Who cares? Writing and soda should be good till the last drop

It was Mother’s Day at Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church in Guilderland. The service, featuring heavenly sounds from the very musical choir and organist (my lovely wife, who I love to hear play) had just ended.

Normally, I’d leave at this point but we had a friend visiting so I went for coffee time, trying hard not to spoil my diet with all the cakes and cookies just begging to be eaten — a very nice way to start Mother’s Day.

As I’m standing there, two lovely ladies, dressed in their Sunday finest and obviously a mother-daughter pair, approach me.

“Aren’t you the one that writes for The Enterprise?” the mom asked me.

While I don’t get to church that often, or even around town that much, I get this all the time. The power of the written word!

“Yep, that’s me,” I replied, and we had a wonderful conversation about my columns, which they love.

Imagine that. Made my day for sure.

The big thing they wanted to know was how I decide what to write about, since it’s always something different. I told them I just write about whatever I’m thinking about at the time — “Thinking about Things” is the column’s name after all.

For example, I said, you know how, when you drink soda from a can, when you’re almost done, no matter how much you tilt your head, you can never get that last little drop that hides behind that little bit of lid under the hole?

This was something I’d been thinking about writing about for a while. It bothers me because you paid for the soda but can’t get it all.

At this point, the mom, wearing her pretty Sunday hat, looks up at me and belts out, “Who cares!”

I thought that was just great. Moms rock.

I remember one of the first pieces I saw Andy Rooney do on 60 Minutes. It was about paper clips. You wouldn’t think there’s much to say about paper clips, but that was the genius of Andy Rooney — he could take something we all take for granted, like paper clips, and make you think about them in new ways. Great stuff.

That’s creative nonfiction, and that’s what I try to do. The vagaries of real life, including the nuances of paper clips and that little drop of soda left in the can, endlessly fascinate me.

Another writer in the same vein is Nicholson Baker. Check out his book, A Box of Matches. He uses simple things, in this case a box of matches, to reflect on life. This to me is creative writing at its best, to take the tactile feel of a box of matches and just riff on that.

Drilling down like this, focusing on something rather ordinary to bring out larger truths, that, my friends, is real writing. I may know you, but when I know how you feel about a match, I can’t help but know you better.

Let’s get back to the soda. You paid for it yet you can’t get it all. I have similar experiences all the time.

My favorite mustard has always been Gulden’s Spicy Brown. A few years ago, Gulden’s came out with a squeeze bottle. This bottle works well when it’s full, but, in time, you get to a point where there’s plenty of mustard left but you can’t get it out. Very frustrating.

You can try angling a knife in there but it’s not easy. The other day, I got so fed up I actually cut the bottle in half and used a spatula to transfer the remaining mustard to a little container. Would you believe I got about a quarter cup of mustard out? That’s a lot of mustard!

Same thing with toothpaste. When you can’t squeeze any more out, there is still a lot left in there. I didn’t go to school for packaging science, but I think it’s clear there needs to be some improvement in this area. You paid for the product so you should be able to get all of it.

Microwave popcorn has been around for years. My microwave oven even has a popcorn mode, where it can sense the pops and know when to turn off.

When I pop a bag, I invariably get a whole lot of un-popped kernels. Why is this? Why can we send men to the moon but not figure out how to nuke popcorn?

The other night I got so frustrated with this I crunched up the bag with the un-popped kernels and put it back in the microwave. I admit I was kind of nervous about this — I’d never tried to re-pop popcorn before — but, surprisingly, it worked. The bag expanded without blowing up and most of the un-popped kernels popped. Hooray.

I could go on — try getting the last pickle half out of a jar without resorting to a fork; it’s just about impossible. Or try tasting non-fat, no-sugar-added ice cream — ugh. Or trying to keep track of all your passwords (ridiculous, there has to be a better way). But I think you get the drift.

There are so many little things like this that just bug you because you know they are frustrating and it wouldn’t take much to make them better. Oh well, I must be doing all right if these are the things I have to complain about.

Who cares? I do for one, but you knew that already.