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The Nanny State Comes to Roann

March 13, 2012

My daughter has often told me: “Dad, you need to get out of the village more.”

She is right, of course. I am little exposed to many things other people take for granted – busy traffic, rude confrontations, incessant noise, and so on. In Roann, I am part of a small community that seems to practice “live and let live.” Not quite four hundred souls comprise my ‘village’ and most of us like it that way.

I am always surprised when I encounter people who are not used to living like this. As someone who lives barefooted most of the time, I am used to the occasional comment. There have been times when I’ve been asked to leave places for lack of footwear, but I confess that I am not “used to” that. It’s simply unnecessary and rude… but I digress.

Three times in the last week I’ve run into that briar patch known as “the Nanny State” and I am confused by it, offended by it, and wonder why people put up with it.

The first encounter was last week when I was shopping for residents of Timbercrest at Wal-Mart in Wabash. One of the residents wanted me to pick up the Wal-Mart brand of a 12-hour antihistamine. She actually wanted two boxes. When I got to the shelf, a sign was posted saying I needed to take the little card to the pharmacy counter. I did so. When I presented the card to the clerk, I was also asked for my driver’s license.

“For cold medicine?” I asked in credulously.

“It’s the law.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I said.

Her blank look indicated that she was likely not kidding. I gave her my license.

“Why do you need my driver’s license to buy cold medicine?” I asked.

“Meth. They use it for meth.”

“I assure you that I’m not using it for meth. I can assure you that the 90 year old woman who lives at Timbercrest for whom I’m buying it is not using it for meth.”

“It’s the law.”

“So I’m presumed guilty or with malicious intent just for buying the stuff.”

The clerk gave me a look that indicated that I was not going to get the medicine without the hassle, so I quit. When she returned to the counter, she had only one box.

“I need two boxes. That’s what [she] ordered.”

“You can only buy one box at a time. It’s the law. And you better watch how many you buy. You’re in the system now. Don’t buy more than you need.”

Was this really happening? I felt like I had just met a woman who lived in Orwell’s 1984 world and was working at Wal-Mart to make ends meet.  Moments like this make me ‘channel’ my father which meant, of course, that I had to get in the last word.

“Well, you know who gets cold pills without showing their driver’s license? The people using them for making meth. The only I.D.’s you’re getting are from good and decent people willing to follow the rules.”

I turned and left. I told her.

My second encounter with government nanny-ism comes from the Manchester Pool (and Fitness Center). There is a footwear rule in the exercise room and I have been modestly obeying it by wearing Vibram Five-fingers, those little running shoes that look like a glove for your feet. I am too far invested in the community where I work to rock the boat too much on this issue more than simply telling the pool staff that it’s a silly regulation.

About two weeks ago, I forgot my gym bag. So I went to Dollar General and picked up a cheap pair of shorts and t-shirts and headed to work out. I do not own ‘gym shoes’ and my Vibrams were in my gym bag. So I wore flip-flops.

Sure enough, in an e-mail sent to all members of the pool, there was a reminder that flip-flops and street shoes were not acceptable footwear in the Fitness Center.

Really? This had to go in an e-mail to everyone? Couldn’t someone on the gym staff approach me about it and find out why I was in flip-flops? Perhaps if there had been a personal encounter an e-mail would have been unnecessary.

Keep in mind, this gym is the safest place I’ve ever seen. The floor is soft and comfortable. The machines have weight plates that are entire encased in translucent plastic and one is even hard-pressed to find the cables for the machines.

There are free weights and plates at the west end of the gym, all rubber coated and safe. They are not near the strength training machines at all.

And yet there is a rule about having to wear footwear in the gym.

If you drop a 40 pound dumbbell on your foot, it doesn’t matter if you’re barefoot or in sneakers – it’s going to hurt. In fact, I believe that if you’re barefoot, you’re less likely to drop the weight on your foot because you’re far more likely to have a faster response time being more sensitive to the surroundings because you are barefooted.

But Kathy and Tyler who run the gym won’t hear of it. Rules are rules. And somewhere they got it in mind that bare feet don’t belong in a Fitness Center… not even in flip-flops. And they’ll send an e-mail to everyone to show they mean business.

