Ol’Jack loves potato chips. This has become an ongoing problem in Panama, because it is rare that I find a bag that contains anything other than smashed chips. Finding a fully formed, intact chip is so noteworthy in fact, that I have witnessed a large chip being pointed out to others at a party for example. “Hey,everybody! Look at this chip,” a prospective dipper might announce to an appreciative audience, “I got a whole one!”
For a while, I thought the people responsible for the chipped chip phenomena were the check -out crews at the grocery store. Of course, first of all, the bags were stuffed too tightly on the shelves, after being roughly unloaded from their shipping crates. But more importantly, the woman at the cash register would grab the bag in the middle with a tight fist, instead of daintily hoisting the bag by a corner.
After she had established a chokehold, she would stiff-arm the bar code firmly into the scanner. Then with a quick flip of her wrist, she would toss the cellophane container of splintered bits, like a Frisbee, to the bag boy who would stop its flight with a slap. In one quick move, he would then stuff the pouch of potato bits into a plastic shopping bag between two liters of Coke. Finally, after knotting the sack, he would drop it into the car trunk for a bumpy ride home.
After a short while, I became frustrated with my favorite snack food being reduced to dust and decided to shepherd the chips through the line. With the bags nestled in my arms like a newborn, I took each one in hand between my thumb and index finger and delicately handed it over to the cashier and then quickly snatched it back before she could squash my hopes. I did not relinquish custody of the chips and instead bagged them myself, without ever losing control all the way out to the back seat of my car.
And yet, when the chip sack was pulled open and the contents poured into a party bowl, the guests were usually forced to eat what was left with a spoon. Not a single chip left was larger than a postage stamp.
That’s when I began to suspect that the cause of chip carnage originated farther down the supply line. I now believe that part of the logistics process of shipping chips from ship to shelf involves somebody whose sole job is to hit each individual package with a large rubber mallet. There is no other possible explanation of how every single pack is flattened. I wouldn’t be surprised to find these hammering positions are handed out as part of a greater patronage program that seems to be a fundamental of Panamanian politics. Ol’Jack has even given these ham-fisted potato chip pounders a title. If they’re not already, they should be known as the Smasheros.