Monday, June 14

A Good Reason To Hit The Bottle

Admittedly, this is a seemingly trivial problem, as are all the related problems I discuss subsequently, but it drives me certifiably bat-shit crazy, notwithstanding. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the following problems, though seemingly unrelated, are in fact constitutive of a profound and irremediable  flaw in the deepest foundations, ideologically and psychologically, of knowledge-based late / 21st-century capitalist economies. OK … enough preamble … this is my problem …

o You know those bottles of, e.g., hand soap and skin lotion you buy that have bottle caps that double as pump mechanisms?

Initially, in their right-off-the-shelf condition, those bottles’ pump mechanisms are all locked down to prevent accidental or inadvertent pumping-out of the contents. Quite reasonable! Quite prudent! So, In order to free up the pumper and thereby render it usable, and thus render the contents of the bottle accessible, you have to – do not ask me how – twist or unscrew or otherwise manipulate the pump mechanism so as to unlock the pumper and render it functional – and the contents of the bottle usable. My question is very simple:


I know how not to do it. The following do not work, at least in my experience. (However, there are exceptions … keep reading … ) I have tried unscrewing the knurled screw-on cap that houses the pump mechanism:  screwing it loose, then screwing it back on. (I judiciously omit the multiple puns on the word “screw’ that spring unbidden to mind as being inappropriate for a “family” column.) No joy. I have tried twisting and turning the pumper above the knurled cap this way and that – 180 degrees, 360 degrees, clockwise, counter-clockwise … you name it – and again, no joy. I have tried doing both unscrewing the knurled cap and simultaneously turning the pump mechanism. No joy.

But, at this point, matters become so positively mysterious as to verge on apophatic theology. I do know personally some people who have succeeded, and who routinely succeed, in activating the pumper mechanism. My wife is one. She does something-or-other to the cap and / or to the pumper, and KA-ZORCH the pumper obediently is coaxed into yielding up the bottle’s contents. I have even watched her do it. But when I try the same thing on a new bottle of hand soap … yep … you guessed it … no joy. I have visited friends’ houses, used their bathroom, and, in the process of washing my hands, observed bottles of hand soap with functional pumpers. I have even been tempted to yield to larcenous fantasies of stealing their activated bottles of hand soap, though so far I have resisted such kleptomaniacal blandishments.

The only solution I can conceive:  whatever deity, whatever god, whatever demiurge, whatever soap-sprite governs the operation of hand-soap-bottle pumpers simply does not love me, or, at least, loves my wife and my more fortunate friends more than he / she / it loves me. “Here endeth the lesson”.

But it is not just hand soap …

o We also have to consider the virtual inaccessibility of those infernal, religion-destroying, nihilism-inducing, psychosis-generating bubble-packs from hell that manufacturers of OTC medications – and even, e.g., AA batteries -- insist on wrapping around their merchandise.

I am thinking in particular of those 3-packs of Allegra, my own OTC anti-allergy med. It is great stuff -- if you can somehow contrive to extricate it from the damn bubble pack. Again, my wife is a virtuoso. I honestly think all she has to do is to recite the Allegra-equivalent of "Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair ..., " whereupon the bubble pack simply ... dissolves ... and lets the little bottles of Allegra fall free. Of course, then there is the problem of opening the damn Allegra bottle -- Allegra is especially demonic in this regard -- which seems to require turning the cap clockwise and simultaneously counter-clockwise while pulling up and down on the cap simultaneously -- or if my wife is around, just saying "Honey, I am having some problems here," whereupon she simply waves her hand gracefully, causing and the bottle to fall open, all without her taking her eyes from the latest Netflix episode of Foyle's War.

