by Shelly Lowenkopf
Ever wondered how words are like ketchup? You haven't? How about a clue? It has nothing to do with the red sauce being America's favorite vegetable. Shelly Lowenkopf shares his insights, culinary and literary. Reprinted from inkbyte.com.
There are times when trying to get words out is like trying to shake ketchup out of the bottle in a truck stop restaurant. Words and ketchup have each congealed, requiring the firm hand of discipline, applied according to Newton's First Law of Motion, in a place where it will do the most good.
There are times when words and ketchup, having been set in motion, spill forth with an audible glop, sending more of each in a cascade toward the intended target.
There are times when the right amount of each commodity come forth in seemingly smooth flow, but these times are rare, at least with me, lingering not so much as goals or even memories but rather as abstracts, ideals to be sought after as the Holy Grail was sought after, as the Maltese falcon was sought after, as the philosopher's stone was dreamed of.
Much of the time there are no words or insufficient words, words ringing with insincerity or the metallic tang of ignorance, just as there are places where ketchup is not looked upon with favor, where the very mention of it is enough to produce wrinkles of facial disapproval or, worse, wrinkles of brows, suggesting ketchup is déclassé.
Not to forget the times where there are too many words, carrying their meaning and even their intent on a metaphoric journey demonstrated in fact by the appearance of too much ketchup on a steak or side of fries. Any amount of ketchup on eggs is an entirely more serious transgression in the eyes of many.
Some of us go through the warp and woof of our days, trying to keep the orderly movement of words and ketchup in some balance, some enough-but-not-too-much formula. The serious study of words is help, keeping a tendency toward too many or too few in a healthy presence. Thanks to fast food and convenience-food restaurants, small amounts of ketchup are stored in foil or plastic packets.
How many words are enough? How much ketchup on, say, an order of French fries is enough? How many words are required to cause the eyes of the listener to glaze over, a sure sign of surfeit? How much ketchup is enough to dress French fries or serve as an adjunct to a steak?
Words in proper combination and with proper delivery can selectively attract, repel, anger, embarrass, explain, entertain, inspire. Ketchup can season, splatter, stain, make gurgling noises; even worse, ketchup can disgust. A washed-out ketchup bottle can serve as an emergency bud vase. Washed-out words don't help much with anything.
We can come to terms with words, eventually, but there are those who will never come to terms with ketchup.