Monday, October 24, 2005

It's mine, dammit, let me open it!

What do the Tylenol murders of 1982 and the 12 billion dollars lost annually to shoplifting have in commmon?

They are two legs of the Bermuda triangle which has become the phenomenon "you selected it, paid for it, took it home, but we'll be damned to hell if you will ever open it."

The third leg of the triangle just has to be pure evil.

(In case you're too young or too old to remember, several people were poisoned to death by taking Tylenol that had been intentionally contaminated with cyanide. There was never a conviction in the case, although many facts seemed to point to one suspect who ended up incarcerated on other, unrelated charges. Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Tylenol, is considered to have pulled off the marketing coup of the century in retaining the public's trust in their product after this disaster, trust based on new "tamper-proof" packaging.)

I'm not making light of those murders or the tragedies for the families involved, but I do link this bizarre event to consequences which have made all of our lives just a bit more miserable since.

Having worked on the management side of retail for many years, I understand the need for theft-proof packaging, I really do. Shoplifting is a gargantuan problem for all retailers, so the bigger, bulkier, harder-to-hide and therefore harder-to-steal blister packs, complete with bells and whistles security devices attached, the better the bottom line, and aren't we're all happier with a profit? Sure we are...

But, where does that leave the consumer who now owns this big, bulky, impossible-to-get-into package? It leaves us with broken scissors, bent knives, torn fingernails, and raging blood pressure from the screaming tantrum we have trying to open the package, that's where!

Remember that "don't run with scissors" thing that we were all taught? When I was a kid, scissors were considered dangerous. They were stashed in a drawer somewhere and only brought out maybe once a week ONLY by an adult to use to cut out articles from the newspaper or coupons from the back of a Rice Krispies box. I remember seeing small scissors hanging from the wide leather belts of the nuns who taught at my school and wondering, what they heck do they need those for? They were 40 years ahead of their time, that's what. I can't count the number of times I've wished for a leather belt with a tidy little case for scissors!

Now you need scissors in the kitchen to open lunch meat (NO, those self-sealing packages do NOT work for me); to open all the little boxes of rice or pasta that say "Press Here To Open" but are really lined with titanium so a dainty thumb or middle finger will never work; to open cake mix packets, graphically illustrated with a cute little scissors logo but also lined in titanium, and even to open plastic bags of salad that say, "Pull Tab To Open," yet the "tab" offers no visible or tangible perforation in the plastic AND nothing to grasp. What tab? Are they kidding? The scissors are usually the first thing I put out on the counter when gathering ingredients for a meal -- even a damn sandwich.

I'll admit it, I'm not a patient person -- blame my Aries birthday. I don't mind spending 10-15 seconds opening a new product whose packaging assures me of a reasonable level of sanitation, freshness and limited opportunities of tampering by some nut case. Give me a new bottle of hot catsup and I'm happy to unscrew the lid and pull the little foil topper off the bottle, then screw on the lid again. But I really DO mind having to blaze a trail through the packaging of, say, tension headache pain relievers, only to find the aluminum cover WITHOUT a tab that requires embroidery scissor tips to poke through. I still have to fish out the cotton inside PLUS deal with a stay-fresh silicone thingy. Maybe it's all a plot to ensure greater usage of the product -- I always need more pain relievers than planned on by the time I open the stupid package.

I'm not the first one to mention the tape on new CD's. They should use this stuff at NASA since it obviously could stick those tiles to the shuttle better than whatever they use now. And why, if I'm buying a CD from Amazon, whose products never see a retail store, do they come all trussed up like a Christmas goose, anyway? Sure, sure, they get them from the manufacturer who is preventing shoplifting for his retail distributor. Tell you what - increase the "handling charge" by a buck and let me LISTEN TO THE CD that I've already waited a week for, okay?

Is there some secret opening tool out there that everyone else in the world has but me? Or is everyone in the world just enough younger than I so I'm the only one who remembers how stuff should work?

I buy a lot of things online for the same reasons millions of other people do: convenience, wide selection, merchandise reviews, good prices, even free shipping frequently. At least I thought it was convenient, but maybe not. Last month I bought a great little MP3 player, which took at least 4 hours online to find and decide on (I finally bought the same one a friend recommended, so a lot of that research time was useless). I used my Amex card (whose 15 digits I can remember easier than my phone number), then waited about a week for delivery. Yeah, I was excited and anxious for it to arrive. Little did I know that I would spend 45 minutes (I swear to God on the family bible) to get the package open. It took 2 pair of weapons-grade scissors, a French chef knife, the pokey end of my meat thermometer and, finally, rose clippers to get through the blister pack. Did I enjoy my first day with my MP3 player? I did NOT. Have I even tried to open the underwater case that came as a bonus? I have not, and probably won't. Some things are just too much trouble.

Have I mentioned the packaging for kids' toys? There must be a whole army of certified sadists somewhere whose only job it is to attach little plastic-covered wire ties around every possible point of a toy, twist them with some unthinkable machine through the back of the box then tape them to the box. This is in addition to taping every possible point of entry OF the box. By the time the kids' parents have opened the box, the kid is too old for the toy, completely disinterested or screaming purple along with his parents. Besides, it's also more than a little creepy to see Barbie tied up like a victim on SVU.

I don't really believe in hell, but if I did, here are my candidates for future residents:
The inventors of shrink wrap and blister packs;
the evil, evil little person who developed that printed CD tape and all the evil CD manufacturers who use it;
all manufacturers/distributors who use packaging designed to not disintegrate within the next 3000 years, especially that which weighs more (and probably costs more) than the item inside;
the designers who write "tear here" when they really mean, "I dare you to open this with anything less than garden shears or a flame thrower;"
whoever invented and uses those wire ties on kids' toys;
the idiot that devised the "pull out the corners, push in the sides to form a spout" packaging for milk and juice;
you get the picture.

Nature really has this packaging thing down pat.
The product comes directly from the manufacturer in its own completely sealed container, one serving size, clean, sanitary, reasonably tamper proof, breakable maybe, but not if you're careful.
The incredible, edible egg. Thanks, God.

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