Locations & Times

Stress and Ketchup

Feverish excitement broke out in the Lucas household this week, and all because of the arrival of tomato ketchup.

by Jeff Lucas on May 13, 2022

Feverish excitement broke out in the Lucas household this week, and all because of the arrival of tomato ketchup. A confession like that probably paints us as a sad family that needs to get out more, if we get giddy and don party hats every time the groceries arrive. But this was no ordinary ketchup.

The Heinz Company, ever eager to improve on perfection, has produced what looks like an upside down ketchup bottle, with the cap on the bottom. This simple revolution means that the red stuff is always pulled down by gravity, and so no shaking is needed and there’s no delay when we want to garnish our eggs (an odd English habit).

The quick-on-the-draw idea was born when Heinz asked customers how their iconic product could be improved. “They told us the ketchup is perfect the way it is," said a spokesman. "Their concerns were more about access." And so the boffins at ketchup central went back to the drawing board, and the new packaging means that we now live in the age of spring-loaded sauce. “Ketchup ready when you are!” chortles the label.

Hallelujah, it’s celebration time. As a quickaholic, (my name is Jeff, and I haven’t got time to tell you my last name), I’ve always found the two-second shake-and-wait with the sauce so very frustrating. I eat at high speed, as if I fear that someone’s about to pilfer my chicken, and I prefer the shampoo with the conditioner combined; it saves me the time that it takes to rinse.

And speaking of showers, I begin most days slightly damp, because I don’t like to hang around to fully dry off. Seconds matter. When my computer takes longer than usual to download my emails, I twitch, and fear that it’s turning into Stephenson’s Rocket. I know that life is a marathon, and is designed to be a comfortable jog, but I tend to tackle it at a sprint, and feel stressed out by dashing.

Ironically, by going fast, I end up being late. Trying to squeeze too much in before I drive to an appointment, I calculate precisely how much time is needed for the journey, fret all the way and pray for red lights to turn green, and arrive white knuckled, agitated – and delayed. And I create complicated (and yet more time consuming) problems by reacting rather than responding, rushing with mad haste to press send in response to an irritating email.

Perhaps worst of all, life in the fast lane becomes a blur. Laugh out loud moments that should be savored are left behind in the dust as I move on to the next thing.

My fear is that I am going to continue to hurtle through the whole of my life at a rate of knots, which will lead to my (premature) death. When they throw me in the grave, my body will thrash around for three days just because of the momentum. My challenge isn’t jet lag. I think it’s life lag. As Lily Tomlin famously said, in the rat race, even if you win, you’re still a rat.

And so I’m asking Jesus, who was not only the Prince of Peace, but the Prince of Poise with it, to help me to brake before I break. I can’t rent a monk’s habit and go all contemplative, or abandon my responsibilities. But I can stop to breathe, allow laughter to linger, refuse to allow the schedule to become a god, and leave on a journey an hour early so that it becomes a trip and not a race. I can spend more time doing frivolous and useless things, just for the sake of doing them. I can celebrate a sunset, lest creation struts her stuff and there be no applause from me in response.

Of course, all this slowing down is easier said than done. I’m tapping away at my keyboard furiously in order to get this piece completed before dinner. And now I’m being summoned, prompting faster keystrokes. I’ll be there, as per old time ketchup, in two shakes.

Oops, I forgot. No shakes needed.

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