Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Heredity is a funny thing; people inherit some of their parents' traits, but they don't inherit others. I didn't inherit my
mother's desire to find the perfect garden hose, but I did inherit her desire for a perfect can opener. Mom has found
her hose, and I think she's found her can opener, but mine, like the Holy Grail, keeps eluding me.
My aunt had a wall-mounted Swing-A-Way can opener in her basement that opened every can in her house for
over forty years. It held the can, any can, even heavy tomato juice cans, suspended in the air while you cranked the
handle and the can turned as it opened. Then the cute little magnet arm lifted the perfectly cut lid up and away from the
food before the lid fell in and needed to be fished out with a butter knife after depositing all those horrible warehouse
germs into your fruit cocktail. Who knows what ran or scuttled across the top of that can before you brought it home
from the grocery store? Never mind that, except for a week or two on the store shelves, it's probably been in a
cardboard box ever since it left the packing plant.
I open a lot of cans, mostly cat and dog food cans. Because we recycle, I like to open the bottoms of the empty
cans so I can flatten them out and save space in the recyling bin, meanwhile saving the tops and bottoms in another can
so that the bin isn't full of things with sharp edges. Ever since I cut myself while opening a particularly stubborn pull-top
can, I prefer to open those with a can opener, too. Unfortunately, the bottoms of many cans are off-set so they'll stack
atop other cans more easily, and manufacturers don't expect folks to open pull-tops the "hard" way, so most can
openers don't open bottoms and pull-tops very well, or at all. Some, however, do, so I persist in my contrary
can-opening ways, at least until I mangle the gears on whichever can opener I happen to be abusing at the time.
I've found that can openers that cost under $10 are just a waste of money, because they tend to die within the first
week of use. Right now I have an Ecko that has a "no questions asked" guarantee; it's less than a week old, and its
nylon gears are already mangled beyond hope. I saved the guarantee card, and I'll try sending it back for a
replacement, but I'm not holding my breath. It's a good thing I still have an old hand-held Swing-A-Way with a bad
spot on the blade that doesn't quite cut through a couple spots on a can lid unless I go around twice, because there'd be
a posse of hungry cats going "mare, mare, mare" until I ran out and bought another can opener.
On the other hand, an expensive price tag is no assurance that a can opener will be any good. My mother bought
me one that was a marvel of Italian design, complete with chrome and trendy black matte plastic handles. It was a
piece of junk from the get-go, even on ordinary cans. When the Safe-T-Can, the opener that cuts through the top
seam of the can and leaves no sharp edges, came out, Mom mistakenly ordered a knock-off version that was supposed
to cut a can open below the top seam, which would leave you with a safe lid, but with the body of the can as sharp as a
circular knife, which makes no sense at all. No worries, though; it never worked, either, and so was safe as houses if
only because it was a useless piece of scrap.
Mom then bought a genuine Safe-T-Can, but the knob was too hard for her to turn, so she gave it to me. It did
what it was supposed to do, and worked fairly well most of the time. But some cans have a gummy sealant inside that
top seam, and, even once the metal is cut, that sealant wants to hold the lid on the can. As often as not, I'd have to
push and pry the lid up with thumbs and fingernails, often taking a catfood gravy bath in the process. The Safe-T-Can
wouldn't work on can bottoms, either, so I had another can opener for those, and I kept it in another room. I'd open
the can, feed one batch of cats, walk down the hall, feed the other batch of cats, wash the can out and remove the
bottom, flatten the can and toss it into the recycle bin on the back porch. It was a good system while it lasted, but
eventually the plastic knob on the Safe-T-Can broke, and that was the end of that.
And so it goes. Whenever I have a can opener that actually does a good job of opening cans, something else
always goes wrong with it. We had another Ecko a while back, and it was perfect. It operated smoothly, opened any
kinds of cans, and always took the lids all the way off instead of leaving a little bit of metal uncut so you have to gingerly
wiggle the lid back and forth until it snapped off, all the while envisioning the arterial spray of blood that would adorn
your cabinets if you should happen to slip and cut your thumb open. That can opener worked great, right up until the
day one of its cast-metal handles snapped off. I had a Swing-A-Way that worked just fine, until the plastic handle
pieces accidentally got melted, leaving metal bars that hurt my hand to hold tightly enough to open a can.
I didn't throw that can opener away, but held on to it "just in case," to use on those days that some other can
opener might finally refuse to work. At this point, I'm tempted to re-create its handle pads by dunking them in that
tool-dip goo. I've learned that, even with the good brands, individual openers vary in performance. I've adopted
several tricks to employ with this or that opener, such as tilting the angle of this blade more sharply so it doesn't climb
off the can rim, or easing off on how hard I squeeze the handles together on that particular opener, because it works
better when I don't have a death grip on it. I miss the little keys that used to come with sardine cans, because it's a rare
opener that can handle the tight corners on those. Whenever I might have to open a can at someone else's house, I
pack an opener that I know works, because other people's openers tend to be even more pesky and unreliable than
mine. Maybe I'm expecting too much of them, but I don't really think so; I still believe that the perfect can opener
exists, somewhere, and that I'll find it, someday. Meanwhile it seems that, sooner or later, all my can openers are
doomed to turn into can't openers.