A couple of years ago, I was in my classroom, sitting at my desk, and chatting with a student for a minute or two while we waited for the dismissal bell to ring. As I was talking to her, I was playing around with a rubber band – stretching it with the fingers on one hand the whole time we chatted. At some point, I was stretching it from my thumb to my pinky finger. It slipped off and hit this poor, sweet girl on the cheek. She looked at me, shocked, as if to say, “What the hell was that for, you stupid idiot!?!” I obviously begged for her forgiveness and explained the accident. I doubt she every truly forgave me. She’s probably in college now somewhere plotting a complex, rubber band themed revenge. She’s just sitting in a dark dorm room practicing her aim with her homemade rubber band gun crafted from a rifle shaped block of wood and a wooden clip. Well, there is nothing I can do about that. If I sat around worrying about all of the students to whom I mildly annoying, I’d be a paranoid… er… I’d be even more paranoid.
What’s the deal with rubber bands anyways? If I got a rubber band and stretched it out to capacity and shot it at someone, it wouldn’t even slightly hurt them. The only way it hurts is if you directly apply it to someone’s skin, but that’s a different story. The next time you think about it, pick up a rubber band and play around with it around someone. Stretch it out and pretend like you’re going to shoot something not even close to that person. As you do this, keep your conversation about anything else. While you chat, watch that person’s eyes. I guarantee you that their eyes will be glued to that rubber band like a pug’s eyes to a Snausage. I think growing up and going to school has conditioned Americans to fear rubber bands. It’s a Pavlovian response: we see a rubber band being stretched and we wet ourselves. Maybe cops could use one as a means of intimidation (Cop walks into an interrogation room and lays a rubber band on the table in front of the suspected criminal – criminal begins to squirm but not allowing his eyes to break away from the rubber band. Cop says, “Do you want me to use this? I can, you know. I can point at your face! Where did you hide all of the cotton candy you stole?”).
The equivalent of this is popping a balloon. For some reason, people freak out when a balloon gets popped even when they know it’s going to happen. I get that a loud noise can be startling, but people get all weird if it happens at all. I popped 15 balloons or so yesterday, and my students flinched, screamed, and covered their ears every time (we’re talking about high school kids here). I, admittedly, felt uneasy and pre-flinched every time I popped one. Maybe it’s the symbolism of a balloon popping that is so off-putting: something that is supposed to represent happiness and celebration being destroyed in an instant moment of a slightly loud noise and rendered an impotent, piece of garbage. Regardless, I can’t think of two more harmless things that create so much anxiety and fear. Then again, I’m not one to sound tough; The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz both still give me nightmares.