The cottage cheese came in a small plastic container. Each morning, I would take a container out of the fridge, open it, and pour its contents into a bowl. Then, I would take a banana, and slice it into the bowl.
Now the lid of the cottage cheese container was made of a very thin tin foil-like substance, and at one point along its perimeter, the lid had a small, semi-circled tab, which you would hold onto and use to pull off the lid. At least in theory.
Alas, 8 out of 10 mornings, the tin foil lid would rip at some point in the pulling process. Thus, instead of a smooth, clean, one-step removal of the lid of the container, resulting in a pristine, whole lid which you could then simply discard, the messy cleanup process now began.
You'd dispose of the amputated portion of the lid you held in your hand which had prematurely torn off, and then you'd have to retrieve the parts from the grotesque wreckage of the lid which still cleaved stubbornly to the container.
You'd first have to choose a strategic point to begin this salvaging operation, and then, once you had grabbed the lid at your chosen point of attack, you'd have to gingerly pull and hope and pray that you'd be able to complete this rescue mission with a minimum of further casualties.
And of course, since you were no longer grabbing the lid by that little pull doohickey, but rather were grabbing it by its very innards, which had cottage cheese on its underbelly, this meant that you were going to get cottage cheese all over your fingers.
And pulling the lid off slowly did not alter things. Even when you would grab the pull-tab and pull ever so gently and slowly and carefully and patiently, inching forward nanometer by nanometer – nurse, please wipe my forehead – although things would seem to be moving along smoothly this time, it was generally just a matter of time until – Gaagh! Rip!
I tell you, man, it was gut wrenching.
One fateful morning, a morning which at first blush seemed to be like every other morning, I went to the kitchen to make my usual breakfast. Open the fridge, pull out the container of cottage cheese, and steel myself for the harrowing procedure of removing the lid.
But wait! What's this? A new type of lid?! Made of a thin plastic material? How very novel! Well, here goes! Take hold of the tab, pull, and – huzza! A clean jerk! Effortless! Swish! He shoots he scores! It's a home run! No tear, no tears, no fuss, no muss, no mess.
And the ramifications immediately filled my mind: from this day hence, every morning, no more would the ritual of the cottage-cheese-container-opening operation be fraught with tension, disaster, carnage and mayhem. Instead, a simple clean grip-pull would be my daily lot.
And this realization that my daily breakfast heartbreaks were over led me to experience a flood of sweet relief, which in turn brought on an intense emotion of joy and delight.
This emotion lasted a few moments, and then quickly segued into another emotion:
What are the sorts of things which bring us joy in life? Spending time in the company of good friends; successfully completing a complex project; a financial upturn; listening to beautiful music; accomplishing a difficult personal goal; roaring with laughter at a clever witticism; a relaxing vacation.
But at that moment, I found it rather disconcerting that I could react with such fierce happiness to such a trivial thing as a new and improved cottage cheese container lid! That's the event which has triggered the greatest surge of happiness in recent memory?!
What would be the source of my next grand moment of elation – a softer brand of toilet paper? A more absorbent paper towel? A more effective deodorant? A 2-for-1 sale on cherry tomatoes?
But this is apparently yet just one more fascinating aspect of human nature: strong emotions are not necessarily the result of significant, life-changing events – the most banal of life's daily events can oftentimes provoke strong, if fleeting, emotional reactions – both good and bad.
And the "meta-ness" of it all is no less fascinating:
1. An event occurs – my cottage cheese woes are over!
2. I experience an emotion in response to that event – elation.
3. I experience an emotion in response to the first emotion – alarm.
4. I experience an emotion (of sorts) in response to the second emotion – fascination.
And, ultimately, the final step in this process must surely be:
5. I experience an emotion in response to the absurdity of it all: