Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2003 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

More convenience for really time-challenged choosy mothers | How long do you figure it would take you to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Not trying to set a land speed record, mind you. Just working at a normal pace, slapping jelly on one slice of bread, peanut butter on the other. How long do you figure it would take, start to finish? Thirty seconds? Forty-five?

Do you really have that kind of time to waste?

PJ Squares is betting that you don't. So the company, born — it swears! — in Sandwich, Ill., is offering a solution for time-pressed Americans. A PJ Square, you see, is a two-sided slice of ''peanut butter flavor layer'' and a second, jelly-like layer made of fruit juice. It comes individually packaged like that shiny fake orange cheese in the dairy case. You slap one down between bread or crackers and presto! Not a PB&J, but an incredible simulation.

PJ Squares are said to be available in ''select'' supermarkets and Target stores nationwide, but I didn't have to go that far to find one. A co-worker — let's call him ''Bob,'' since that's his name — brought some in the other day, whereupon some of us spent a few minutes not putting out the newspaper. Instead, we had an impromptu taste test.

The consensus? They are not disgusting. If you were trapped on a desert island and had to choose between one of these or shoe leather, you would pick the Square in a heartbeat. And yet by their very existence, PJ Squares raise a question of pressing concern:

How lazy do you have to be to need a shortcut to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?!

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I'm sorry. Did I say lazy? I meant, ''time-pressed.'' Granted, some of us are too effort-challenged to fan away the flies, and I'm sure PJ Squares will find a nice market among those folks, assuming they can make it to the store. But for most of us, the issue is simply time and the lack thereof. We stagger through sleep-deprived days trying to figure out how to do the same things in fewer minutes.

As the PJ Squares website puts it, ''[I]f you only have a few minutes to give the kids a snack, find the missing soccer shorts and get to a game, you can grab a box of PJ Squares and get on the road.'' In other words, they're convenient.

Heaven help us.

I mean, when ''convenience'' became a Madison Avenue mantra 50 years ago, the idea was that it would give us more leisure time. Instant coffee, instant oatmeal, hands-free mops and wrinkle-free slacks, self-propelled lawn mowers, frozen foods and microwave ovens . . . the promise, sometimes implicit, sometimes stated, was that they would make life's mundane chores a breeze, that they would free us to read and chat, to paint or play the piano or just pause and sniff those darned roses. Life would be better.

So here we are, a half century later. What are you doing with all your extra time?

Yeah, that's a good one, isn't it? We get the same 24 hours previous generations did and yet ours seem to have been shortchanged. You want to demand a recount. While their days seemed merely busy, ours feel . . . crammed. Stuffed to the breaking point with deadlines, demands, presentations, Net surfing, business trips, soccer practices, things that all have to be done right now.

And there is never enough ''now'' to go around.

I blame convenience. Because with more time has come an implicit expectation of more accomplishment. What excuse is there for lingering over the morning meal when breakfast is a bar you can munch in the car? How can you justify relaxing with a book in the airport lounge when the big report can be downloaded to your PDA?

Woe unto the unstructured moment, the moment not spent planning, racing, rushing, doing. The moment you spend just being.

The paradoxical thing is, we had more of them when life was less convenient.

Yeah, maybe I exaggerate, but this much I know: If you're too busy to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you're too busy.

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