Originally published in the College Voice at Connecticut College.
I don’t think about chapstick very often. Or umbrellas, or chewing gum. When I do think about them, it’s in moments of immediate need. These things have in common a crippling irreplaceability—when you need it, you need it. Morisette wrote, “It’s like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife,” and under such circumstances, nothing could be more ironic.
There’s no substance in the world like lip balm to save your raw, red lips from your own fruitless licking, and no half-hearted newspaper hat can replace a nylon shield like the ones darting around in a downpour. Likewise, in a 7 PM class on stir-fry night, or anywhere after a tuna sandwich, breath repair must be constant—eviscerating. A Tic Tac, six Tic Tacs, just won’t cut it.
Chapstick, umbrellas, and chewing gum are tiny insurance policies against exponentially chapping lips, torrential wetness, and unconscionably bad breath: the Discomfort Trifecta. I have a designated chapstick pocket in my favorite jacket (front left), as well as a gum pocket when I have a pack (inside right). I don’t own an umbrella, either as a result of or coincidental with the fact that I can’t fit one in a pocket. Of course, in spite of such precautionary pocketing, everyone finds himself without one or all of these things at some point. What then? Short of running out and buying something, it seems obvious to ask someone.
Simple though it seems, this sort of favor-asking is more serious than bumming a cigarette.
The rain this week convinced me on several occasions to wear a raincoat instead of my fully-loaded pea coat, and indeed, even as I type this, I sit stranded and chap-lipped a library computer. Why not move your chapstick to a pocket in your raincoat? you ask, dear Reader. In the day-to-day shuffle between pairs of pants and outerwear, wallets and purses, each of us has at some point sought an ID, a few dollars, a CVS card, and been stricken with a case of “it’s in my other ______.” I often hesitate to disrupt the established order of my clothing and its contents.
In my current state, having foolishly changed jackets, I know only a few people can help me. I call them my “chapstick circle” (not to their faces, of course). They’re people on whom I know I can count for just these sorts of crises – people with their own chapstick pockets, who fear breathing garlic bagel on unsuspecting hotties, and who don’t mind one wet shoulder beyond the purview of an umbrella for the sake of my dryness.
Friends like this are fewer and farther between than they appear, especially at Conn, where some acquaintance of yours is at every third table in Harris, and any given floor party rages outside the room of a friend of a friend. Jungle juice is cheap, and so is the chit-chat that comes with it.
Perhaps there are concentric circles of generosity, spiraling out from a six-pack of Beck’s Dark Bier to Burt’s Bees Pomegranate lip balm to loose-leaf notebook paper. Maybe one of the challenges of small campus life is navigating the boundaries of these circles – some of it is learning who to trust; some of it is being aware of the circles you build in four years. Mostly, though, it’s about knowing what it means when you find yourself under half an umbrella.