Penny Wrappers


Not many things in this world are free.  Penny wrappers are one of these things–at least where I live.  Go to the bank, ask if they have a few empty penny wrappers and receive said penny wrappers.  As a child I was entranced by the exoticism of the wheat penny.  My parents would give me five dollars to exchange for penny rolls so I could open them and treasure hunt.  Not much was better than helping my grandparents sort through coins from the laundromat–wheat pennies, but also the possibility of a silver dime or a quarter.  There is talk of eliminating the penny entirely, produced at a loss by the federal government.  Something would be gained, fiscally.  Something would be lost philosophically–the value of the humble one cent coin, so often found in parking lots, under seat cushions, on the sidewalk, at the gas pump.  I always stoop to pick them up, still–heads or tails, it makes no difference.  Free money is free money.




Art Book

DSC05276Art books are often under-appreciated among those who regularly attend museums and the various exhibits contained within them.  Why spend the money on an expensive art book when I can just see the exhibit?  First of all, I can relate to the frugality of that sentiment–this gorgeous Barnes Foundation art book, was, in fact, a generous gift (most of the nice things I own are) from my mother-in-law.  However, what is wonderful about art books has to do with time and options.  While exploring a museum, one is often rushed or bleary-eyed or overwhelmed or distracted by the throng of art lovers flitting in and out of ones line of sight.  Heads are in the way.  It’s an experience.  The thrill is sharing space with the beautiful painting, with the famous work.  Soaking it up, soaking it in.  Analysis.  One can, of course, see so much more detail in person.  One can see details in person that are impossible to see in reproduction.  Of course.  Of course.

However, the details don’t always stick in the long run, or to put it gently, a visual reminder helps.  One cannot coherently conjure every work of art one has seen at a moment’s notice, like so many JPEGs in a file folder.  Though art books often offer only a selection of the work in an exhibit or collection a sense of permanence is valuable.  Within the Barnes Foundation book one can stare at Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players for hours, if one would like to.  No rush.  No crowd.  No weary feet.  Only quiet contemplation.  Moreover, the analysis and information provided in most art books far exceeds what one might find readily in the exhibit proper.  Though certainly something is lost in reproduction, something is gained, also.  Art books are to art exhibits what compact disks/albums are to a live concert.  They can be relived.  They can even, dare I say, transcend the original experience.

On Lip Balm

My employer likes to offer little bags of swag to returning employees in August every year.  It’s like Christmas for people like me who revel in mundane freebies.  Last year was perhaps the best ever haul:  ear plugs, sticky notes, pens, note pads, a water bottle, and this little roll of lip balm, among others.  Nobody would actually utter the suspicion that the swag bags are meant simply to take the bite out of the bitter end to a long summer vacation, but most of us think it.  It’s okay.  It’s endearing.

Swag bags may be the reason why I enter tennis tournaments, also.  At the most swaggy tournaments entrants receive a little bag of goodies—and it’s a surprise.  What could be better than a bunch of junk?  I don’t need dinner or Gatorade.  Give me a free, functional pen and a sweat towel and I’m happy.

Hold it, hold it.  Let’s reflect for a moment on lip balm, why don’t we?  It’s ubiquitous—found at nearly every grocery checkout lane and 7-11, and yet when it’s cold and windy and your lips are chapped nothing seems more highly essential.  I’d pay $10 a stick in February.

Chapstick is one of those brands like Coke and Xerox and Kleenex that has wormed its way into the collective consumer unconsciousness and become synonymous with the product itself.  Apropos of nothing, this particular lip balm consists of 7.5% oxtinoxate, 6$ oxybenezane, 5% meraclimate and 5% octisalanate.  These are the so-called “active ingredients.”  The “inactive ingredients” include octyl palminate, petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil, paraffin, ceresin, cetyl alcohol, lanolin, aloe barbadenis leaf extract flavor, proplyparaben, tocopheryl acetate (Vitamin E) and titanium dioxide.  That’s a lot of active and inactive stuff involved in making a little stick of something helpful.

Aside from losing lip balm or inadvertently propelling them through the wash, I like to leave lip balm in the car.  This doesn’t end well for the lip balm.  Many a stick of oxtinoxate et al have met their doom, melting into a sticky mess in my car console or in the coin holder or in the little pocket on the door handle.  All that lip balm factory work for a waxy puddle.  Lip balm—useful product.  Even better—same function, heat-resistant. DSC05275

Brown Paper Bag

Does anyone still use brown paper bags?  As a child, of course, they were an ubiquitous staple.  Name scrawled on front, jammed in a backpack filled with a half-squished sandwich, some crumbly potato chips and a spotted banana (actually my school lunches were usually delicious, but somehow the brown paper bag retroactively reduces the gourmetness of whatever it was that I actually ingested). The brown paper bag lingered in quick fix territory.  The kids with more cache had the Star Wars or Captain America or Spiderman lunch boxes, or later, the soft mini-cooler thingies in vibrant colors.  I envied those kids.  My lunchtime companion was always the brown paper bag.  There is a reason disgruntled football fans wear paper bags over their heads.  Plastic would flirt with asphyxiation and seem creepy.  A cooler or lunchbox would confuse.  “Mom, What’s that guy doing with his purple lunchbox on his head?”

