Having achieved a certain level of wear, like most men my age, I am a little less finicky about my appearance than might be optimal. I look at it as fostering consistency–plenty of life left in this face, and in these old blue jeans. But there are certain minimum standards. For example, I try to never be without a pocket comb. Not only does it help in the “frightening the children” department, it balances the wallet in my other back pocket, so long days of sitting at the computer don’t cause scoliosis or hip dysplasia.
My father carried a pocket comb before me, and the one left to me among his effects had probably been in use for 20 years. Cheap, black, and made of some 20th century petrochemical miracle product that never broke or lost a tooth. I wish I could find it now. They carry something at the local chain drug store that looks just like it, but I have snapped four of them in half in the last six months, doing nothing more strenuous that slumping in a padded chair. Yes, I know, this is a traditional cane-waver’s lament. Next I’ll be shooing the neighbor children off the lawn.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t live a different, and in some ways a poorer economy. To the point, I tried to find a better-made comb. They seem to be everywhere, packaged two to a card (which tells you something), and they all suck. The great strong, everlasting comb fails in this economy, because you never sell another one until the first has been lost, (or possibly chipped in a gas main explosion or a train wreck) and you can’t get a customer to pay a twenty-buck premium for so humble an artifact. Equally hard to find–clothes that last, stuff that can be repaired–or a repairman to fix them.
All our possessions have become temporary acquisitions, from Kindle e-books, to leased cars, to burner phones, to Ikea furniture, to pocket combs. Yet Americans, perhaps more than any other culture, identify with their stuff. We accumulate things with such enthusiasm that we have a whole mini-storage industry to accommodate the stuff that won’t fit in the house, or the garage, or the shed, or the yard. When did it stop mattering whether the stuff was any good?
What items in your life were too good to survive a throwaway society? Name one in a comment below.