Shelf dates don't play too big a role in my life. The last time I looked at any was a couple of weeks ago, while I was pulling canned goods out of the cupboard for the office food drive. (This is where it's going; last I looked, the collection box, which was approximately big enough for three 32-inch flat-screen TV sets plus the usual packing material, was stuffed to the very top.) I don't normally buy a whole lot of canned stuff, and I didn't want to be giving away anything close to the date stamped on the can; I figure, if I wouldn't eat it, it's not cool to foist it off on someone else. With nothing scheduled to be pulled any earlier than 2012 landing in my bag, I pronounced myself satisfied with my choices, and adjusted what passes for my grocery list accordingly.
If I'd left it at that, I'd have been fine. Unfortunately, I tend to go off on wild tangential excursions on a regular basis, and the first stop on this particular trip was "How do they know? What makes this can of beans different on the 13th of July, when it was just fine on the 12th?" I punted this one to the USDA, which offered the following advice:
In general, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple will retain best quality on the shelf for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will retain best quality on the shelf for 2 to 5 years if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, dry place.
Okay, fine. The bulk of what I handed over qualified as "most vegetables," though the occasional can of pork and beans reduces the percentage of plant material by an infinitesimal amount, not that Weezer cares or anything. Given the general urgency of food appeals this time of year, I credited myself with a Virtue of Omission by dint of not actually killing anyone.
"Including me," I continued, and that's where it stopped: do I have an expiration date? (Yes.) Is it stamped anywhere I can read it? (Probably not.) Is there some way of finding it out? (Without inducing a suitable event to bring it on, probably not.) And how do I know when it's coming? (You don't.)
I probably by now should know better than to think of these things in November, which traditionally is the beginning of my Late-Year Slump. It's a whole lot colder a whole lot more often, which isn't that big a deal, and it's another birthday, which is if you've had a sufficient number thereof, and inevitably I end up wondering if the next one is my last and how I'm going to deal with it, should I discover that yes, it is. (I am, of course, resigned to the sheer inevitability of it: as I said way back in Vent #78, fourteen years ago: "Somewhere out there is a bullet or a bacterium or a Buick with my name on it.")
The major issue I have, it seems, is that the idea of shutting down the brain scares the fecal matter out of me; the inability to close it off surely must be a contributing factor to my occasional bouts of insomnia. At some point, though, I won't have any choice in the matter. Afterwards well, that's a matter of faith. But the actual transition itself? I'm sort of hoping James Lileks is right:
If I had to bet, I'd say that consciousness survives death, and you're granted a glorious moment of comprehension before you are willingly, and gratefully, subsumed in the music of the spheres.
Supporting evidence? Can I believe Steve Jobs?
Steve's final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."
Sounds like a glorious moment of comprehension to me.
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Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill