So we’re not technically locked down anymore. We can go out, here on the North Shore, in our masks, and get a table on the deck at the Ipswich Inn; we can pick up Chinese for takeout from Good Taste; or we can sit on Central Street or Market Street behind enormous safety barricades, known as “Jersey barriers,” that make Ipswich look like, well, Newark.
But so much uncertainty still lingers. The world is discombobulated. The Ipswich Public Library isn’t open. The aisles at Market Basket are still one-way. I’m still attending church on Facebook Live: host, cup, click, like.
Even for someone perfectly suited to lockdown — I’ve always worked from home, and all the other people in my household are introverts, social-distancers by habit — the pandemic finally takes its toll. You may love your wife, but enough is enough. Our youngest, newly graduated from Ipswich High School, has not been a problem-teen, but three months of overhearing Zoom classes and binge-watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine and you fight the urge to kill your offspring.
Under such circumstances, the slightest annoyance may flare into what seems like an outrageous crime. That other person’s insignificant tic or trifling twitch or harmless routine that never bothered you before? Now you’ve been observing it at close range for about a hundred days, and it’s becoming clear that you were an idiot for never loathing that person before — not to mention their repulsive little habit.
So when we three Brendels found ourselves standing around in our kitchen, in casual conversation, and our daughter opened a bag of Cheetos, we didn’t realize we had set the stage for cataclysm, but we had. Before the pandemic, Cheetos could come and go at our house, and hardly anybody would take notice. This week, we exposed the ugly truth: Cheetos are not just Cheetos. Cheetos are not just a harmless “much-loved cheesy treat,” and “fun for everyone!”, as their website claims. Cheetos are a kind of poison that cruelly seizes people’s brains and odiously alters their behavior and tragically fractures families.
I’m sure the heartbreaking scenario was not unique to us, but at our house, this is how it went:
- Family member #1 opens said bag of Cheetos and begins munching. Conversation continues.
- Family member #2 casually moves toward said Cheetos and reaches out to take some.
- #1 pulls said bag away, clutching it like a beloved stuffed animal.
- #2 objects.
- #1 observes that #2 didn’t ask politely. “Say please”; you know the drill.
- #2 observes that a spirit of generosity should prevail in this family, and not only should anyone be free to dip into said bag of Cheetos, #1 should have offered said Cheetos automatically, because that’s what nice people do.
- Family member #3 can’t resist this debate. #3 now observes that #2 often takes food without asking, even at the dinner table.
- #2 hotly denies this.
- #1, who hates conflict (but loves Cheetos even more), observes that #3 “loves to argue” and should never have said that part about the dinner table, even though it’s true.
- Then comes the cussing. Something that was cooking on the stove is now bouncing off the ceiling. There’s stomping and pacing. There’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- #2 roars something about “Who paid for those Cheetos, anyway?”
- #3 roars something about “Oh, so THAT’s what this is all about!”
- #1 roars something about something — it’s impossible to be sure what, with all the roaring.
- Whatever was cooking on the stove is not going to be fit for human consumption, I can tell you that.
Yes, the storm blew over. The next morning, we were all laughing about it. But I notice nobody’s turning their back on anyone anymore. Too many sharp objects and blunt instruments in this house. I, for one, am taking no chances. Always sit facing the room; be sure you have a clear path to an exit. Who knows how strong a Cheetos grudge may be, and how long it lasts?