Scooping Mayonnaise

Ah mayonnaise. The Viscous Muse.

Mayonnaise, like hollandaise, was invented by the French to cover up the flavor of spoiled flesh, stale vegetables, rotten fish. Beware the sauce! Where food comes beslobbered with an elegant slime you may well suspect the integrity of the basic ingredients.”

— Edward Abbey, “The Fool’s Progress”

Part I. Bert

Bert, 74 years old, refused to retire, and through some bureaucratic quirk, it was impossible to make him go. Here is what he did: in the morning he worked on the crossword puzzle and circled real estate classifieds, and in the afternoon it was his special task to drive Marian absolutely insane. Marian was a brisk and efficient secretary for the little Air Force Liaison office that I frequented. She spent the morning undoing the trouble that Bert stirred up around base the day before. In a world where some people pull their own weight, and others manage to pull only a fraction thereof, Bert was a great beached whale. You would swear he was senile but for the fact that he could righteously defend his position as nimbly as a politician in heat. I feared his fat grabby hands, his thick glasses, his bad synthetic creased suits, his slicked back mobster hair. I feared his anecdotes, because if he got me in his office he would spend a half hour telling me about his engineering exploits with the German rocket designers just after World War II. In short, he was a fascinating old man. In short, he was a mayonnaise scooper. Do you know any mayonnaise scoopers?

Part II. Mayonnaise.

Let’s face it, mayonnaise tastes good. Dry stringy turkey on cheap bread, crumbly bacon on wilted lettuce and dusty toast, what are these without the ennobling powers of the magic white spread? Mayonnaise is extraordinarily fatty, so a little will go a long way. And most importantly, if you absolutely HAD to, you could live years and years on nothing but mayonnaise. Of course you would be a changed person. Think about it: after a while, your complexion would become pale and glossy. Like any addiction, you’d soon be reduced to defending your supply, sprinting furtively from jar to jar. Suppose you had a choice between hard work (let us say, what you do now) and a life of empty leisure fueled solely by mayonnaise. Which would you choose? I thought so. Yet every year, thousands and thousands of people choose the Pride of Hellman’s.

You could argue that this is just another phrase for laziness, for goldbricking. But the truly lazy are fat drippy cats who will pour through the gaps in your arms if you don’t hold them just so. Mayonnaise-scooping is more complex; we’re not talking about the simply unmotivated, the slovenly. We’re talking about someone who is not only clever enough to know better, but still cleverer: they can rationalize and relish every drop of unearned goody that comes their way. They can actively take advantage in a predatory premeditated way that eludes mere bums.

Part III. Examples

1. Across the base from Bert’s Air Force Liaison Office was the building where Lt. Holt worked. Everyone who worked with him knew that he wouldn’t complete a project if you pulled him through it on a big metal hook, yet he was the most decorated junior officer in the building. Why? Because he spent all his time writing recommendations for ribbons and commendations which he would then pester senior officers into signing. See what I mean? That’s a lot of effort, and it suited him. But if the earth swallowed him whole tomorrow, he would not be missed for a week.

2. Marilyn takes two hour lunches, of which she is fiercely protective. She takes the elevator up and down past two flights of stairs. She leaves work at four, announcing to anyone who will listen that she’s now going home to her REAL JOB—taking care of her wonderful children. She spends so little time in the office, it’s no wonder she can’t be bothered to answer her voicemail. Yet she dispenses professional advice with the self-importance of a brain surgeon. Do you know anybody like Marilyn?

3. Think about that kid who comes by to badger you into buying something so he can win a trip to Disney World. Magazine subscriptions, chocolate bars, you can’t even tell what he’s selling, because he’s asking you earnestly “Don’t you want me to go to Disney World?” Let on that you aren’t necessarily concerned about his vacation plans, and he’s liable to snarl and bite off a finger on his way to the neighbor’s house.

Part IV. Identification in the Field

What are the characteristics of a Mayonnaise Scooper? Wounded righteousness and a quick left hook.

  1. They are powerfully lazy about anything having to do with their job.
  2. They are strangely intense about avoiding work even if that involves considerable effort.
  3. They are angry when you catch them with one sticky paw in the Hellman’s.

Suggest to a mayonnaise-scooper that they perform a task that appears in their job description, and you are likely to get a look of blank hatred.

Part V. Mayonnaise Futures

Hard times at work are cruel for the lazy, but they can be strangely exhilarating for the inveterate scooper of mayonnaise. So the question I have been pondering of late is this: will the wired world of the future favor or penalize these perversely lazy shirkers? Wherever you can see the structure that supports an organization, whether it’s a copy room or a warehouse, there is the opportunity to scoop booty. As the structure required to support an organization shrinks due to improved technology, the space in which to hide gets smaller. But these people are good at adapting—even now they’re looking forward to the challenge of being lazy in new and different ways. The slobs are in for trouble, but when it comes to mayonnaise, my money’s on Bert.


I was doing a little web research on mayonnaise as I wrote this. An AltaVista search revealed (at the great Edward Abbey quote displayed above. At the same time, AltaVista exhorted me to “Search for top-selling titles about mayonnaise!” How could I resist? There were nine matches, of which, it may interest you to know, the best match was “Mayonnaise and the Origin of Life: Thoughts of Minds and Molecules” by Harold J. Morowitx.