Potato Lessons 

You can learn a lot from a plastic spud

You can learn a lot from a plastic spud

Now that the weather’s going crisp, able associate Rick and I will have to change our way of doing things. First, we’ll have to go back to working in long pants. This is a minor disappointment, because working in shorts reminds us that even though we make our living crawling under houses, we do it in comfort that’s unavailable to most professional folk. The good news is, the long pants will give our skint-up knees some time to heal in the off-season.

The fall weather also means we’ll be missing our frequent stops at Baskin-Robbins. Their Cappuccino Blasts are tasty thirst quenchers in the summertime, but their extra-low temperature can give a boy a painful brain freeze even in mid-July. Drink one down too fast in late September, and you risk going all blue-lipped and conking out.

That means we’ll be switching over to gas-station cappuccino. Now, I don’t know what’s in the stuff—and I don’t want to—but as far as roadside treats go, the foamy instant self-serve brew is way ahead of pickled pig feet and Slim Jims. The value is excellent: A whoppin’-big cup only costs about 69 cents, and I recommend it. Last fall, I drove wife Brenda all the way out to Bellevue so she could sample a cup. She agreed with me that it’s every bit as good as the three-dollar mall coffee.

I bring all this up because the takeout coffee cups, and all the warnings written on them, are reminding me all over again what’s wrong with America. I’m here to tell you: People who really need the admonition, “Please enjoy your HOT beverage with care,” are just doomed to a hard life. They’ll always be running over themselves with lawn mowers, smothering themselves with dry-cleaning bags, diving off motel balconies and just missing the pool, or blowing their hands off with M-80s. Nature will have her way, the herd will be thinned. Resistance is futile.

To my way of thinking, a society is in serious trouble when it starts relying on paper cups to warn grown-ups that hot things hurt. We’ve got to turn this ship around before there’s nobody left who knows how to bail.

I say we bring back the original Mister Potato Head. The one where you had to supply your own potato. There was no prefab plastic spud in the box. Just a double-handful of lips, noses, ears, glasses, hats and appendages, all with extra-sharp points on the back.

Unlike the modern Mister Potato Head, the classic version enriched budding artists. You could stick those body parts anywhere you wanted, not just in the pre-drilled, manufacturer-approved holes. If you thought it would be a kick, just once, to see a nose and a couple of spare hands protruding from Mister Potato Head’s butt, you could just go on ahead and feature that. If you had any other pointy things around the house, you could use them to enhance and personalize your Mister Potato Head. (I did a lot of work with pencils and pop rivets myself.)

There would be at least two added benefits for today’s kids. First, since real potatoes come in all sizes, shapes and colors, our children would learn to build a richly diverse global community of spud people. Second, there’d be less plastic in the landfill. When the kids finished a play session, they’d eat the main part of the toy.

Best of all, classic Mister Potato Head would teach valuable life lessons to children and parents alike. Child Lesson: If you don’t clean up your mess, if you don’t pick up all the parts, somebody could end up with big red plastic lips stuck in his heel and need a trip to the emergency room for a lockjaw shot. It’s never too early to learn about personal responsibility.

Parent Lesson: If you don’t watch little children all the time, bad things will happen. If you just plant the kids in a room with classic Mister Potato Head and go off to the kitchen to eat pork rinds and drink Old Granddad, or sneak out for a quick tennis lesson, when you come back, blood could be spilled.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m strongly against personal injury. Still, maybe, just maybe, the threat of half-inch-deep puncture wounds might be enough to refocus Americans on the need for constant vigilance and frequent mid-course corrections.


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