"I've got a scoop for you," the cabbie said. "When your grandchildren ask you when America started down the road to ignorance and chaos, you can point to two days in the third week of January 1985."
"You want to explain that one?" I said.
"You read the papers," he said. "Well, on Monday, the papers told us that America's brightest young folks had a new priority: money. And on Tuesday, Ann Landers told us that our women would just as soon forget about sex. So in the space of 48 hours, money has replaced sex as the driving force of this country, and America as we know it is on the way out. There's your scoop."
I had seen the surveys he was talking about. The first, conducted by UCLA and the American Council on Education, reported that being financially well off -- in ninth place in 1970 -- has risen to the No. 2 spot on the list of personal values of college freshmen, topped only by their wish to be authorities in their chosen fields.
And everybody had seen the Ann Landers report that showed 72 percent of her female respondents saying they'd just as soon be cuddled by their lovers and forget about "the act." But I didn't see how that spelled doom for "America as we know it."
"Surveys don't create the public's attitude but only record it," I told the cabbie. "The two polls haven't actually changed anything."
"They've changed everything," the cabbie said. "You learn something about people in this business, and one of the things I've learned is that Americans are determined to do the 'in' thing. Until this week, they thought human service and sex were in. I mean, look at the ads for colleges. Do they sell education as a way of getting rich? No, they talk about opportunities for service. And even you can see that sex is used to market everything from milk and soft drinks to automobiles and credit cards."
"So what's your point?" I asked.
"The point is this," he said. "Maybe a lot of young people were already money-grubbers at heart. Maybe a lot of women thought of sex as just a woman's duty. But since they thought they were out of step, they kept on doing good and having sex. Now, thanks to the two polls, they know they are in the mainstream, and it's all over for America."
"Even granting your dubious premise," I said, "I still don't see how you reach the conclusion that America is in trouble."
"Let me spell it out for you," he said. "If sex is out, as far as the college-educated, newspaper-reading upper crust is concerned, who do you think is going to have any babies? Ann Landers already told us in another one of her surveys that women who have children wish they hadn't. They only did it because they thought they were supposed to. Now they don't have to pretend any more. The only people who are going to be having babies are ignorant folks who don't go to college or read newspapers and who know that they are never going to have any money anyway.
"If ambitious people stop having sex and babies, the next generation is going to be a mess. You still don't understand?"
I acknowledged that he had an interesting thesis, but the whole thing hinged on an erroneous assumption: that Landers' respondents were a cross-section of America and not just members of a sexually frustrated minority.
"I might be inclined to agree with you," the cabbie said, "but I can tell you from personal experience that Ann Landers is right when she says most women would rather be held."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's getting so everytime I approach a woman, she says: 'Hold it!'