Friday, January 17, 2014


     THE OTHER DAY I had a nasty fight with a bag of peanuts. I was sitting on a plane and starving--with a little bag of nuts that was as defiant as one of my cats, the one that won’t let you pet him in the morning. Here was a bag that wouldn’t let you break it open—not from the left, the right, nor across the top.
     Rob says the core issue was arthritis and I swear it wasn’t. It was idiot manufacturing. I’m no weaker than I was a few years ago, and no dumber, either, so surely I can always outwit a mere cellophane bag. (Or whatever it is, technically). There must be a tiny slit, I thought, examining the bag from all sides, or an arrow, or an indentation that tells me where to pull.
     Doesn’t every manufacturer offer a clue about retrieving his product? Even if, like my favorite brand of bacon, the clue doesn’t work?
     Apparently not. There I sat with a clueless bag . . . and a growing sense that, ounce for ounce, there is no stronger material in everyday use than this peanut wrap. They ought to use it for parachutes.   
     Finally, with both hands pulling in opposite directions, I tried separating front from back, but the two sides clung to each other like desperate lovers.   
     Never mind that I consider myself reasonably strong and my fingernails even stronger, the bag won out. Unless I was willing to chew up the package in one lump, cellophane and all, I was doomed to go peanutless.
     I looked around for something . . . a sharp edge on the seat, a protruding nail, but all I saw with tool potential was the guy sitting across the aisle.
     With a smile I leaned across and handed him my little bag. “Please, can you open this?” 
     He was obviously still in his prime—loaded with testosterone. With a mighty wrench he pulled on the bag, letting only a peanut or two escape before he handed it back, nodding in some kind of personal triumph.
     “Thanks,” I said. But I was thinking, Oh, how godly are men. Men who can open things.

     ANY THINKING PERSON CAN see there’s a conspiracy afoot in our country--a conspiracy to make us eat less by making each and every ingredient difficult or impossible to get at. When Rob and I go to a ball game and order a hot dog, I sometimes forget that the mustard comes in flat packets of a few drops each, so you need seven of them . . . that it takes vampire teeth to make the first puncture, then a mighty twist from what are soon mustard-covered fingers. Then a napkin to remove the portion that squirted onto your shirt. Such is the level of unpleasantness that sometimes, before I order the hot dog, I check out the mustard. If it doesn’t flow freely, I skip the dog and go for the ice cream.   
     The trend toward packaging in open-proof containers is now everywhere. And never mind that I do have arthritis. The last time I bought a curling iron it was sealed up with stiff plastic on the front and impenetrable cardboard on the back—the kind against which even the strongest, non-arthritic hand is useless.    
     Which goes as well for Rob’s new screwdriver . . . enclosed in a container that required a much larger screwdriver to stab it open—except he ended up using a screwdriver plus a hammer.
     You soon realize this problem isn’t us--it’s them!
     While I was speaking at a conference recently, a woman  graciously handed me a bottle of water. But it was one of those newer bottles, with the cap so ultra narrow it provided no place to grip. I had to put it aside and go on talking. As a friend said later, “To drink the water you have to behead the bottle.”
     The tightly-screwed jelly jar lid is no longer symbolic of all that is wrong with today’s industrial packaging.
     Rob, no longer a kid (and in spite of sore fingers), can open the toughest jelly jar with a fierce grimace and a loud grunt. But give him a little squishy container of mustard, or worse, a wrench that is contained within one of those see-through packages—where you can view the tool but never quite reach it—and he’s as frustrated as though he was once again a boy of ten.
     “It’s sealed for the ages,” he says, pounding the container with a butcher knife.     
     Never a patient man, he finally tosses the thing on the carpet. “No sense my trying to open it. They designed this package for the Time Capsule. To break into it you’d need the Jaws of Life.”    
     Few of these problems have much to do with our being Seventy. It’s only because of living this long that we’ve personally witnessed the evolution of wrapping things up--from the simple dropping of merchandise off the shelf into an open brown paper bag, to the demonic packaging of today.
     One of my friends noted that you can purchase a special kind of scissors for opening such containers. Which I’d buy, if only they were loose on the shelf. But they’re not, they’re sealed up like priceless museum pieces. Even my cat, who can dismember the toughest rat, would not be able to reach it. 
     For you women who don’t carry scissors in your purse, you can just forget about the peanuts.

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