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Ketchup & Stimulus

On Sunday, I was eating one of my favorite breakfast meals: ketchup on an egg over medium with a side of white toast.

Technically, this was my second breakfast. About an hour earlier, I devoured a couple pancakes with a side of bacon.

But it was during my ketchup and egg breakfast that I realized I’d momentarily forgotten all about the uniquely crazy, uncertain world outside my window.

Few things make the world as uncertain as uncertainty. Who would’ve guessed the threat of a new, mysterious disease would catapult the country into a toilet paper-buying and hoarding frenzy? This isn’t even a disease that has primary symptoms of diarrhea. Some of the other items people bought en masse, such as face masks and sanitizer, made sense.

Few things scare people as much as uncertainty. By nature, we are prone to take the familiar road, even when that road has proven rocky and full of bandits. That’s how much we like knowing what comes next.

However, there is a caveat. There are those who aren’t afraid of the unfamiliar.

A segment of the human population, a sliver, thrives during the unknown. Clever people have even suggested that some people were made for crisis. We may have never heard of Churchill had World War II not broken out. He was dusted off and brought out of the tool shed because Neville Chamberlain was a naive, peacetime leader. Abraham Lincoln could’ve been Millard Fillmore for all we know had the Civil War not broken out.

The people we read books and watch movies and Netflix documentaries about are usually crisis thrivers. They are few and far between. They are most likely not on Twitter clawing for relevance or on Facebook passionately commenting on articles they haven’t read fully. Despite a history encompassing billions of people who’ve existed, books have only been written and statues erected honoring a total of 15 of these folks.

And that’s because most of us don’t do well with uncertainty.

(A caveat within a caveat: There are also people who rise to the moment, and this group is larger than the former. Montanans are sort of notorious for rising to the occasion. Come blizzards and fires, everyone with a squirt gun and a pickup rushes to the scene or stops to pull you out of the snowbank.)

If you’re prone to take offense at the suggestion that your fear of the unknown will make you just another grain in the sand of history, take comfort in this: You are not alone. And that should count for something, since we are relational creatures. We are surrounded by other grains. If everyone was a seashell, there’d be no beaches for people to lie on, to play volleyball on, to build sandcastles on. The world is made of grains (most of us) and seashells (the crisis thrivers). However, I can’t see the seashells fighting over toilet paper in Costco.

So anyway, there I was, eating my ketchup and eggs, dipping my toast in the runny yolk, and telling my wife, who had spread a puzzle over half our dinner table, how good my breakfast was — how good life was, all things considered.

I thought about how amazing condiments are. Among my favorites are hot sauce and, of course, ketchup. If I ate more sandwiches, my two favorites would be mustard and mayonnaise. But I eat far more soups, eggs, and stir-fries.

Ketchup is a tasty, synthetic hint of how far our society has come. It’s a cheater, but nonetheless one we welcome because of its cleverness. It’s made in a lab with just enough specs of real tomato added to a cornucopia of sugars to trick our taste buds and empty our wallets. And it does so terrifically. I gladly pay for it.

Think about this: Before there was ketchup, we ate eggs and potatoes without them. But now, when we are confronted with a soggy plate of French fries, ketchup comes to the rescue.

For some people, the fries were always an excuse for what we really wanted — the ketchup. That speaks to our cowardly reluctance to eat ketchup by itself and scoff at the thought of social retribution.

Anyway, our world is quite soggy right now. The uncertainty is more prevalent than most of us ever have experienced. We are living during a generational crisis. We are living tame versions of “Contagion” and “Outbreak.”

All the more reason to look around and notice how much ketchup we have at our disposal.

We live in a country of plenty. By international standards, almost no one is poor. Even the poor here don’t die of starvation. People in America don’t die because the only available water has fecal matter in it. No one has to be in information darkness because everyone has a little machine that fits in their hands to tell them what’s happening. And it also doubles as a flashlight.

Our government, which rarely passes anything significant within a year, has written, approved, and signed a relief package that includes sending you a check to sit home on your butt — in days.

Yes, that’s right. You are receiving money from your government, which had nothing to do with creating the problem you are facing, so you can sit home and read this diatribe and watch “The Tiger King.” This was unheard of in the past. If this had happened less than 100 years ago, we’d be on our own, responsible for our well-being with nothing but grit, perseverance, and help from family and community members.

Yes, your incoming check is a synthetic move meant to simulate economic action.

But doesn’t it make our soggy times a little better, a little easier to digest?

Paul Dragu is the editor of The Havre Herald. Write to Paul at (406) 262-7778
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