February 1983 / February 2013

The sting in my nostrils as I step out the back door
Into the pre-dawn cold

The smell of car exhaust mixing
With the frozen winter air

The stretching shifting halos
Around the streetlights seen through squinting half-awake eyes

The snow stomped from my boots before I step
Through the front door

Why do we settle for things that are mostly crap?

I have a bag of Jolly Ranchers in my office. At my suggestion, it was given to me as a Christmas stocking item.

Now, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. But I noticed two things about the Jolly Ranchers after I opened the bag:

1. The overall quality of Jolly Ranchers has really gone down since I was a kid.

2. Cherry Jolly Ranchers are my favorite, and there are very few in the bag. It seems like it’s over half watermelon, my least favorite.

I started to think about how Jolly Ranchers are a little like a can of mixed nuts. Most cans of mixed nuts sold proudly advertise “less than 50% peanuts” which, to me, means the can is 49% (or maybe 49.99999999%) peanuts.

Peanuts are OK, but they’re definitely the bottom rung of the nut ladder. (Bad metaphor.) There’s a reason peanuts — filler, essentially — dominate the proportions in a mixed nuts can: they’re cheap and plentiful.

I’m not so sure why the proportion of flavors in a Jolly Ranchers bag wouldn’t be evenly distributed; I can’t imagine that some of the artificial flavors cost that much more than the others. But I just wonder if people have become so accustomed to the “good” options in an assortment being more scarce that they would be strangely, perhaps even unconsciously, disappointed if it were otherwise.

Put another way: would cherry Jolly Ranchers taste as good if they were 49% of the bag?

There’s a deeper question here though. Why do we put up with so much mediocrity in life? Limited resources are certainly a factor. A can of nothing but whole cashews and Brazil nuts (my favorite) would probably cost $20. And we’d rather shove our faces full of peanuts in the quest for the occasional rare broken cashew in a $6 can of nuts than sample sparingly from a higher-priced can of just the good stuff.

I guess. Or maybe we’re just chumps.