Sometime in the 1980s it was decided that the biggest threat to human existence was not disease or environmental disaster or crime or drugs or famine or political instability, but that a stranger would go into supermarkets, unscrew the tops of containers of juice and medicine, add harmful substances, screw the top back on, and walk away, leaving the tainted beverage or elixir for the unwitting consumer. I guess this actually happened a few times, because one day every container had an aluminum seal over the opening.
These aluminum seals are almost impossible to remove. There is usually a little flap that says “pull here” but this is just a joke at the consumer’s expense. The joke is particularly funny when the consumer is a coffee drinker trying to remove the seal to hazelnut creamer at 5 a.m., huffing and puffing, straining his deltoids, swearing loudly, pleading to deities, and finally reaching for the closest fork to poke a hole through the seal.
The aluminum seals are not the only part of the joke. The plastic pull-tops on cartons are great fun when the plastic ring comes off without the top. And sometimes there is not so much an added barrier as just a top that is more or less welded to the container.
One night my wife and I were getting ready to go out for the evening. She was taking longer than her usual three hours and I started getting worried.
“Honey,” I said through the door to the bathroom, “are you all right?”
She opened the door, apparently ready to go out, holding up to me a small green and pink container cylinder that I recognized from television as mascara. “I can’t get the top to this off. Can you try?”
Removing tops to containers is one of the few remaining ways to be a man in the modern world. I cherished the opportunity to slay the dragon. “Sure thing, honey.” I grabbed the container and pulled. And pulled and pulled. The top would not budge.
“Um, hang on a second,” I said, and went downstairs to my tool box. I grabbed the pliers and succeeded only in scratching up the shiny top to the mascara.
“What’s going on down there?” my wife shouted.
“Um, almost…got…it,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t give myself a hernia and have to forgo dessert. But my efforts were futile.
I left the basement, taking the pliers with me, and went next door to my neighbor. I showed him the scratched-up mascara container, the red marks on my hands, and the pliers. He took the mascara from me, and led me into his garage where he had a vise. He tightened the body of the mascara container in the vise, affixed a wrench to the top of the mascara, and pulled while I stood behind him and pulled on his shoulders. We heard a crack . “Almost,” my neighbor said. “We’re…almost…there…keep…pulling.”
And then the body of the mascara shattered under all the pressure. Black stuff spilled onto the garage floor. The mascara top was still screwed on to the broken top half of the mascara body, with the little brush poking through. I picked up the pieces, thanked my neighbor for his help, and walked home awashed in shame.
“Where have you been?” my wife asked. “We have to go. Did you get the top to the mascara off?”
“Oh, honey,” I said, “don’t I always say you don’t need makeup to look great?”