It’s always a good idea to read instructions or to at least have a general notion of what they would be if you actually did read them. Of course, even if you do read the instructions, you should make sure to read them carefully. It will help you avoid a situation similar to the one in which my friend Kenny entrapped himself.
I was one of the adult sponsors on a college trip and roomed with four of the students for a weekend. Late Friday night (actually early Saturday morning), they came back from a shopping trip with frozen pizzas and buffalo chicken wings.
Kenny grabbed a bag of frozen wings, glanced at the instructions on the back, and set about preparing them for our enjoyment. He found a plate and emptied the contents of the bag on it. He carefully arranged all the wings in a mound on the plate. He then put the plate in the microwave and set the timer for nine minutes.
“What did you set that on?” Patrick, another of the students, asked.
“Nine minutes,” replied Kenny.
“It seems like a long time.”
“I read the bag.”
That settled the argument and we discussed other things as the tray in the microwave rotated around. My hunger got the best of me after about six minutes had passed and I asked, “Are you sure you were supposed to cook them so long?”
“The bag said eight to nine minutes,” Kenny said, somewhat gruffly.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“It does seem like a long time from chicken wings,” said another student.
“Yeah, isn’t it usually, like, three to four minutes,” I helpfully added.
Our queries clearly irritated Kenny, because he snatched the empty bag from the trash, tossed it at Patrick and snapped, “Read the bag!”
Patrick read the bag. Then he said, “It says three to four minutes.”
“What?” said Kenny as he yanked it back from Patrick, “Let me see that.” He read for a moment then burst out laughing. “It says arrange eight to nine wings on a plate.”
“And then cook them for three to four minutes,” patrick added between laughs.
We all shared the laugh and Kenny took our ribbing quite good-naturedly. He quickly stopped the microwave and removed the now sizzling. The wings were still arranged in the nice mound and the smell of delicious buffalo sauce filled the room. Sadly, we could only stare at the plate and wait for the wings to cool enough to touch.
“At least we’ll know they’re done,” Kenny announced.
Eventually, they cooled enough to pick up. Patrick went first and pronounced them good. I grabbed one and bit in. The chicken was still almost too hot, but my hunger overcame my good sense and I finished the bite. Delectable tastes flooded my mouth. “These may work out after all I said.” Then I took the second bite.
Where the first had been almost too hot, tasty, and wonderful, the second was frigid, stiff, and completely un-wonderful. Patrick had the same experience and we both made a face. There’s nothing wrong with cold chicken if that’s what you’re expecting, but it’s not a pleasant surprise.
I choked down the cold bite and asked, “Did the directions maybe have something about flipping them halfway through or something.”
“No,” Kenny said, “I’m sure about that.”
“Like you were about nine minutes?”
Patrick grabbed the bag and pointed to the back as he read, “Turn once during cooking. Read the bag.”
We lost it. Laughter filled the room, glasses were removed for protection, tears streamed, and counters were slapped. Each time we thought the laughter had finally died down one of us would look at another and we’d all dissolve into paroxysms of laughter. It went on for several minutes.
Eventually we did calm down, but not too much that those three simple words couldn’t set us off again. We only completely stopped when our ribs hurt and we gasped for breath.
Several great things came out of that evening. One of them was an inside joke that will forever make the five of us smile. Another is that five guys named Kenny, Patrick, Thomas, Adam, and Leighton who seem quite disparate to an outside observer, share a bond of a most ridiculous situation. It also opened the conversation to much deeper topics.
It really is amazing that five guys, from five very different background and wildly different experience can share such a moment. More, that moment made it easier to talk about the serious things. After all, if we could laugh together, it was easy to be real and cry if necessary. It was a moment I doubt any of us will be able to fully explain to anyone who wasn’t there. A moment special enough that it would have made the trip worthwhile even if it was the only one.
At the very least it gave us a simple shorthand to use whenever another moment got too serious (or someone was taking themselves too seriously). It’s an easy way to provoke laughter and even completely relieved the tension of a later intense discussion. It became a way of gently admonishing someone to pay more attention, even while reminding them not to be too worked up about it.
Probably the best part though, is that now whenever one of the five of us says it to the others, it’s a sort of code. It’s a phrase that reminds each of us we shared a wonderful moment. It reminds us that we are more alike than different. It reminds us we can laugh at ourselves and each other. It shows us we are brothers.
It makes me wish I could look everyone I meet in the eye and say, “Read the bag,” and they would get the joke and laugh with me. It makes me want to share other moments with other people. It makes me want to make brothers and sisters out of all I meet.
That would be a joke worth sharing.