Stick With Me

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   June 3, 2021

One of the expressions I remember from childhood playground banter would arise when somebody said something nasty to you, and you wanted to get back at them, with something equally derogatory. So, you would say:

“I’m rubber, and you’re glue –
Everything you say
Sticks back to you!”

Or, if you wanted to be even more vicious, instead of “sticks back to you,” you would say “STINKS back to you!” That didn’t make much sense logically, but it added force to your response.

I learned that rejoinder at one of my American schools — but it reminds me of a sporting term I learned in England, which may be the only expression borrowed from cricket which now has widespread use over here, though most of the people who use it probably have no idea of its origin. I refer to the term “STICKY WICKET,” which has come to have broad application in characterizing almost any kind of difficult situation.

In its cricketing context, the “wicket” is the patch of more or less natural ground immediately in front of the batter (or “batsman”) who is defending three upright sticks behind him from being struck with a ball hurled by the pitcher (or “bowler”). A major difference from baseball is that the ball can — and usually does — hit the ground before it reaches the batter. Climatic conditions (especially in England) being as variable as they often are, the condition of the wicket, varying from dry and hard to damp and mushy, can greatly affect the behavior of the ball. It’s the moister surface which makes a bounce less predictable, and which a skillful pitcher can take advantage of. That is a STICKY WICKET.

Some things, of course are, or were, intended to be sticky. It is now fairly uncommon, but what has adhered longest to my memory was FLYPAPER. It came in a small cardboard tube, which you hung up in some open indoor space and from which you then pulled out the paper, which hung down in a spiral.  There was a sticky coating, which attracted flies — to their doom. If so minded, you could enjoy watching a fly getting stuck, and struggling vainly to get free. The paper became more and more densely populated, until it was obviously time to take it down, throw it out, and (if necessary) hang up a new one. These devices were of course particularly effective in hot weather, if your open doors and windows had no screens.

In his book called The Compleat Practical Joker, H. Allen Smith tells of a friend named Hugh Troy, who was famous for twisting the tail of bureaucracy.  When in Officers’ Training School during World War II, Troy became exasperated with all the reports he was required to submit on a regular basis.  He noticed the flypaper “ribbons” suspended in regular rows in his company’s mess hall and concocted a daily report on the number of flies found stuck on each roll. He made the document so detailed and look so official that his fellow officers began to receive inquiries from the Pentagon wanting to know where their flypaper reports were.

Before we leave flies, let us pay tribute to their own remarkable ability to adhere — without any flypaper — totally upside down, to a ceiling, or practically any other surface. How do they do it? Believe it or not, their feet produce their own sticky substance, made of sugars and oils.

Nowadays, of course, we have our own specialized uses for all types of adhesives. And we have “miracle” glues and tapes which can stick what and where no man has stuck before. The very transparency of Scotch tape and its kin would have been a marvel to our forebears who took it for granted that any sticky tape would be opaque, usually white for medical purposes, or black in the world of building and plumbing.

And then there is the greatest modern wonder of all — VELCRO, which is not even sticky. For better or worse, Velcro can only stick to itself. It comes in two genders, which are both necessary. A male piece can only adhere to a female piece. And to be of any use at all, at least one of the two pieces must be stuck by some other means (usually glued or sewed) to something else. That is the only drawback of this technological tour de force — or (if you will forgive me) the only fly in the ointment.


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