Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Squeezable Ketchup* – These are the good ‘ole days

What is the most important invention since sliced bread? The squeezable ketchup bottle, of course. Or is it?

We like squeezable ketchup because we like our French fries hot. One quick squeeze and the fries are doused, ready for munching. We don’t have time to wait for the red guck to glug out of a glass bottle anymore.

The classic TV commercials for Heinz (or was it Hunts) played the Carole King song “Anticipation” while showing ketchup moving with agonizing slowness down the neck of a glass ketchup bottle.

what made that commercial work was sticking together a feel good song and taste good condiment which made us forget the hassle of getting ketchup onto fries in a timely manner by a fault in condiment container design and implementation. It wasn’t a problem of lack of technology. You could go into a restaurant and squeeze your ketchup (and mustard) from a plastic bottle that the waitresses would slowly fill every morning from the original glass bottle. Let her wait, I want it now! It took the cold fries of some ketchup container engineer to eliminate the waitress and sell ketchup in a squeezable plastic bottle. Eliminate the wait. Clean your plate. No time to hesitate.

If ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise (yuck) and even grape jelly are available in such quick and easy to use squeeze bottles why would they even to bother selling glass bottles of the stuff? It goes back to Carole King’s song, "Anticipation". Even in our hurry up I need it now lives we still like to anticipate some things. Take Christmas for example. We wait all year for Holloween to hurry up and get over with (unless you are a pagan) so we can get on with anticipating the arrival of Christmas. We order junk we don’t need through catalogs, the internet or on TV so we can anticipate its arrival in a box on our doorstep.

Usually the anticipation of something feels better than the actual item or event. We anticipate the new 52" high definition plasma TV Aunt Martha is going to give us for Christmas, but we get socks instead. We long for the arrival of the E-bay auction only to find that Elvis' gold ring is actually Elva's old bling. There are, of course, exceptions. For Christians, being in heaven is far better than the anticipation of it. If you are sick, being well is better than getting well.

When we are obliged to wait we make of it what we can, but when we have a choice, why wait, even if we are sentimental about 70’s love ballads. Getting ketchup onto our fries leaves us options. Why would I choose to wait for ketchup to slowly sludge its way from a glass bottle when I have the choice to take a shortcut with a quick squeeze?

Waiting can have its own mental benefits, even if we don't always have the choice. If you obsess about your fries getting cold while shaking a bottle, then anticipation is detrimental to your mental health. If, however, you enjoy the time you spend waiting on Christmas relishing how happy your nephew will be with a new 52” plasma TV you are mentally healthy.

Given a choice between enjoying the wait and can’t wait to get it over, most people choose to get it over with quickly and lose out on any missed benefits of embracing the wait. Take for instance revenge. Revenge is a dish best served cold, is it not? How about getting old? We can’t avoid it, but aging gracefully is better than worrying about something we can’t avoid… (unless we burn up before we burn out) but that takes me off the subject… as if I was sticking to the subject anyway!

But sticking to the subject, or sticking to the bottle in this case, is really what sticking it out it is all about. Carole King says, “Anticipation, is making me late, is keeping me wai-ai-aiting”. Ketchup stuck in a bottle is making me wait. FedEx is making me wait (but not more than 24 hours). Christmas is December 25th, not tomorrow (unless it is Dec. 24th and then it still seems like it takes forever to get here).

But, good old Carol has obviously spent some time with French fries and put her sticking time to good philosophical use when she finished the song with,
“And tomorrow, we might not be together
I'm no prophet, Lord I don't know nature's ways
So I'll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days”.

So, the next time I am sticking it to my ketchup bottle by pounding on the little Heinz logo on the neck of the bottle to make it flow faster like the urban legend contends, I will let my fries cool a little and anticipate the virtue of sticking it out.

A Robservation

* The word ketchup comes from the Chinese kêtsiap, meaning a fermented fish sauce, probably via the Malay word kechap, now spelled kecap, which means soy sauce. The word was brought back to Europe by Dutch traders who also brought the oriental sauce itself.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Bathtub Drain - Life Lessons Learned

I live in an old house, with old plumbing. So, I accept certain things like drains running slowly. No amount of plunging, cussing or caustic cleaners has cleared my pipes enough to let my bathtub drain completely at the end of a shower. There is always a pool of water and soap froth left in the tub. The water eventually recedes like the tide, but the soap sludge accumulates creating a high water mark of muck and discarded beer cans (just kidding about the beer cans).

This has not been a problem for me since I am the only one who uses the shower and I didn’t really care about the soapy tide line around the tub that revealed my bachelor liaise-faire attitude between cleanings (which, of course, is a semi-annual event).

Recently I placed my house up for sale. This meant I had to keep it spotless; as if I didn’t actually live there. I have become my own hotel maid. Every morning before I leave home I have to make sure it looks like no-one lives here. Potential buyers would not feel my slovenly presence and thus could dream about making the house their own free from the wreak and dross I have tainted it with. (Hey, I was able to use the word dross in a sentence not related to a church hymn!). Forbid it that I should burst their bubble of delicious soapy showers free of corroded pipe induced soap sludge trauma.

Keeping the bathtub dross free (yet another dross!!) was just one hassle. At the end of a shower I had to impatiently wait while the water waited to trickle down the congested pipes like people queuing for relief after a hurricane. Then I had to wipe up the residual soap foam with my towel to make the tub spotless again. (Another issue was what to do with the wet towel. I couldn’t leave it hanging over my shower rod as usual, so I resorted to folding it back up, wet, and sticking it back in my newly neat and orderly linen closet).

I imagine that you, like me, have a showering ritual/habit. Some may wash their hair first and the body second. Others do the opposite. And others have rituals that I do not care to conjure up in my mind.

My ritual is hair first, body second. Don’t ask me why. It is like different ways of tying shoes or putting on pants or shirt first. Each person has their own automatic way of doing everyday things.

Yesterday, in one of my many shower inspired world saving ideas, I came up with another plan. Instead of washing my hair first, I decided to wash it second. Don’t ask me why. You might as well ask a mouse why it turned left, not right in a maze after 3,000 right turns. It just happened.

After finishing my new shift in showering order and turning off the spigot, I glanced down and saw only water waiting to leave the building. There was no soap bubble meringue left. “Hey”, I exclaimed to no one but the cat, who was somewhere else in the house. “I don’t have to wipe out the tub this morning!”

Upon careful analysis of my ritual reversal I determined that my shampoo left less foam in the tub than my ocean breeze scented body wash did. Plus, the act of rinsing my hair (which, by scientific shower head placement) occurred directly over the drain which broke up the soap slag and left only water to meander down the semi-clogged pipes.

The simple act of reversing my habit solved one of my house selling problems.

Life lesson? I need to examine my rituals and habits from time to time. By simply re-arranging the order by which I habitually do things, I may be able to solve a problem without resorting to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Maybe tomorrow I can figure out how to dry off with a towel without getting it wet…

A Robservation