Logged-In Public: You weren't really serious about not clapping? Or not having pets?
Why do we need pets? The dog, the cat, the bird. Why do we need them? Companionship? Lower blood pressure?
L-I P: Pets have been around civilization.
What about prejudice against African-Americans? Do we simply need people to hate? Does our desperate desire for scapegoats trump our need for social comforts?
L-I P: Why do you have to bring race into this? We were talking about dogs and cats?
Actually, the Sardine prefers less controversial topics.
L-I P: That's a relief.
I'd prefer to discuss the diurnal, the everyday. Sneezing.
L-I P: God bless you.
One doesn't even need the God-Believing Public to respond to a ripe sneeze.
The moment — the aftermath of that deeply pleasurable expulsion of air through the snout and mouth — becomes tense from my standpoint. The people who wish me well want some form of compensation.
L-I P: You could say "thank you."
But I don't. When it is certain I won't say it, I imagine the person or persons being hurt or disturbed by my apparent insensitivity.
L-I P: As they should.
You see. I can't shake those many years of my going through a social custom. Well-trained, the Sardine eagerly hoped to sooth any sneezer's feelings when heard the sneeze in the vicinity.
L-I P: You were a good boy.
I never thought about it much. Who was I, besides, to disrupt this perfectly innocent social interaction? I was the Sardine. It was inevitable that I would reach the conclusion that saying "God Bless You" to a sneezer was irrelevant. Perhaps my feeling arouse from a hyper-neurotic search for the truthful feelings which, basically, led me to the conclusion that automatic, compulsive utterances and gestures were inherently false. The masks of a phony world.
L-I P: You sound like a renegade from the 1960s.
You know the Sardine didn't leave the tin without a little shove. One too many times I questioned a person's apparently sincere gesture. I threw back in his or her face that "God Bless You" or the pedantic "Gesundheit" with same velocity of the sneeze coming out, 120 m.p.h.
L-I P: You don't have to be such a nuisance.
The Sardine told them that they do not know why they say it.
L-I P: Your heart stops.
God-Believing Public: You spirit gets blown out of your body.
I'm not going to try to contradict you. For all I know, these things might happen. Together! But the people saying "God bless you" aren't rationalizing this when they say it. It is said because it has been said. It's compulsively said. Irresistibly so. Strangers will say it to you. Who knows, in World War I a British soldier sneezes in a trench and on the other side of no-man's-land you can hear "Gesundheit". Students in elementary and high school classes love it because the sneeze gives them a free pass to talk, even during an exam. If people absolutely knew that nothing happens to you when you sneeze, they'd still say it.
L-I P: Are you trying to stop the unstoppable?
The act of saying "God bless you" is a compulsion. Not saying it could lead to minor social turbulence. The Sardine knows from experience.
G-B P: Do you hate the fact that God's being acknowledged?
Forget God. Why should the sneeze be acknowledged?
L-I P: Give up.
Compulsion. You know why the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice?
G-B P: Their god sneezed and instead of saying "god bless you" they just. . . .
You're not that far off.
G-B P: We were being glib.
Aztecs believe their god, Huitzilopochtli, god of fire, must be fed human lives every fifty years or so. If not, the universe would be destroyed.
L-I P: The universe wasn't destroyed. Must have worked.
They felt it did. From the other angle, though, they could not take a chance and not sacrifice. If an Aztec version of the Sardine came along and told the Aztecs that they were being stupid, the world wasn't going to end, all they had to do was not sacrifice anyone when the time came.
G-B P: What Aztec in his right mind would have wanted to take such a chance?
Exactly. The Aztec Sardine would be reviled the same way this Sardine is for trying to stop the world from saying "God bless you".
L-I P: That's a bit extreme.
The Aztecs were compelled to sacrifice humans. They couldn't conceive of a world without it. The Sardine isn't asking much, in comparison, by wanting this minor compulsion in our own society to cease.
L-I P: Like you want the clapping to cease.
G-B P: That's probably stopped for the Sardine's ideas long ago.
L-I P: What does he want to get rid of next?
How about we stop celebrating birthdays?
Bob Castle is the unveiled author of A Sardine on Vacation. Check out his bio page.