Do you ever get the feeling that the entire packaging industry is just one big conspiracy to make you look like a cretin?
It all begins with those tiny little vacuum sealed packs of peanuts - the kind they hand out on flights along with the drinks service. In theory, these things are supposed to fly open at the twitch of your fingers. In actual fact, they're more likely to resist your advances with all the stubbornness of the armies defending Troy; or your high school prom date. You'll try every conceivable trick to open them - pinch the two sides between your fingers and pull in opposite directions, try tearing across the line of the top seal, search desperately for that miniscule little arrow that says 'tear here'. All to no avail. By the time you get down to using your teeth or forcing the issue with the nib of a pen, your muttered complaints will have alerted all your fellow passengers to your distress, and they will proceed to stare at the frightening spectacle of an adult human reduced to the frenzy of a gibbering monkey, all for the sake of a handful of peanuts. It doesn't matter that you understand quantum theory or can do complicated long-division sums, the fact that this pint-sized packet of nuts defeats you brands you forever in their minds as one of nature's mistakes.
And it isn't just packets of peanuts (or chips, or biscuits, or sundry other snacks) that do this to you. There are also the bottles of pills that simply will not open, no matter how hard you push down and turn 'this way'; the beverage cans whose rings break off before the flap pops, leaving you with a drink that can only be opened with a screwdriver; the sachets of ketchup that open no more than a pinhole, so that squeezing on them sends a jet of red liquid all over your trousers; the straws you simply cannot extract from their transparent plastic sheaths. There are the envelopes that tear themselves to shreds the minute you run your finger through the seam, so that your mail looks as though it had been ransacked by Captain Hook. There are the security bands that they put on your bags at airports so that just getting to your toothbrush afterwards involves a half hour of anxious sawing with a blunt key. There is, memorably immortalised in Seinfeld, the packing of condoms that proves impossible to undo at the critical moment. Forget castration anxiety - the single most emasculating experience for the modern male is the feeling you get when you spend twenty minutes straining at the lid of a jam jar and the damn thing still won't budge. You pretend that your hands are sweaty, of course, or that you just can't get a grip because the surface is too smooth - but in your heart of hearts you know - you just aren't man enough.
It's as though the makers of packing material everywhere were members of some occult religion, who believed that it wasn't enough for us to simply buy these things with money - we had to earn them by going through the extra effort of actually extracting them from the paraphenalia they come wrapped in. The fruit of labour is sweet, they think, especially when you've spent the last five minutes chewing through plastic coated aluminium foil to get to it.
My own sense is that this will all end badly. Sooner or later someone will come up with an even more airtight way of wrapping cereal bars and frozen vegetable packets, and we will all starve to death while trying to claw open that last packet of trail mix. The army will be called out to help, nuclear weapons will be deployed to blast open packs of Sour Cream and Onion Lays and none of it will do any good. Mankind shall go to its grave secure in the knowledge that the last packet of potato chips shall remain, as it was packed, untouched by hand.
Things may not get so bad, I suppose. If there's anything in the theory of evolution, human beings will eventually evolve the right hand structures to open these packages. Snip and reseal fingers will become the essence of our survival - never mind the opposable thumb. Only people like me, who have trouble getting into their own Ziplocs, will die out.
People who I've confessed my misery to tell me that there's a knack to these things. I'm fairly doubtful about this - largely because people who profess to understand the 'technique' to opening things tend to have completely different approaches from each other (and have an embarassing tendency to fail when one puts them to the test). But if there really is a science to this stuff, why don't they put the damn thing on the packet? Many's the time when I've wept with frustration staring at the instructions on a packet of food that describes every step required to convert the contents into a delicious meal, except the crucial first step of actually getting the outer covering open (at most they'll say something unhelpful like - take contents out of packing - as though I couldn't have figured that out for myself).
Better yet, why don't they teach this stuff to us in school instead of filling our heads with geography and civics? What does it profit a man that he can tell the Dneiper from the Danube if opening a packet of munchies is beyond him? I imagine proud parents bragging to each other about how little Johnny is only four but he can already pry open the seals of orange juice tetra packs without spilling. "Go ahead, open it!" they'll say, giving eight year old Suzanne her first stapled AND scotch-taped envelope, in celebration of her getting an A in Advanced Letter-Opening (the one where they teach you how to open inland letters without tearing away half the words). And of course, tasks as advanced as opening a bottle of wine will be left to the PhDs. "Leave it to me", our hero will say, "my dissertation was on corks that disintegrate into the chardonnay just when you think you've managed to pry them loose".
In the meantime, if there is a secret method to opening vacuum sealed packs, it isn't just a closed book to me, it's a book that's been tightly sealed in cling film, buried under bubble wrap and thrust into a cardboard Amazon carton that's been cello-taped in at least five different places to make sure I can't get through.