There’s an App for That

I’m a middle-aged man, with the characteristics of a middle-aged man. I accept this. In summer, I grill and I tend to make a fetish of it. I make my own barbecue sauce. I make out that it’s some big artisan deal, when it’s really not. Probably another ego thing.

I was out in the car last weekend and decided to swing by the store and pick up another bag of charcoal briquettes. (My version of the fetish runs toward charcoal, rather than propane.) (And, no, I don’t use lighter fluid. Thanks for asking.)

I grab the big bag of briquettes and hoist it under my arm and silently congratulate myself. “Man, I’ve still got it. How long have I been grabbing these bags of charcoal? Thirty years? Thirty-five? And the 25-pound bag seems no heavier. I still handle it with the same ease as ever I did.” Seeking written validation of my continued virility, I checked the bottom of the bag to see: “16.6 lbs (7.53 kg) * Lasts the same as an 18 lb bag.”

So 1981’s 25-pound bag is now a 16.6-pound bag apologizing for not being an 18-pound bag and I am getting older. I got over it. I’ll try to age gracefully, the alternatives are unappealing. I do, however, feel bad for the charcoal-buying public, which doesn’t get the value it used to. Call me an old man yearning for days gone by, but there it is.

Now I had a new thought train: is there a hidden algorithm somewhere, dictating my relationship with bagged charcoal? By the time I’m 70, will the “big bag” weigh five pounds (“Lasts the same as a 5.7 lb bag.”) and cost slightly more than I just paid for the 16.6-pound bag? Is there a vanishing point where my barbecue charcoal and I simultaneously disappear from Earth?

Maybe I was influenced by an email Adrienne received from a friend last week. She’s a nutritional therapist, works at a for-profit clinic and was told her salary will be cut by 50 percent. She’s middle-aged too. Was there an algorithm for her? Did an accountant take her age, education, years of experience and zip code (not many nutritional therapy jobs in Vermont), feed it into a computer and determine exactly how much the corporation could decrease her salary so she wants to quit in disgust, but realizes she can’t afford it? Is there an app for that your boss can download to an iPhone?

Sunday evening was rainy and humid; the bugs were out. I threw some green sticks on the glowing coals to make smoke and keep them away. There was an old newspaper section in the top of the charcoal bag. Waiting for the fire to be ready for the ribs, I started reading the politics section.

The debt limit, the deficit, Medicare. Will Social Security go broke? Karl Rove says strategy means not letting a crisis go to waste. There’s no evidence my friend’s clinic is losing money. Quite the contrary, but times are hard, jobs are scarce, so why not send half her salary and those of her colleagues to the company’s bottom line? The Republican Party wants to:

1 – Permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich. No increase in corporate taxes, either.

2 – Raise the retirement age to 70.

It’s not a complicated algorithm, but it will serve. What more do you need to know? The charcoal bag will keep getting smaller and small while the price slowly rises. The rich will get steadily richer and you and I and our friend the nutritional therapist will supply those riches by working until we die.

Unless we decide to change it.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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