Putting six plus years into the thankless profession of retail will absolve all but the most masochistic among us of the desire to spend any free time in shopping malls. Even now – eight years after the fact – my eyes glow red and “O Fortuna” begins to play any time I hear a sales floor comedian say, “No price tag, huh? Well I guess that means it’s free!”
Still, there are times when one will unavoidably end up back in the arms of the malevolent mistress who breeds so many specific and convoluted forms of contempt – particularly for hapless unfolders of t-shirts and that one guy from California who walks around muttering about how “people back home were wearing/listening to this, like, three years ago.” And there is naught to do during those times but make the best of it.
For me, making the best of it usually involves visiting stores that specialize in “As Seen on TV” products – as was the case during a recent mall venture in Asheville, N.C. I can always find at least one wacky item fixate upon – the winner on that visit was a special skillet for pancakes. Hinged and double-sided, it allows the user to skip the arduous task of flipping pancakes with a spatula by simply flipping the skillet itself.
As I stood there trying to recall a time in my life when the act of flipping a pancake turned breakfast into an exercise in anxiety and self-doubt, I happened upon another curious product - one which gives users the power to neatly and precisely dispense pancake batter onto the heated cooking surface of their choice.
Now I’ll be the first to proclaim my affinity for convenience and ease-of-use, but it would seem that I have missed a number of steps along the road to successfully cooking flattened discs of starch. At what point did the art of making pancakes become so stress-inducing that various inventors felt called to action by the unified cry of “There must be an easier way!”? How many kitchens have borne witness to the heart-wrenching tableau of hungry, bewildered children - sitting in silence with syrup and butter at the ready while despondent mothers held spatulas and shrieked curses to the sky, tears leaving tracks on their flour-dusted faces?
Perhaps if the quest for convenience were confined to the breakfast table, I wouldn’t feel compelled to make the observation. Truth is, the search runs rampant and now threatens to creep into the realm of common sense. Want proof? Look no further than the unveiling of state-of-the-art beer cans which indicate the maximum level of coldness by changing color. Sure there’s a novelty factor, but there’s also an unspoken indication that the manufacturers no longer trust our base ability to sense how cold something is by touching it. In turn, this has bred among ourselves a distrust in the ability of others to feel temperatures. Fearing that word of mouth won’t suffice when we complain about how hot/cold it is outside, we are now compelled to provide evidence in the form of car thermostat photos.
Nobody enjoys being wrong or making mistakes – but when that fear of failure shakes our confidence in cooking breakfast or talking about the weather, it’s time to revisit the true beauty of imperfection. Consider the mondegreen – a lovely term coined from the hilarious act of misinterpreting song lyrics. As an adult, I still snort laugh when I remember my mother stoically confessing to her two smartass children that she thought AC/DC was singing “Dirty deeds and the Thunder Chief.”
With this in mind, I challenge each of you to go out into the world tomorrow and throw off the shackles of oversimplification. Go sing your favorite song at karaoke and turn your head from the screen of scrolling lyrics. Grab a damn beer and revel in the chill that seeps into your hand.
When the night’s over, hit up a greasy spoon and order pancakes – take note of the absence of advanced flapjack technology. Enjoy the meal and take from it this simple lesson: whether things are asymmetrical and unpretty at the start, or the beginning is pristine and perfect, it makes little difference. Eventually it all goes to shit.