Saturday, December 08, 2012

Danger, Will Robinson!

How are we still alive? I don't mean that as philosophical or religious musing, though you could certainly take it that way. But as one friend wrote me after my recent appeal to save Twinkies from extinction, "Everyone knows that Twinkies are NO GOOD for you. But WE ate them!!!!!!!!!!! And WE turned out all right, didn't we?????" I would have to agree with him. All in all, there is no known record of anyone ever dying from an overdose of junk food, though in his particular case they obviously inflamed an overactive punctuation gland.

Speaking for myself, considering the innumerable hot dogs, bologna sandwiches and yes, Ding Dongs I've consumed, it's amazing I'm still walking around among you. However, at least in the case of Hostess, it was the company's unhealthy finances that drove them out of business, and not the products. That's not to say that there hasn't been a concerted effort to encourage us all to make healthier choices in our diet. Even prime offenders pay at least lip service to the idea: the former Kentucky Fried Chicken is now KFC and promotes a grilled version of its flagship product, and you get apple slices with your Happy Meal at McDonald's along with a smaller portion of fries. But if success in the world were strictly about nutrition, people everywhere would have risen up years ago and marched with pitchforks on Cinnabon. Rather, check on the chain at any airport: there are lines down the concourse.

Beyond diet, though, it is truly amazing that any of us are still roaming this earth. Whether it was stuff we did as dares, or games we played with our friends, or even officially sanctioned parental behaviors and activities, the list of things we did as kids that should have killed us runs to many pages. And yet, through some combination of dumb luck and divine intervention, the amount of fingers cut off and eyes put out is mercifully small. My wife, for instance remembers riding around with her folks in the family car while standing up in the back between the two front bucket seats. Today, were you to try the same thing, you would be arrested, right after they picketed your house as a child abuser, and just before your kid slapped you with their own lawsuit along with a bill for therapy.

Leaving aside the obviously dangerous teenage years, and the unholy trinity of drugs, sex and alcohol, if you google "dangerous things we did as kids" you get 248 million results. There are books, lists and remembrances (fond ones at that) documenting a catalog that no sane parent would countenance today. They range from simple stuff like climbing trees and drinking from garden hoses, to street surfing by hanging on the bumpers of cars and sledding down a hill through traffic. We ate school paste and poked each other with lead pencils. My personal fav was when the "fogger" truck would come through town spraying mosquito repellant, and we road our bikes behind it in the cloud. Can you say Agent Orange? It was bliss none the less.

You can call it more responsible parenting, the emergence of the nanny state or simply Mayor "No Large Soda for You!" Bloomberg. No matter the label, there is a growing perception that we've overcompensated. That's not to say that you should take that Nerf Blaster away from your kid and replace it with the BB gun you had. But as the book "Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)" points out, the bottom line is that "mastery minimizes danger." And just like eating Twinkies, while it's not necessarily advisable to Superglue your fingers together or lick a 9-volt battery, it likely won't kill you either.

Financial professionals are always going on about the "risk-reward" equation. In investing everything carries some risk; the question is, is it worth the return. However, it's a concept that goes way beyond money. If the price is death or serious injury, then likely not. But if the price is experience and knowledge, and the ability to move to the next challenge or a better idea of how to solve the problem, than it's a trade-off worth making.  Yes, I do ride my bike wearing a helmet. But I also ride it down a hill at top speed while there are cars on the road. So far, so good.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always carried a pocketknife as a kid. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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