In the past couple of weeks, students have hidden the comment card bulletin board in Thorne with colorful, scrawled cards. These cards do not lament, for the hundredth time, Thorne's lack of Nutella, nor do they sing the praises of the sweet, summery flavor of the most recent mango vinaigrette. The problem this time? Pepper. Specifically, its shakers.
In the background of any dinner at Thorne, there is a recurrent melody that's become so commonplace it's hardly noticeable anymore:
A split second of confusion, and then clarity—just a pepper flip. Like the call and response of lions on the savanna, this behavioral pattern that fills the all-too-frequent, awkward silences of dinner conversation has become the rhythm of our habitat, the beat of our feeding.
I can't imagine any self-respecting Bowdoin student would be unfamiliar with the game that, for mere practical purposes, I'll call "Pepper Flip" (though the notorious, sacred pastime hardly demands a formal title).
But, for those of you whose dinner chats are stimulating enough to keep your pepper shakers in place, here's the premise: hold the pepper shaker by its "head" (I haven't a clue what the technical term for that piece is) with your thumb and index finger, flip it, and hope it lands right side up. Only one try per meal.
Sound easy? False. I've never—suspend judgment here, if you can—not once, in my three-and-a-half years at Bowdoin, successfully landed a shaker.
My greatest fear at this, the threshold of my senior spring, is not losing touch with close friends, or being unable to find steady work, but graduating without the rare and distinct satisfaction of hearing the decisive, uniform thwap of a shaker's base on a wood table.
I worry—every evening during dessert, in fact—that I'll never gaze into the air above a napkin basket and watch a pepper shaker chaotically spin, like the profound and senseless whirl of a galaxy, and see it land in vertical perfection, giving back the universe its security and mankind its hope.
But after a night of restless sleep, tortured by dreams of scattered pepper granules and rolling shakers, I awoke one morning to find the terms of the game altered.
The Thorne pepper shakers, as long as I've been at Bowdoin, have had a slightly conical base with a pronounced top whose sides protrude over the glass container. The head is easy for the fingers to grip, making for an efficient, tight toss.
You can imagine the uproar, then, when we all came back to campus from break and found, resting atop the tables, an entirely new model, sporting a base whose width is uniform with that of its top. When you first try to grab it, your fingers slip right off.
Pepper pandemonium ensued. Within days of our return, angry and saddened comment cards blanketed the bulletin board, their complaints ranging from practical to ideological: "You can't flip these shakers!!!" "What was wrong with the old ones???" "In this economic climate, should Bowdoin really be putting its resources into buying new pepper shakers?"
Patty, commendably, pulled out the heavy artillery by typing a large-fonted note that was tacked, with the firmness and authority of Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses," in the middle of the squabbling cards. A lot had gone missing (I consider extra-Thorne practice of Pepper Flip cheating, but never mind that for now); many were broken (from repeated abuse, no doubt); it was simply more cost-effective to buy a new batch.
I applaud Patty for her frankness in addressing these cards; in this trying economic time, or in adulthood, for that matter, should we be wasting ink and pepper on complaining about a change in pepper shakers?
But I can't deny that the loss of the old form of Pepper Flip has me a little rattled. I should be sleeping more soundly, but I'm experiencing the empty confusion of being suddenly without a Quest.
The verdict is still out on the future of Pepper Flip, however. Some say the shaker is easier to flip now. Some that it doesn't count anymore because it's easier. Some say the grip is impossible. Some that the shakers are a progressive innovation, like the development of a better baseball bat.
At the end of dinner, though, we're all still being fed Thorne's delicious, sufficiently pepper-seasoned meals. So even in the wake of our beloved old shakers, us Polar Bears can be happy and find companionship across the table, on the other side of the modernized salt and pepper.
So maybe the issue isn't worth flipping our shakers over.