Friday, October 13, 2006

Sealed

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.

18 comments:

Thanu said...

Scissors always seems to work wonders for me

drifting leaf said...

brilliant my friend... oh and you can add those single solitary packs of mentos, halls, vicks to your list... drive me Craaazy...
cos by the time you get thru one of them with your teeth, you realise you've eaten half the damn thing mixed with the plastic wrapping... rarely have i had one without the flavor of plastic to give it that little extra...

ggop said...

How could you forget CDs in those horrible specialized CD shrink wrap which won't come off unless you have long nails?

Google "Steve Martin CD hell" to read an amusing piece he wrote for the New Yorker years ago.
gg

Cheshire Cat said...

Glad the rants are back. Was worrying that you'd mellowed...

It's all very well to talk about things, but how about people? Isn't it even harder to open them up? (Taking a holiday from the literal)

Anonymous said...

That's what the swiss knives were made for...Survival!

~N.

pegasus said...

i will die laughing... if i continue to read ur posts

Veena said...

Second Cat. We want more rants.

But seriously, do think there is a knack to these things. Just ask BM how these things work, she is capable of opening any sealed package in 2 seconds flat. Talking of knack, did you know about the time she managed to fit the diesel ka nozzle into her gasoline car ka fuel tank? So you see there are times when I am happy I don't possess this "knack".

Falstaff said...

thanu: True. But where's the challenge in that. Besides,that's assuming I can find my scissors, which is a whole other story.

leaf: Thanks. And yes. But then, throat lozenges are the spawn of the devil anyway, not only is their packing incredibly difficult to open, it also crackles loudly in the middle of concerts

ggop: Aaarggghhh! I knew I'd forgotten something. Yes, those CD wrappings are the worst ever.

cat: No chance of my mellowing. Don't think opening people up is that hard. It's closing them up again that's difficult. In both the literal and non-literal senses.

N: I guess - though again, I don't exactly carry a Swiss Army Knife on me at all times (actually I don't even own one). Now if only Homeland Security would let me wander around with my trusted Bowie knife...

pegasus: No, no, haven't you ever read Reader's Digest? Laughter is the best MEDICINE.

Veena: Will do. Envy BM. Do remember her fuelling misadventure, but given that I don't own a car and am fairly unlikely to ever work as part of Ferrari's Formula One pit stop team, would gladly accept a talent that lets me get to my snack foods sooner while making me a hazard to fossil fuels everywhere.

Tabula Rasa said...

next time, peel me a grape.

Nandu said...

Brilliant! You should add the wrapping on CDs to your list, they manage to make me gnaw at the edge of the case for a few hours before I realise that I am now making dents in the plastic of the actual case without even scratching the surface of that paper they manage to wrap it it.

Nath said...

That's what the swiss knives were made for...Survival!

You beat me to it. I keep one on my desk. I haven't gone hungry since I noticed that it has a can opener.

If there's anything in the theory of evolution, human beings will eventually evolve the right hand structures to open these packages.

See above.

Supremus said...

LOL - Brilliant. I share the same rants hehehe :D - now only if the packaging industry actually did something for mere mortals.

S

Chronicus Skepticus said...

And he's back!

Awesomely funny Falstaff.

But you know, there *is* a knack to these things. But it's top secret stuff, not the kind of thing you could write about on the internet.

Yeah, *that* secret.

Falstaff said...

tr: Ah, now see, my relationship with grapes is almost exclusively liquid. Why bother with the real things, I ask, when you can have them chilled and put in a bottle?

nandu: Yes, yes, I should have mentioned that. See my reply to ggop above.

nath: Hmmm...sounds like this swiss knife thing is worth looking into. See, I always thought the reason the swiss army gave it soldiers these super complicated knives was so they would have something to twiddle with through all the wars they stayed neutral in.

(though now that i think about it, maybe the causality worked the other way. Maybe they didn't fight because it took them three years just to get a platoon of men trained. "Atten-shun! Present corkscrews! No, no, Schlutz you moron! that's the can opener!")

supremus: Thanks

skepticus: Ah, one of those "I'd tell you, but I'd have to slit you open afterwards" things, is it?

Anonymous said...

http://cherylmills.blogspot.com/2006/10/fair-is-in-town.html

Tabula Rasa said...

surely you're not saying that you have a working relationship with a corkscrew?!

Ink Spill said...

One teeny tip:
The airport baggage tape has a joint at the bottom, which is easy to pull apart

Kirthi said...

Nice post :) I think the Goodnite mosquito mats are the worst!