first-born daughter to their neighbor if they were not promised a gift of equal or greater value in return. My selfish, evolutionary desire to preserve my own goods for myself stems from our basic understanding of the human race: survival of the fittest. Only the cunning and physically domineering are awarded the luxury of fresh breath.

What about your ancestors, Glenn? Strong men and women dating back to the very beginnings of life, Neanderthals who set themselves apart by using their opposable thumbs to hold clubs and skin bison. Could it be your lineage that invented the wheel or discovered fire? Brave men and women who fought the elements and participated in prominent social and political movements? They look down upon you now, their inheritance, their most evolved kinsman thus far, and sigh a sigh of discontent because you, Common Glenn, are unprepared for the world around you.

However, we share in our unpreparedness today, Glenn. You are unprepared in general, always forgetting your pens and your notebooks and what day our next exam is. I am unprepared in the social constructs of this moment, for I did not expect to be asked such an unfathomable question by you this early in the morning.

It has been ten seconds since you have requested a piece of gum and I have yet to respond. I once read that every ten seconds in the United States, 42 babies are born. Forty-two new American souls who will learn the harsh realities of our modern world. Additionally, 750 McDonald’s hamburgers are sold every 10 seconds in the United States, but this may be a fact that should be tabled and properly pondered at another time.

I sense you getting restless. I sense this silence makes you uncomfortable, and for my delayed response I am apologetic. I sense that the 42 newborn babies are not present in your thoughts, nor are the McDonald’s burgers—only my lone piece of chewing gum and this prolonged silence between us.

Perhaps I am thinking about this too deeply. Perhaps I should go with my animalistic instinct, which is as follows: I am an eagle.

I was born, as all eaglets are, into a warm, gooey egg. One of two my maternal guardian laid. Funny how egg shells are sturdy enough to house a developing unborn eaglet but delicate enough to crack in a cardboard or Styrofoam carton at the supermarket, only for the buyer to notice after it is too late and the eggs have already made the trip home and into his or her refrigerator. I have recently learned a vital fact. It is not unusual for the elder eaglet to kill the younger, especially if the elder is bigger or female, and so I did. I eradicated my opposition, for I knew if I did my reward would be the undivided attention of my parents. My mother and father watched coolly as I triumphantly wasted their second born, and I could sense their approval. They could see in me what all eagles would see in due time: ambition, drive, dedication, physical dominance and a cunning mind.

I was born a bird of prey, soaring above fields with a wingspan of nearly seven feet. I spot my prey with eyes four to eight times stronger than the average human’s. I am the national bird of the United States, the self-proclaimed greatest country in the world. Benjamin Franklin claimed eagles were birds of bad moral character and championed for the courageous turkey to replace me as a symbol of freedom, justice and capitalism. A turkey! Can you imagine?

Perhaps you were born a turkey, Glenn. You and all those who fail to be self-reliant. You waddle and squawk. You are hunted by humans and covered in gravy on a national holiday that celebrates our nation’s genocide of the indigenous. You fly briefly, awkwardly and close to the ground. You are a young hunter’s first kill. Children trace their handprints on construction paper in elementary school to draw you. You waddle in packs of other turkeys, who also probably never have their own gum.

Though I might not be an eagle today, Glenn, would a turkey approach an eagle and ask for gum? No! Can you not see my talons? Benjamin Franklin said the turkey was courageous, not idiotic (although to be fair, perhaps their courage lies in their stupidity). This scenario is so incredibly preposterous I can hardly even consider it.

But I look beyond my animalistic intuition, for I am more than this. I am an intelligent and developed human, and I must consider the social constructs that have instilled the idea that greed is an undesirable trait, both in a platonic acquaintanceship and in a potential mate. Additionally, denying your unfathomable request for a piece of my gum would lead to a continuation of this already unbearably awkward interaction between the two of us, probably, and I do want you to put in a good word to your intramural ultimate Frisbee teammate Brian.

It appears, in this particular moment and in all of the other moments this life will contain, that we both have weaknesses. You fail to be self-reliant and I occasionally lack empathy and social grace. However, I am learning. I am attempting to have a quasi-optimistic outlook on life. The pack of gum is half full, not empty, so to say. Except for when it is, indeed, half empty. This analogy works better with cups of water, because water is only something you need to survive and gum is so much more than that.

In conclusion, Glenn, you may have my last piece of gum. This one time.

Cait Mahr (@cuddlecait) says you should ask your dad about her.