Thursday, April 01, 2004

Behold, the shelf life of cheese puffs.

I’m vaguely interested in the hobby of geocaching, but there’s been no luxury of time to wander around town lately. (Geocaching involves hiding containers of stuff in a variety of locales, then posting the global coordinates on the web.) There’s a free software swap box sequestered in a nearby park, and a tub of toys in the park somewhat farther away. Maybe this weekend we can spend our Saturday trek looking for local goodies stashed in bee hives and sewer pipes.

Human nature compels us to hoard things. The Germans even have a verb to describe the behavior. “Hamstern” means to stockpile, e.g. “Uter und Greta hamstern das bier, ja?”. I always loved that verb in German class—it reminded me of my hamster walking around with lumpy cheeks full of sunflower seeds. My brother was the "hamstern King" in our family following every Halloween. He would fling his shopping bag of goodies under the bed, assumedly nibbling on bits under his sheets at night via flashlight. He didn’t realize how often little sister surveyed his room, however. Kindergarten recessed for the day before elementary school let out, so I had plenty of time to bask in the greatness of my older brother by nosing around his room. Thusly the bag of Halloween candy was discovered in December. I boldly opened the bag and examined its contents. There was nothing unique compared to what had been in my Halloween bag, except for one thing; a wax-paper bag of cheese puffs. Oh, what a treasure! Why had he haughtily ignored them? I slowly opened the pack to avoid tearing the glued and crimped closure. I retrieved an orange-dusted nugget and stuck it in my mouth—stale styrofoamy goodness was my reward. The satisfaction of besting my brother overshadowed the not-so-fresh condition of the cheese puff. I carefully closed the bag and returned it to its place. I would return periodically to repeat the process. The day in June when I finished eating the cheese puffs was a day of triumph. I threw the empty waxed bag into my trashcan, relishing my cunning feat. I was the Artful Dodger of ancient Cheetos.

Which may explain why cheese puffs were my first contribution to a neighbor’s super-secret forbidden-food hiding place. M. lived next door and interacted with me on a roller coaster basis. We’d play together as steadfast buddies for months at a time, then she’d move on to the neighbor kids across the street who went to her school. I pitied her, though, because her mom was a devout Weight Watcher’s disciple. Poor M. and her little sister ate skinless chicken and sprinkled butter-flavored salt on their corn. They ate parmesan popcorn for “snacks”. Dessert consisted of an apple or an orange, or homemade yogurt. Their mom cultivated two little girls starved for chicken skin, candy and anything else forbidden. M. came up with the idea to stash gum in her driveway’s rock wall after hearing about school chums who’d done the same. I was not a fan of gum or candy since no one denied me of them, so I chose to insert Ho-Ho’s and cheese puffs in the shoe-box sized hole. We positioned a stone in front to disguise our holy tomb of sugar and starch. The next morning before our respective school buses arrived, we sidled over to the cache and prepared to consume contraband. A teeming brigade of ants up my arm clued me to the fact that wax paper bags don’t deter ants any better than they do little sisters. The ants had tunneled into my Ho-Ho’s and Cheetos, leaving me with no prize as M. smacked her bubblegum. Her mom discovered the hoard soon afterwards, so our pirate days came to a weight-watching halt.

Nowadays, I have the privilege of working for a company that does the stashing for me. We have break rooms on every floor containing endless containers of crackers, peanut butter and M&M’s. Soda, juices, teas, and coffee flow freely. There is a plentiful supply of food available to those who work through a meal or stay overtime. (Good work strategy, I might add.) Yet a number of my co-workers still maintain "goody" caches. A whole box of Ritz crackers here, a box of Better Cheddars there, a whole jar of peanut butter with knife in the dark of a file cabinet. It seems that some folks aren’t satisfied with retrieving a handful of goodies at a time. Better to open the break room storage cabinets, grab a whole box “to go”, and gleefully bask in the soon-to-be-stale trove. Here lies Exhibit A in our case study of "Human Hamstering". (I personally would rather hamster the beer with Uter.)