Dec 4, 2020

The Package Conspiracy: Thou Shalt Not Open Stuff Easily

As gift exchanging holidays approach, some words of caution

By Ed Goldman

Conspiracy theorists unite! Unless I’m exaggerating, which I wouldn’t do in a billion years, there’s a worldwide effort to convince those who don’t suffer from arthritis to suspect that they do­—and to convince those who know they have it to fear it’s growing within their bodies at an exponential rate!

The culprits: Packagers of everything from talcum powder to CDs, from orange juice to computers, from ballpoint pens to butter in tubs, from reading glasses to snap-top pet food. 

And new shirts—with their hundreds of unnecessary pins, some of which you don’t find until you unfold and put on the shirt and suffer tiny little cuts in the back of your neck and inside of your wrists.

Paper products may be the worst offenders. Ever try to open a mega-pack of two-ply Charmin®, a box of Kleenex® so the first and subsequent tissues pop up as needed or a ream of 500 sheets for your computer? 

What about a bundle of festive holiday napkins (”¡Feliz día de los Muertos”!”) or plain-white sanitary ones (your answer, “Well, that Depends®,” will not be acceptable)?

How about a jar of Bubbie’s kosher dill pickles? This one drives me crazy—admittedly, a short drive—because as I’m struggling to tear the plastic that hermetically seals the jar lid, the enticing scent of the pickles seeps out, torturing me as I struggle to free them from their briny prison.

Push Pin Travel Maps

Anything delivered by Amazon seems to be deciding, upon reaching my home, if it really wants to live here. (I often suspect the merchandise notices my cat, Osborn the Magnificent—and, knowing he’ll rip the wrapping to shreds, fake allergy attacks.)

Ever started a roll of calculator tape without tearing up the first several inches of it? Similarly, ask a cashier still using an out-of-date register about the joys of starting and installing a new roll of tape. 

Have you ever separated a pair of chopsticks successfully—meaning that when you were done they were of equal lengths and widths, requiring very little whittling on your part? (The owner of a Japanese restaurant once asked a friend of mine who was ferociously “evening” up his chopsticks if he were trying to  start a fire.)

Gents: When you buy a new suit or sportscoat, are you embarrassed to ask someone to help you open the pockets, which have been sewn together for shipping? Readers of a Certain Age: Have you ever tried to open a packet of Microfiber Lens Wipes (“pre-moistened!”) to clean the reading glasses you no doubt bought at Rite-Aid, CVS or an equally qualified institution of ocular science? To rub salt in the wound, try doing it without wearing the glasses you hope to clean.     

“The outlet whisperer at 8 months.” Painting by Jane Goldman

It’s one thing for a product’s lid or wrapping to be tamper-resistant. It’s quite another for it to be human-resistant. Which brings me to my closing story for today.

When my daughter Jessica was a very little girl, my wife Jane and I did the responsible-parent thing by child-proofing with screw-on covers all of the electrical outlets in the house. A few weeks later, we needed the services of an electrician to repair a short in an outlet in one of the bathrooms. At this age, Jessica walked and quacked but still didn’t form complete sentences, though we usually knew what she wanted by how she phrased her go-to request, “Buh?” (It stood for, among other things, her need for her blanket, stuffed doggie, snacks and hugs.)

She also liked following around the electrician, a kindly guy in his late 50s who seemed to love children. He was working in the bathroom when we suddenly heard him roar with laughter. I thought maybe he discovered we’d simply forgot how to hit the reset switch on our failed outlet, one of my persistent flaws as a homeowner. But when we reached the bathroom, he was holding the childproof cover in his hand. “I couldn’t see this well enough to take off the outlet,” he said, Jessica standing by with her blanket up to her mouth, barely concealing a very self-satisfied grin. “Your little girl took my screwdriver and did it.”

Discussing it later, my wife thought our daughter had watched me put the covers on in the first place and figured out how to reverse the process. This would have made her, in my mind, a mechanical-engineering prodigy, which my wife didn’t dispute. Mommies are like that. 

All I know is that the next time I have to open anything troublesome—which for me, is just about everything—I’m going to get my daughter on a Zoom call from Dallas, where she currently lives, to talk me through the process. I hope she still has that blanket.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).