Modern Packaging 101

The excitement of a new purchase, tempered by need for a knife

Hank McFarland

After 17-plus years of schooling, including Ms. Foster’s happy days kindergarten, 12 years of the Concord, N.H., public school system, 4 years of college, and a bit of grad school, it is time, at the ripe old age of 74, to go back to school.

What cause, you may rightly ask, would be powerful enough to drive me back to an academic environment which, for the most part, I hated all through my developing years?

The answer is simple. My very existence is currently being threatened by my inability to deal with modern-day packaging. Surely my education up to now has been inadequate when I cannot open an ordinary bottle of Clorox, or when I bring home a bottle of Tylenol from the drugstore, and it takes me 15 minutes and a raging headache to pry through the intense packaging which is separating me from the relief I so desperately seek from the very headache which was brought on by the packaging in the first place.

Actually, the whole situation began about six years ago when I made the mistake of purchasing a new toothbrush. I popped it into my travel case so that I would have it available the next time I needed to brush my teeth away from home.

About seven weeks later I found myself at a meeting in Tucson, Arizona. It was a 7 a.m. meeting, and I found myself running a little late as I unzipped my travel case and prepared to brush my teeth. Ten minutes later, with no scissors or other household utensils at my disposal, I was in a fury as I wrestled to open my new toothbrush. In desperation I placed it on the bathroom floor and jumped on it. I was rewarded with a crunching, cracking sound. Soon I was able to extradite my new toothbrush from a mass of shattered plastic.

I sheepishly apologized for being late to the meeting for “personal reasons” but declined to go into detail.

The next incident came about with the purchase of some sort of new cable for my printer or my computer: I really can’t remember which because I have tried to blot the experience from my memory.

What I do recall is that I received a small gash on the back of my left hand from some sharp, heavy duty plastic that I had managed to break open by twisting each end of the container in opposite directions. When I say heavy duty plastic, I mean it was practically bullet proof. I believe plastic is a derivative of petroleum, and, if we are serious about energy independence, we could make a good start by outlawing the use of plastic of such incredible durability in packaging. Not only did I cut myself, but the heavy twisting motion I exerted caused my tennis elbow, silent for over two decades, to reassert itself.

Fortunately I have found an institution which can provide me with the ammunition to overcome this frustration with modern day packaging. I’m sorry, but this institution must remain nameless for now, because the demand for this course is overwhelming and the class space is limited. After I get mine, you can have yours; that is, if you are fighting the same sickness that I am.

I will copy the course synopsis for you so that you can appreciate the feeling of relief that I felt upon learning that there really was a place capable of fulfilling my dream of having the confidence to tackle the difficult task of unwrapping assorted merchandise in today’s world.

MODERN PACKAGING 101: Dr Heidi Goseeki:  Meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two hours beginning at 10 a.m. Afternoon lab mandatory. Participants will study the psychology of modern packing with an objective of developing an understanding of today’s sellers of stuff. Special emphasis will be placed on the manufacturers of electronic equipment and assorted drugs and their need to protect themselves against light-fingered patrons. Students attending this course must satisfy the following requirements:

A. Students must demonstrate a high degree of hand, eye coordination and proof of good physical condition prior to the commencing of this course.

B. Students must undergo a psychological examination to prove emotional stability before undertaking the rigors of this course.

C. Students must bring to class a tool kit containing a minimum of 20 tools designed for the purpose of cutting, dicing, slicing, prying, prodding and hammering.

Eureka!  I just completed my first day of class with the attendant lab work. Doctor Goseeki is a gem. She got my full attention right at the beginning of class when she told the story of her 65-year-old father who died at the hands of his new computer. You can easily understand how it happened. Exhausted by the task of unwrapping reams and reams of tape, plastic and Styrofoam, he was in the process of dragging his new computer from the box when he lost his balance and toppled in. According to Heidi, he put up one hell of a fight but unfortunately the Styrofoam and tape just closed in around him and after about 20 minutes of flailing around, he suffocated.

