Colonel Mustard, In the Refrigerator, With Corporal Ketchup

For the Fourth of July, a condiment conspiracy threatens domestic bliss.


I’m a reasonable woman, by which I mean I don’t get riled easily. I understand that not everything in life, or on the Schuylkill Expressway, will go my way. In the sanctuary that is my own home, however, I expect to have some agency. I don’t.

A few weeks back, my husband Doug put “popcorn” on the shopping list we keep on the kitchen counter. When I did the weekly shopping, I dutifully bought a box of six packets of microwave popcorn. When I went to put it away in the cabinet, I noticed there were already two open boxes of popcorn on the shelf, along with another full box. So … why was popcorn on the shopping list? A fit of artificial-butter-flavor insecurity? A sudden mass craving? Nah. Doug had taken the last packet from yet another open box and mindlessly put popcorn on the list without checking to see if we still had any popcorn. And the reason there were so many boxes of popcorn in that cabinet? This wasn’t the first time.

I went to put the milk I’d bought in the refrigerator, but to do so, I had to make room on the top shelf. Where there were two huge vats of ketchup, which my son Jake eats on everything when he’s home from college, which he is for the summer. Each huge vat of ketchup was three-quarters full, and they were snuggled up next to each other like a happy condiment couple. Why were two vats of ketchup open simultaneously? Because my son had wanted ketchup and opened a new vat before looking to see whether there was an old vat already in the refrigerator. Which there was.

I went on putting groceries away. On the door, there were three open bottles of mustard. Also, two jars of relish. Both dill. Both half full. I consolidated them. I tried to consolidate the ketchups, but ketchup moves very, very slowly through a funnel, and yet, paradoxically, very, very quickly when you put one open vat of ketchup upside down atop the other open vat of ketchup and squeeze. So quickly, in fact, that you decide to stop consolidating them so you can mop up all that ketchup from the counter.

I don’t think the men in my household are deliberately trying to make me crazy. Then again, I could be wrong. Last night I found two open quarts of mayonnaise in the refrigerator, each with precisely one knife-swipe of mayonnaise removed. “Who even notices that there are two open jars of mayo in the fridge?” my husband asked irritably. I do! I do! Millions of years of evolution have done this to me. I can’t help myself; I keep track of where the edible plants live. I tally the mayonnaise jars even as you and Jake scan the distant horizon for woolly mammoths. Some of us take the long view; some of us pay attention to detail.

I screamed at my son about the mayonnaise: “Don’t you ever open a condiment in this house again!” I’m a reasonable woman, but I meant it. Some things just put me over the edge. Do you know how long one quart of mayonnaise lasts at my house? Months. We’re popcorned up for the next decade. Hell, might as well just set money on fire.

If you come to my house for our annual Fourth of July picnic, however, you’ll find plenty of condiments for your hot dog and burger. You’ll have your choice of three squeeze bottles of mustard, all exactly the same. You can swipe mayonnaise from either of the jars that are open. We don’t have a pool, but you can swim in ketchup at our place. Please, relish all the relish. Just don’t ask Jake to open up the jar for you.

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