(@LA.COM)
August 16, 1998
The Seventh Sign 

I do not know if this journal will reach the outside world, but I can only hope and pray that in fact, some means of conveying these words will be found.

Such is the life of a man trapped.

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is F. Joseph Higgleston.  Doctor F. Joseph Higgleston, if you insist on complete accuracy, but I feel the "Doctor" honorific only serves to magnify what is already a rather foppish first name.  My friends call me Joe.  You should, too.

I am a man trapped, quite literally and figuratively, by my success.  The breadth of my imagination has led to countless breakthroughs, succeeding in making my employers richer than they could ever have dreamed.  My dedication to my craft, if I may be so bold as to say, is second to none, and that dedication has certainly paid off with rewards both real and imagined.  Personally, I find my work satisfying, as do millions of people the world over.

I am the worldís foremost designer of cheese crackers.

Now, you may well laugh at this (many people do), but before you so casually dismiss my admittedly specialized field of expertise, I feel it only fair to say that had you a level of expertise in your chosen field equal to mine, you would quickly grow to first accept, then finally crave the idolization and respect which pours upon you in wave after unending wave.

Thatís how they got me.


Who grows up wanting to be a designer of cheese crackers?  Certainly not I.  As a lad, I had an affinity for all things graham or wheat.  Mum always gets a kick out of telling how I wouldnít go near cheese crackers as a child.  Quite a surprise, then, wouldnít you say, that my fate and the destiny of cheese crackers would eventually become so intertwined as that there would be some confusion over where I end and the cheese crackers begin.

This is the level of madness to which Iíve descended.  I no longer recognize myself as an entity separate from the cheese cracker.  The line between man and snack have long since blurred in to oblivion.


As a struggling young man, just out of college, looking for a place to put my mark on the world, there seemed to be something special about working for a company called Sunshine.  The very name itself evoked pure sweet goodness and light.  Of course, now, in my current situation (of which more will addressed shortly), the cruel irony of the corporate moniker is not lost upon a lost soul such as I.

For, you see, my corner of the Sunshine kingdom, my domain, my castle, has become a prison.  I did not misuse the word "literally" in my earlier ramblings.  For if you have not yet deduced it, I shall put down here on paper the unfathomable truth which now controls my existence:  I am being held captive, against my will, by the happy, good, pure folks at Sunshine Biscuits, Inc., 877 Larch Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois, 60126.

Early on in my career with Sunshine, it became apparent that my excellence would become my Achilles Heel.  It was a simple task for the corporate hydras here to let loose an arrow from their corporate quiver, targeting the vulnerable area where my soaring creative desires intersected with my quite unreasonable quest for the perfect cheese cracker.

And still, a madman who admits his madness is no less mad, now, is he?  For what else but madness can explain why I would accept the proto-Faustian bargain which led to my current incarcerated state.  Sure, I was bedazzled by their promises of unlimited time, and unlimited resources.  Imagine, getting paid to do nothing more than ponder the future of cheese crackers!  It seemed like a dream.

But after I introduced my version of the classic Cheez-It (Version 4.0, if you must know ... Any true cheese cracker connoisseur can fill you in on the differences between the previous three versions, and there is no doubt in my mind that this wondrous "Internet" of which I hear so much must surely contain page upon page devoted to the changes in cheese crackers over the years.), I figured my work here at Sunshine was done.

Instead, what I saw as the end, my bosses saw as only the beginning.  Cheez-It 4.0 was an unqualified success.  Sunshine saw its market share skyrocket, leaving behind such pretenders to the cheese cracker throne as that unworthy, unappealing, sawdust tasting Cheese Nip.  (Donít get me started.)

What I had no way of predicting was the Hollywood-style mentality which was sweeping the cheese cracker industry.  Every good success meant it was time for a sequel.  Forget about the handcuffs imposed by letting the marketing department dictate the act of creation.  Forget about a commitment to consumer quality.  Forget about the passion, the love, the time and the desire which go in to forging a truly fantastic cheese cracker.  Marketing says we need a new Cheez-It by the second quarter of the new fiscal year, and so the order came down.  Work harder.  Be more "creative."  (As though I would instantly jump through this hoop, delivering a product as successful as Cheez-It 4.0 because the marketing department insisted such a product was needed to make their lovely little forecast charts and graphs work out.)

But, strangely, it seemed to work.  For not two weeks after the dictum had come down, lightning struck.  (And this, I mean in a figurative, not literal sense.  Although, and I know you wonít believe this, a lightning strike actually played a large part in the development of Cheez-It 2.02.  The archives here at Sunshine are, thankfully, fascinating.)

America was in love with the Cheez-It, but perhaps too much so.  Why not offer a low fat alternative?

The powers that be at Sunshine ate it up.  (Again, weíre back to both figurative and literal here.  I am such the stickler for metaphor detail!)  Production began on the new Reduced Fat Cheez-It.  The product shipped, Sunshine experienced new record sales highs, there was a great satisfaction across the land, there was peace in our time.

Sunshine asked for more.


Please note my generous inclusion of the word "asked" in the previous sentence.  At the time, I truly believed their request to be in the form of a non-pre-ordained outcome interrogative.  I could say yes or no, I believed.  And figuring that my career as their top cheese cracker specialist would last for several more years, I agreed to their "request" for another entry in the Cheez-It line.

My vision was, as it turns out, horrifically out of line with theirs.  While I had envisioned working on the new project in my spare time, Sunshine insisted on making the creation of a third cheese cracker my number one priority.  Never mind the fact that several bugs (figurative, thankfully, although one can never be too careful) had cropped up in Cheez-It 4.0.  I had planned on devoting my time to a Version 4.1, but it was not to be.  All of my energy was directed into this mysterious "third" cheese cracker product.

