You may know the word “gimme” from golf. It means a stroke that is so obvious, it is a given, so the golfer doesn’t have to take it, like a putt where the ball is inches from the hole. It is a time-saver. But “gimme” is also a word that is a roughing-up of the phrase “give me.” Like a verbal version of grabbing, “Gimme that!” is a rudeness on the playground, but by the time we become adults we are so accustomed to it that many of us live that way. We won’t get what we want unless we make a grab for it. “Gimme that!” has become a way of life in today’s world.
I remember the television news being full of lurid reports of a woman in a California store so intent on getting her bargain X-Box that she pepper-sprayed her way to the display, injuring several people, including children, along the way, proceeding to the checkout counter without anyone stopping her. It was obvious that the press loved it, and loved to hate it. It was reported over and over and over, without even adding new details, and when it died down on the news, it entered social media and the word-of-mouth world, where people enjoy sharing their outrage online with other outraged strangers and offline at checkout counters and office hubs (are there still water coolers?) everywhere. The prevailing emotion seemed to be, “See? Didn’t I tell you how grabby and acquisitive most of us are? Isn’t it great that we are the exceptions? Aren’t we wonderful?” This was years ago, but it continues to be repeated and reported, as bride-to-be race for the bargain wedding gown in a press covered “event,” and when people jockey to be the first ones to own the next almost-already-out of date smart phone.
I’m not above savoring the awfulness of it all. The mind picture of that woman’s wild behavior is irresistible. I animate it with my own imagined details: how she boasted about it to her kids or lied about it to them, how old she was, if she had planned her attack or always had pepper spray on hand. I wanted, for some reason, to know what she looked like. The incident was a perfect illustration of the dilemma most of us face at some time in our lives. In a society where “first come, first serve” and “only while supplies last” are the mantras we live by, how else should we behave? If we don’t shout, “Gimme that!” with hand outstretched, someone else is likely to get the shiny ring as we ride past, empty-handed. On the other hand, who among us hasn’t felt foolish or embarrassed by our own grabbiness?
Fifty years ago, my father gave me a clipping from The New York Post, which had a small poem, which, I believe, was by Anonymous and which he must have thought it was important for me to note. The last two lines of the 4 line poem posed the question: “Is it better to be a grabby child/Or always take the smaller piece?”
I long ago decided it was probably better to be a grabby child, but in my own life, I still always took the smaller piece. Why? Well, it made me feel more virtuous, and gained me praise for my generosity, sense of balance, lack of interest in material things, blah blah blah. In other words, it allowed me a sense of my own superior values. So, in a way, I gained even though I lost, especially since I don’t remember even one of the “bigger pieces” I gave up, rather than be considered grabby. Fifty years ago, I was in the mainstream. Society approved of the way I behaved. Now, I fear it would be considered simply stupid. If you don’t act fast, you lose it all, baby. Step up or step off. Push or get pushed.
Am I just another older person yearning for a good old day of gentler, kinder behavior? I am. Is it an accurate picture of the way the world works these days? For sure. “Gimme that!” is, in today’s world, a gimme.