Double-Sided-Sticky Tape: Humiliations Galore

I have a really bad memory about double-sided sticky tape.

When I was about five years old, my dad took me over to the church to keep him company as he fulfilled a small errand. The church bowling team had wrapped up their season, the trophies were in, and the little brass plaques had arrived from the engraver. Someone had given Dad a list of the winners and a roll of double-sided-sticky tape. His errand was to go mount the plaques on the corresponding trophies so they would be ready for presentation at the team’s spaghetti dinner the following night.

So on a weekday evening in 1969, I happily went with my dad over to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in New Milford, New Jersey. We found the trophies and plaques in a classroom, and Dad set to work.

I wanted to explore, but he said he would not be long. He placed the trophies in a row on a craft table, and, referencing his list, laid one plaque before each. He pulled the roll of double-sided-sticky tape out of his pocket, pulled off a two-inch piece, reached for the first plaque, and paused. He manipulated the bit of tape between his fingers, muttered something in Dutch, balled it up and pulled another piece of tape off the roll.

He repeated this operation several times: pull, test, mutter, crumple, repeat. He threw down the roll and jumped up. “This tape’s no good; it’s only sticky-one-side. We have to find some other.”

We tore that church apart. We must have produced at least forty rolls of tape, but none of them double-sided. The muttering became more intense. We went back to the classroom, my dad snatched up the roll of double-sided-sticky tape, and yanked a two-yard length out of the dispenser. He tested it, swore loudly in Dutch, and repeated. Yank, test, swear, repeat. Soon the roll was empty, there was a heap of double-sided-sticky-on-only-one-side tape on the table, and my dad was red with rage and frustration.

I sensed this was no time to offer to help, so I stood motionless in the room while he rummaged through some drawers and produced a bottle of mucilage. Readers below a certain age will not know what mucilage is / was. It’s a gummy, amber liquid that was used as an adhesive before Elmer invented Glue. (Turns out it is plant snot.) Dad slathered some of this slime onto the backs of the plaques, slapped them onto the trophies, and of course they slithered off. He slumped, a picture of misery.

It was dark outside when we rode home in silence.

By the next day, I had forgotten all about it, until the next time we went to church. I encountered a group of young adults storming past the room where my dad and I had struggled with the double-sided-sticky tape. The young woman at the head of the pack yelled something about their spoiled victory, and some jerk who wrecked her trophy. When I guessed this must be the bowling team, my heart sank.

I saw my dad talking to some grim-looking men. Dad was very red, and did not look the other men in the eye.

That afternoon, outside our little garden apartment, I overheard my mother explaining to a neighbor, “He didn’t realize there was a release paper he was supposed to peel off the back… poor guy…”

This is my earliest memory of humiliation, years before I learned the word.

I knew my dad was no dummy. A sword pierced my heart, and I was filled with a deep pity and compassion when I realized what that stupid roll of double-sided-sticky tape had done to my dad: it had defeated him.

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