I cannot say for sure, but I have a strong suspicion that the manufacturers of bubble packs copied the perverse architecture of crab and lobster shells. I avoid both like Ebola Zaire. Yes, the lobster and crab meat are delicious. But to access same, you need a hammer and a knife made of surgical quality steel -- and comparable manual skills, neither of which I have. On those rare occasions when I have foolishly tried to eat crab, and especially lobster, I have ended up leaving perhaps a half-pint of blood on the tablecloth from lacerations of sharp shell fragments ... all in order to extricate a fragment of lobster or crab meat that would easily fit on my pinky- or thumb-nail. I walk away from the seafood restaurant looking like I have stuck both hands in a wood-chipper. Or I have to strike the shell with attention-attracting violence using a hammer provided for that purpose. (There is a wonderful scene in the movie Lincoln, where Lincoln's lieutenants, charged with rounding up votes for the upcoming passage of the 13th Amendment, are eating lobster at a DC seafood restaurant. One of those fellows picks up a mallet and strikes the lobster hard enough to produce a spray of shrapnel that would rival the detonation of an RPG round.) I like seafood, but prefer to devour it peacefully. Ditto my OTC meds:  the less shrapnel, preferably none at all, the better.

o Shrink-wrapped CDs / DVDs for music, video, and software

Fortunately, these are a thing of the recent past. My wife and I bought a new '18 Honda CRV, and there is no place to insert a music CD. By contrast, my '13 Nissan Altima has such a device. This is progress. It saves time. It saves injury. It saves blood. There is no way to open a new, shrink-wrapped disc that does not entail the loss of at least one of those 3. Now, of course, you download music and video to your smartphone and do not need razor blades, Exacto knives, or blood-transfusion instruments to extract the physical medium in question. And you play the audio from your smartphone over a Bluetooth link. The Red Cross should give Netflix some kind of humanitarian award for conservation of blood and plasma. I have lost fractions of liters of both trying to get the damn disc out of its skin-tight sheath. No more, thanks to Netflix and iTunes.

There is a still-deeper problem regarding inaccessible packaging that impinges on some conundra vis a vis 21st-century late capitalism. What does it say about companies that they so often expend Kilimanjaro-sized massifs of money and time developing consumer products -- which they then proceed to package in such a way as to almost seal that product away from the consumer being able to get at it? One would think that, having spent all that time and money on development, testing, and advertising, it would be in the companies' best interest to make the product as accessible as possible, be the product OTC allergy medicine, AA batteries, hand soap, or whatever.

There is also a theological dimension to this issue -- no, I am not joking! -- because, if I understand Christian theology aright, God created the world and all the creatures therein for the benefit and enjoyment of human beings, granted, with all the guard rails in place to do so responsibly so as to not despoil the natural environment. If that is indeed the case, then why would a good God create a crab or a lobster, presumably for human consumption -- then proceed to encase it in a shell that would stand a fair chance of being impervious to a Hellfire missile warhead, or that would, at the very least, wreak vengeance on anyone who tried to crack open the shell and consume it, which -- so says orthodox teleological Christian theology -- is the creature's raison d'etre in the first place? The latter issue alone fatally undermines the deepest foundations of intelligent-design, and certainly creationist, theology:  a God Who works at cross-purposes with Her- / Himself may be a Designer, but certainly not an intelligent one! One unsettling conclusion might be that, by designing inaccessible packaging, companies are, no doubt inadvertantly, emulating Christ's assertion that "I only do what I see the Father do".  

Yes, yes, yes! I freely and unreservedly admit that all the above are very much First World problems to us coddled and over-privileged denizens of the affluent sectors of the West. That my iPhone cord will not reach to my bed does not rival the Apocalypse. That my iPhone is only 4G capable, and not yet 5G, is not (yet?) worth a panic attack.

Still ... I get into a lather because, with the soap trapped in the un-pump-able bottle, I cannot get into a lather. So stone me and thereby make me feel taken for "granite". Shower me with insults. Accuse me of rank heresy, if you wish. Try me before an ecclesiastical, Galileo-like court, and sentence me to execution. As long as the soap is trapped in an un-pump-able bottle, bombarding me with rocks is probably the only kind of shower I am likely to get.

James R. Cowles

Image credits

Blister pack for meds ... Maksym Kozlenko ... Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
Pump bottles ... Ronggy ... Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
Blister pack for red pills ... ... Public domain
Shrink-wrapping CDs ... RLSOMERS17 ... Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0
Lobster ... MaxPixel ... Public domain
Crab mallet ... Cameron's seafood ... Public domain
iTunes logo ... Apple ... Public domain
God creating Adam ... Michelangelo ... Public domain
Man peeking through sky to see Heaven ... Camille Flammarion ... Public domain

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