Playing Catsup

When I woke up this morning, I found myself remembering one of the more profound statements I’ve ever heard in my life.  The most alarming thing about this profound statement is that it involves ketchup. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh, no! He’s gone back on drugs!” I assure you this is not the case. 

To fully appreciate the wisdom of this profound statement, I need to give you a brief history of modern ketchup delivery. 

It used to be that ketchup lived in glass bottles. I say this as though it was ancient history, but think about it: when was the last time you’ve tried to shake ketchup out of a glass bottle? Shaking the glass bottle, in fact, is why they have become an endangered species, and it’s for the best.  

Ketchup is not beer, or even Worcester sauce. It is really thick, and so it gets stuck easily. When it does, air bubbles form in the neck, and so you either have to yank your arm up and down and hope the stuff doesn’t explode all over your plate, or you have to stick your knife inside, and now your knife is dirty, and that probably didn’t help anyway. 

Plastic is a different story. It’s easy to think that plastic is plastic; it’s been that way since the dawn of time—or at least since it was invented. In reality the technology is evolving. Where once it was ugly and weak and not particularly cheap, it is now ubiquitous and versatile. Therefore, at one point in history—in my admittedly short lifetime, in fact—the only place you could find plastic ketchup bottles were in dives, and they were refillable, opaque, ugly, and squeezed out this sad little red stream onto your burger and fries.  

Obviously this is no longer the case. Convenience and practicality has combined with chemistry. No one purchases a glass bottle for their home anymore, not even for nostalgia. Restaurants took longer to come to that conclusion, because even the greasiest of chain restaurants need to have an air of class. Plastic isn’t particularly classy, so these restaurants stuck stubbornly with the glass for a long time before giving way to the aforementioned practicality.  

About fifteen years ago, when I was still waiting tables, this switch hadn’t yet happened. Back then, a server’s job included dealing with the half-empty ketchup bottles. Since a half-empty bottle left on the table looks tacky and kind of cheap, they had to be refilled with ketchup from other partially empty bottles. This was known as marrying, because in the twentieth century, states had yet to amend their constitutions to declare that marriage was only between a man and a woman. 

Marrying ketchup wasn’t particularly easy. As I’ve said before, the stuff is thick and prone to getting bubbles in the neck. Wait staff quickly learned tricks to do this more efficiently—tricks I won’t go into here because I’ve already wasted enough words on this subject, and the concept is flat-out obsolete. And even with all of these tricks, the job was tedious and time-consuming, and just something you had to endure while you rolled silverware into cloth napkins and counted your tips. It is, however, a badge of honor for folks of a certain age. 

And so, one day during a lull at work (at a newspaper where these lulls tended to go on for quite some time), a friend once postulated, “Somewhere out there is the person who knows how to marry ketchup the fastest.” 

And if you think about everything I’ve just told you, you’d recognize just how profound this offhand comment really is. 


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