Better living through squeeze bottles?

The 20th century is fading fast, but it left all of us with one enduring legacy – a single-minded pursuit of that elusive quality of life that’s known as “convenience.”

In our never-ending search for convenience, we almost perfected the automatic headlight dimmer that works most of the time (provided you have your headlights turned on) and the usually painless electric nose hair trimmer (provided you have nose hairs).

We revel in electric pencil sharpeners, microwave ovens and cell phones – the latter device allowing many of us to conveniently call almost anyone nearly anywhere and sound exactly like an electric pencil sharpener being operated in a microwave oven.

Convenient? You bet.

Perhaps the greatest stride forward in the American pursuit of convenience, however, occurred on a more mundane level with the nationwide proliferation of the handy plastic squeeze bottle for everything from pickle relish to engine lubricant.

(Those of you who occasionally indulge in a half-dozen martinis before working on the car or garnishing hot dogs should always remember to store the pickle relish and engine lubricant far, far away from each other – really.)

Much like automatic headlight dimmers and nose hair clippers, though, the convenience of squeeze bottles can have some drawbacks, particularly for those of us who think of good hand-eye coordination as not sticking our thumbs in our eyes while shaving.

Sure, squeeze bottles may seem convenient, but I’ve found they can turn on you faster than a Republican senator facing a grand jury indictment.

Because squeeze bottles are the epitome of convenience, one automatically reaches for them when one is in a hurry. Throw the cheeseburger components together on a picnic plate or relatively clean hubcap and give ’em a quick squeeze from the old mayo, mustard or ketchup bottle. You’re ready to roll, right?

Unless, of course, you forgot to remove the little seal inside the convenient plastic squeeze bottle. Then one of two things will happen: nothing, which causes you to get all sweaty and red in the face; or an unexpected explosion which causes you to get all sweaty and mustard in the face.

Admittedly, squeezing a perfectly measured stream of rich, red ketchup onto your hot dog is infinitely preferable to pounding globs of the stuff out of a stubborn old glass bottle.

If you’re not careful, though, that easily squeezed stream of ketchup can turn into a semi-automatic fusillade of misdirected tomato byproduct guaranteed to make you the least popular barbecue guest in the neighborhood.

Believe me, all bets are off once you’ve squirted a curious 5-year-old in the face with a half-pint of warm ketchup.

“Mooooommmmmm, uncle Walt’s trying to maaaarrrrrinate me!”

Squeeze relish is perhaps the most insidious of these convenient condiments. Chunky, sticky and susceptible to hidden air pockets, it’ll play hide-and-squeeze with you until the kitchen ceiling is dripping with colorful globs of sweet, green shrapnel and your family has taken shelter under the dining room table.

Convenient? Like a tidal wave.

I’ll take my canned goods, you take your chances …

Originally published July 30, 2000