Last August, two of my friends and I road tripped to Canada. We took our time getting up there, meeting weirdos, taking pictures and camping out. But eventually after enough crappy food, rainy weather and bored-as-hell hours in a town that claims its fame from being the second landing spot of Jacques Cartier, (Gaspé, Québec) we decided to high-tail it home. We made it to Boston in a day, saw my aunt and her family, and then left early the next morning to drive back to South Carolina. Around DC we got caught in some major traffic for approximately 18 million hours, and when it finally cleared, we pulled off and stopped at an IHOP.
Strung out on road weariness/goofiness, we bust up in this place, got a booth near the window and then took a field trip to the restrooms. On my way there, I saw the lady who was about to be our waitress pouring half-filled glass Heinz Ketchup bottles into each other. Now, if you’ve ever worked in a casual restaurant or have a friend who has, you know what this is. It’s called marrying ketchups. To understand the logic of this practice, we could all now try to do a graph of full glass ketchup bottles over total tables or something like that, but I doubt that ya’ll are really that committed to understanding ketchup economy. Moving on.
I told the waitress hello, and then I went in and used the toilet. I came out and she was still there, marrying those ketchups. Something clicked in my head and I got the overwhelming urge to talk to her. “It’s the ketchups,” I said. “The ketchups are fleeting.”
Think about it. How long has the human race had to contend with glass Heinz Ketchup bottles? Maybe 80 years? OK, now think about how many different ways you’ve seen people try to get that damned ketchup out? “Dude, just tap on the ’57.’” Or, “Gimme that knife. See, you got to stick it in there.” You know what happens: the ketchup either drips out or goes Mount Vesuvius on your plate. It’s a friggin’ crapshoot. Still, pretty much anywhere I eat a burger has these bottles, although I’ve noticed they’re being replaced by plastic ones en masse.
My father at one point in his life had intimate knowledge of the slide rule. He also knew how to work a mimeograph machine and a film reel movie projector. I know how to use a computer but not a word processor, a graphing calculator but not an abacus. Past human beings worked butter churners, printing presses and single-shot powder muskets. And while we make some attempt to preserve this knowledge, most things that humans have known are irrelevant to most of us today. Likewise, what we know and understand to be part of our lives will be forever alien to future generations.
The feelings that are associated with glass ketchup bottles will probably not exist for my grandchildren, and the custom of eating ground beef patties on wheat buns will be a quaint example of what some humans’ diet was back in the day. Professors will try to explain what life was like, but having never lived it, their interpretations will be based on a limited number of primary and secondary sources. “This eating of hamburgers, sometimes accompanied by a struggle with the condiment ‘ketchup,’ was commonplace in the United States circa 1950-2020 until (clearing throat noise)…” Kids will fall asleep in class. They will be thinking about sex or alcohol or music. They will not fully grasp glass ketchup bottles.
In my opinion, some things are constant. Love is constant. Betrayal is constant. Unfortunately, war, hatred, and exploitation are constant. But AIM is not. Facebook is not. Neither is a lot of other stuff I do. It’s ephemeral. I repeat: “The ketchups are fleeting.”
So I’m going to take it a little easier now and try not to worry about my knowledge disappearing by the day. Because who in the future will care that I thought all of these things and communicated them in The Chronicle anyway? No one will even understand the column. They’ll be like, “What’s an IHOP?”
Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every third Monday.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.