Finally, I needed to get a window for an inside door of our house. The former window was smashed out by an angry teen several years ago and we’ve just covered it with a curtain since.

I had it in mind to have a piece of glass in the door similar to what had been broken. It was a 100 year old pane of crinkle glass, the kind with abstract shapes of stars and other geometric forms pressed in the glass to obscure seeing through it clearly.

When I got to the glass shop, I was greeted with rules. Not a “good morning, we’ve been expecting you” (I called ahead to let them know I was coming). Not a “what a beautiful door” or even “how can we help you?” I was greeted with rules.

“Yeah, you need safety glass. I checked. Even though the door’s on the inside you gotta have safety glass.”

“But I want something decorative. It’s for the inside.”

“The law is that all doors have to have tempered glass or safety glass. Here’s what we have…” and she led me into the workshop. Ironically, the sign on the door of the workshop read in bold print, For Saety Reasons, No Customers Beyond This Point.

“You know, that door window had been there for 100 years with no problem at all. It wasn’t safety glass. It was actually pretty.”

“Well, you know what happened. It broke. Somebody probably slipped and fell.”

“No,” I said flatly. “An angry teen smashed it out a couple years ago. Before that it was perfectly fine.”

“Well, my cousin’s daughter fell on a piece of glass and slit her arm from here to here.” She pointed from her wrist to her elbow. “It was bad.”

She proceeded to show me some very ugly glass that would not have worked.

Finally I agreed to purchase what the law would allow. Tempered glass that was sand blasted so no one could see through.

I don’t get out of the village enough. When did it happen that everything and everyone has so many rules and regulations?

I expect nonsense rules from Wal-Mart. It’s Wal-Mart after all. I don’t go there unless I have to. And I’m certain that I was correct with the clerk: the people making meth are not showing their drivers’ licenses when they procure their antihistamines. They are getting them from other sources.

The pool and fitness center’s barefoot rules are simply mindless stupidity. The Greeks didn’t wear clothes, let alone shoes, when they worked out and they were the originators of the word “gymnasium.” And to address a personal concern by making an issue with all 600 members of the gym is a mild case of Orwellian practice.

And since when did the state of Indiana care whether or not I cut myself or what kind of glass we have in our doors? Obviously, they didn’t 100 years ago when our house was built. A hundred years ago, I suspect that the Indiana legislature knew that Hoosiers are much better at running their own lives than bureaucrats are.

I’m glad to be back in the village now for a while. The nanny state leaves me uncomfortable. It’s better in Roann.


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One Comment
  1. Hi, Brian.

    I hope you won’t mind if I add some information on what’s going on.

    First, I ran into the cold medicine issue a few years back. Haven’t used any since! The cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine, which really is used to make meth. No, the criminals don’t buy it–they usually stage robberies or hold-ups late at night.

    There are still over-the-counter cold remedies available without pseudoephedrine. They contain phenylephrine. However, the studies on its effectiveness in pill form say it’s not particularly effective (though that still seems to be somewhat of an open issue). I find that phenylephrine in nose sprays works really, really well.

    You really cannot call this regulation part of the “Nanny State”. It’s really part of the “War on Drugs”. It was part of the 2005 renewal of the PATRIOT Act. (Of course, the “war on drugs” is in some ways part of a nanny state not telling us what we can put into our own bodies.)

    Regarding the glass, that’s part of a Consumer Product Safety Commission regulation adopted in 1977. It is in 16 CFR 1201. It actually looks like the regulation contains an exception for your situation (but you don’t really expect your glass shop to know that, do you?). The exception seems to apply to carved glass, dalle glass, and leaded glass.

    When you read their justification at the beginning of the standard, it looks like the standard prevents about 190,000 injuries a year. (BTW, my wife has scars on one of her arms from putting it through non-safety glass when she was a kid.)

    On the gym (see, I told you to check first! :-)), I don’t think you can quite call it Nanny “State”. Of course, you know I agree with you about how stupid it is, and how these people just cling to their bias regardless of any countering information. In this case, I bet they cannot even claim fear of lawsuits, because I’m sure whatever contract you signed had all sorts of “hold blameless” clauses.

    Anyways, sorry you had to have all this hit you at once.

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