I donít wish to say this was an easy process, but fortunately, there was an area which I had long felt was ripe for further exploration.  You see, several members of my family had waged valiant battles against high blood pressure for several years.  So it was only a matter of time until I realized a low sodium Cheez-It would be a convenient way to both satisfy the needs of my corporate masters, and provide a relatively healthy snack food alternative to several dear family members.

After a few disappointing tests, several frustrating failed experiments, and a disastrous kitchen malfunction which left several of my assistants badly burned, we finally were able to figure out a way to use less salt in the production of the cracker.  And thus, Low Sodium Cheez-Its were born.

It is about this time I began to realize something was amiss.


I had considered the Low Sodium Cheez-It to be my farewell project.  After all, one can only play so many variations on the same theme before one goes batty.  Besides, I had accumulated a rather hefty sum thanks to the royalties from Cheez-It 4.0. ($0.000001 per individual cracker shipped in a Cheez-It 4.0 package, slightly more for the Reduced Fat Cheez-Its.  It really adds up.)  I wanted to get out, see the world, spend my riches, lounge on a French beach, visit a Greek isle, tour an Australian village.

The security guards, whom up until then I had always considered friends, tried to be as gentle as possible.  As I was going home one night, they gently suggested I stay, and begin work on a fourth Cheez-It.  I gently suggested I was going home for the weekend, and considering quitting.  They gently tapped my skull with a gentle nightstick.

When I awoke, I was in a duplicate of my laboratory.  It couldnít have been my real lab.  The windows there open to the outside world, and these here only reveal moist earth.  I know not where they have constructed this cell, but it is a cell, no matter how much they try to disguise it as a lab.

Iíve been led to believe that my freedom is an eventuality, dependent, of course, on my ability to provide Sunshine with more entries for their Cheez-It line of products.


The first year wasnít so bad.  No real breakthroughs, but the mundanities of daily life were at least tolerable.  I had plenty of cheese, and plenty of crackers, and plenty of time to experiment with them.

Years two through five were a little dreary.

Year six brought a real breakthrough, though.  Tired of orange stain which was now as much a part of my hands as my fingers, and, I must confess, in a fit of pique, I insisted that some other form of cheese be brought to the lab for testing.  Six months later, White Cheddar Cheez-Its were ready.

Year seven, year eight, year nine ... cheese, crackers, cheese, crackers ... but no breakthrough.  My confinement continued.

My hands growing arthritic with age, I struck upon a bit of a revolutionary idea in year ten.  What if we made Cheez-Its larger?  Granted, you could fit fewer Big Cheez-Its in a box, and fewer crackers meant a dip in my royalty payments, but I was more than willing to trade a few pennies for another step toward freedom.

Sunshine continued to hold the outside world like a carrot on a stick, always promising to release me if I could come up with just one more variety, just one more entry in their cheese cracker line.


This year, Iíve been lucky.  Two great ideas, two great products.  Nacho Cheez-Its are selling like tortillas in Mexico, and the "Heads and Tails" Cheez-It breaks the mold completely, splitting the cracker into halves, one the top part and the other a bottom part of some fun animal.  Sure, some see it as a blatant move in to animal cracker territory, but really, did I have any other choice?

Iíve now provided Sunshine with twice what they allege was needed to secure my freedom ("just one more variety"), and yet the guards remain.  My "lab" remains as prison like as ever.  I am left only to type out these notes, and then hope I can find a way to spirit them out to the outside world.


Hereís an idea of what my bosses are like:  On the side of the Cheez-It 4.0 box, the geniuses in marketing tout the "features" of the cracker:  A "No-slip Grip," an "Air Intake" pinhole in the center, and "Surface Dynamics," to increase satisfaction.  (Check it out for yourself, the next time you go to the store.)

Then, the weasels in legal got a hold of the packaging plan.  Now, in small black type at the bottom of the layout it reads:  "These qualities make Cheez-It fun, but do not suggest any serious product performance claims."  Yes, as though Sunshine was getting a lot of complaints from people unhappy with the No-Slip Grip ("Mine slipped right out of my hand," I can imagine one angry letter reading.  "You lied.  I'm suing!").


Well, folks, thatís about all.  Iím not sure what weíve learned here, but I do hope the next time youíre walking down the cracker aisle, you look for the seventh sign, the seven varieties of Cheez-It I played a part in developing.  Think of me when you make your buying decision.  Think of how Iíve been treated by Sunshine, and think if you want to support them.

Iíve just been told theyíd like me to design one final variation of Cheez-It before theyíll agree to let me go.  My proposal for "Reduced Fat and Low Sodium" Cheez-It apparently didnít fly with some bratty middle-manager whoís all too happy to keep me confined here on his whim.

I shall attempt to smuggle this document out in a return shipment of cheese curds which didnít meet the malleability levels I need for my latest experiment.  I encourage anyone who finds this document to give it the widest possible distribution, to tell the true tale of what has happened to a simple man with a simple dream.

I just wanted to make a better cheese cracker.  Now Iím trapped in a cheese cracker Hell I wouldnít wish on anyone.  Lifeís funny like that.  Not funny, ha-ha, just funny.

Back to the drawing board ...

Dr. F. Joseph Higgleston
Trapped in Laboratory Somewhere
Likely near Sunshine Biscuits, Inc. Headquarters
Elmhurst, Illinois


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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated August 16, 1998