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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Styrofoam is my kryptonite

Leyna Chan
My ongoing fight with the unbearable substance known as Styrofoam.

“Hey Andy, look over here,” my dad said. As I swiveled my head in response, he broke off a piece of the Styrofoam box our new package came in. I winced as he purposefully exaggerated the excruciating sound the box made as the pieces crumbled off. Shooting him an annoyed look, I fled upstairs, away from the unbearable squeaking.

Some dad joke that was.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been triggered by the sound or touch of Styrofoam. Something about its squeaky sound just messes with my head. Even thinking about it right now makes me uncomfortable.

I discovered my hatred of Styrofoam when my family was opening a large Styrofoam box containing our new blender. As we were busy getting the package open, we took no care to preserve the packaging and tried to get the blender out as quickly as possible. During this process, pieces of the Styrofoam box were broken off because of our aggressive movement. The unpleasant noise that ensued immediately made me want to clench my jaw and tighten my fists — worse than nails on a chalkboard. It tingled my brain and hurt my ears. 

Not only is Styrofoam’s sound unbearable, but its texture feels weird as well. It has a dubious consistency between being unnaturally smooth and having a sandy, almost grainy texture. 

Even worse, it combusts into millions of tiny pieces that stick to your skin and clothes, creating a snowstorm of mini ear torture devices that leaves a mess everywhere. When sliding my fingers down any Styrofoam object, the grip is unlike anything else I’ve felt. Even one slight movement while touching it will create a terrible screech, like a car tire urgently trying to stop a fast car.

I never had this issue with packing peanuts. Although they are made of a Styrofoam material too, they never make that squeaky sound. Naturally, though, my jokester dad caught me by surprise by ripping a peanut in half, while squeezing and rubbing it to generate maximum sound. I had no choice but to cover my ears and drown out my senses while desperately praying for my suffering to end. 

It’s interesting how certain sights and sounds can cause people to have certain reactions (extreme reactions, too). It’s hard to estimate how common this “phobia” of Styrofoam — Styrophobia — is because it is not clinically diagnosable. Another fellow Styrophobic, Carly Lanning from University of California, Irvine wrote a personal narrative on her hatred for the material. She likes to call it “the fear of the substance that shall not be named.”

I was surprised to know that other people shared the same weird and unique pet peeve. Lanning has also undergone similar experiences, especially in how she developed this phobia. 

“I started noticing the awful noise that is made when two pieces of Styrofoam rub together, started hating its texture and the sound of people playing with it would make me cringe and [feel] nauseous,” Lanning said. Just seeing the substance makes me instantly jumpy and irritated.”

Just like me! It’s nice knowing I’m not alone.

Such a phobia was started all because of an engineer named Otis Ray McIntire, the inventor of Styrofoam. How did he ever come up with the idea of this product? From World War I. It stemmed from a lack of rubber supply and McIntire wanted to create some other flexible insulator. His solution was to mix styrene with isobutylene, creating the material known as Styrofoam. Now it has become the world’s leading brand of insulation that is used in all sorts of buildings.

I’m not sure he knew about the soul-grating nature of his invention for people like me. Of course, I still use objects made of Styrofoam like cups, but I doubt I will overcome the disabling effects of that dreadful sound.

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