Doctor Goseeki, no doubt influenced by the untimely demise of her father, recommends serious body building to her classes. She suggests hiring a personal trainer and undergoing six months of intensive workouts before attempting to unwrap anything more serious than a half gallon of orange juice. Even then, she urges caution as those little pop-up plastic gizmos in the half gallon orange juice containers could fly loose under pressure, and it would be possible to swallow one. “Keep your mouths closed when pulling the plug!” I believe was her admonition to the class.

The first hour of our class was taken up mostly by Doctor Goseeki giving an in-depth review of the hazards of modern packaging. I will tell you that if you were not concerned about this issue before the class began, you should be now. In fact, concerned is not the proper word. Frightened out of your wits would probably be a better description.

Would you believe that 32% of big city hospital emergency room cases originate with some poor clueless individual trying to open some product that he or she just purchased? It’s a fact, right out of Heidi’s mouth. Or would you believe that more people die each year from “packaging accidents” then from plane crashes? Once again, a verifiable fact right from my teacher.

The second hour of class was spent listening to the students. One by one they got to their feet and told harrowing stories on the same issue.

One young man, probably only in his late twenties, told the story of trying to open a beer as he was driving on an interstate. The little pull tab didn’t budge easily, and so he placed the beer between his legs and used both hands to yank on it. It gave away suddenly, causing him to lose control of his vehicle, and he ended up upside down in the median strip. His car was totaled, he broke one arm and a leg, suffered some cuts and bruises, and his beer spilled.

A middle-aged lady stood and related an incident involving tennis balls. She got up early one morning to meet a friend for a little tennis. Upon arriving at the courts she realized she had forgotten to bring any tennis balls. She went to the pro shop and bought a new can of three fresh balls. When she pulled the zip lock on the can, the first ball flew out and hit her on her lip, causing it to swell and turn purple. On a scale of one to ten, this incident was probably only a two, but imagine how this poor lady would have felt if her daughter were getting married that afternoon and she had to show up with a puffy, purple lip.
One by one, more than 15 classmates rose to tell stories of how their lives had been disrupted by modern packaging. Do you want to know what I compare it to? I would say it was like an old-fashioned revival meeting, with people jumping to their feet to confess their sins.

Eventually I was moved to tell my Clorox story.

It happened in Florida. Upon our arrival in the autumn my wife and I found a small area on the outside balcony which had experienced a little mildew over the summer. We drove to the supermarket and purchased a new bottle of bleach.

When I twisted on the cap to remove it, nothing happened. The next event involved a short search for my glasses.

Reading the instructions, I found out that I should push down on the cap as I simultaneously turned it.

No luck!

“Here” my wife said, “you must be getting weak. Let me try it.”

Still no luck!

That’s when I persuaded her to call Sam. Sam is our 84-year-old neighbor who never refuses a call for help.

Sam arrived in no time and dutifully climbed on top of the little Clorox bottle cap. Meanwhile I got out some heavy-duty pliers and lying on the floor managed to get them around the cap just under Sam’s foot as he balanced on the cap.

Knowing I was dealing with a tough customer, I gave an enormous sudden twist.

When Sam finally managed to stagger to his feet he was soaked from head to toe in Clorox. Add to that my wrist hurt almost as badly as my tennis elbow. There was one good thing to this incident, however. Sam smelled the best he had in the last four years since his wife passed away.

That was the last story of the morning class, and everyone was glad to break for lunch. Doctor Goseeki accompanied us to the cafeteria, and I will tell you that for a bunch of strangers who had never met each other until two hours ago we had an animated and enjoyable lunch.

At 1 p.m. we gathered in the lab.

The afternoon was spent learning the proper usage of various tools. There were tools to penetrate impenetrable casings, tools to cut plastics designed to resist the sharpest of blades, and first-aid kits to repair the damage caused by the improper or careless use of the above tools. It was an exciting and gratifying afternoon.

That evening, as I lay in bed reconstructing the day, my heavy heart was filled with new hope that someday soon, maybe even before the first semester is over, my troubles with modern day packaging might be over. I will live again. I will go to the mall and return without fear.

Go to Letters in December,2008

November, 2008