Our go-to bag these days (and by “we” I mean the majority) is the common plastic grocery bag, pliant, easy to manage.  American Beauty.  That odd and moving plastic bag film narrated by Werner Herzog.  We forget about the brown paper bag.  Something about it smacks of the 20th century.

I suppose brown paper bags are still good for googly-eyed craft projects and wrapping candles or brownies at a bake sale or holding popcorn or french fries at the beach, the grease translucifying the brown surface.  My wife and I have a stack of paper bags in our cupboard for at least a decade plus.  I suppose we’ll use them someday, for something.  Open to suggestions.


Mechanical Pencil


Full disclaimer:  I only possess this particular mechanical pencil because it was a freebie (this goes for much of what I own, actually).  In fact, I find mechanical pencils to be one of the least useful writing implements out there and perhaps at the lower end of the office supply spectrum overall.  The tips are frequently so fine that they break if even the slightest pressure is applied.  One can’t write as legibly with a mechanical pencil as the print is often hair-fine.  It’s true that the mechanical pencil sidesteps the need for a pencil sharpener, which outside of your local high school can be a difficult find (and most households without children lack at the ready).  Still, the fragility of mechanical pencils negates their clever functionality. Someone reinvented the horse, but the horse is flighty with gimpy knees.  I’ll stick with a “real” pencil any day.  Perhaps I’ve just had bad mechanical pencil experiences and there is a whole world of effective mechanical pencils waiting for me out there for my further exploration.  Coda:  this particular mechanical pencil is better than most–nice grip and fairly sturdy comparatively.  But still…

Nerf football


Nerf is an amazing substance.  It’s soft, pliable and hard to damage (unless you’re a large dog or have many sharp objects lying around).  It’s kid friendly.  Nerf products are wonders, really:  Nerf arrows, Nerf swords, Nerf Frisbee thingies, and of course Nerf football.  Spongy foam is a perfect thing no matter what the Nerf machines might shape it into.  The fact that Nerf surfaced in the late 60’s at the height of suburban expansion makes complete sense—safety first.  The only thing that surprises me is that Nerf didn’t make an entire house out of Nerf.  Who says most accidents have to happen at home?

My experience with Nerf was (and still is) focused primarily on the Nerf football, I’m fairly narrow when it comes to Nerfology.

Let me be clear—this particular Nerf football doesn’t have any specific sentimental meaning to me (this is just the latest incarnation).  The one I had as a young whipper-snapper is long squished into a muck of nothingness in some dump somewhere.  I remember it as green and blue, but I might be wrong.

However, I played countless hours of backyard Nerf football as a kid—one on one, two on two, five on five.  It didn’t matter.  Before I start sounding like an advertisement for Nerf let me mention that Nerf footballs have limits—you can only throw a Nerf football but so far or accurately—the best pass is usually a little screen dump-off or short angled pattern.  Long passes with a Nerf football are a bit untrustworthy.  On the beach, the location which features the highest Nerf to human being ratio (not an official stat), forget it.  The wind usually makes anything but short-range accuracy nearly impossible.

But the Nerf football is so small any kid can pretend he or she is Terry Bradshaw or Dan Marino (not so with regulation footballs).  And if the point of the ball hits your chest, it won’t hurt like it does with the “grownup” footballs.  And spirals are so much easier and more colorful with a Nerf football.

These days the Nerf football only makes an appearance once a year now—when my niece and nephew come down for my birthday celebration.  Often it becomes a large oblong softball at this juncture (you can hit one of these things with a Wiffle ball bat pretty well).  Nerf footballs do that, also.

Some additional information about Nerf, which I found interesting:

Napkin Holder

If you’ve read a few of my previous scribblings on this blog you know I am focusing my efforts on minutia, on common everyday objects around me—on things (and stuff) which might be otherwise ignored.  The thinking at the homestead is that so often we take for granted something we might use frequently, even every day, under the belief that the object is (1) relatively unimportant and that (2) we can do without it ultimately and also (3) that our thoughts should gravitate toward something “more important”—thoughts, feelings, politics, our children, our friends…Probably so—ultimately.  Certainly I would never claim a toothbrush or chair or napkin holder is more interesting or important than _______________ (fill in the blank with “more important thing”).  But then again, household objects don’t create drama (usually) and zero effort is (usually) required to maintain their existence.  At this juncture though I’m reminded of Willie Loman bemoaning the poor construction of his brand new refrigerator, claiming in a moment of high paranoia, that refrigerator manufacturers time the objects to break at the very moment they are paid off.  There is always that.

I would recommend The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski as a primer for those interested in such things.  This book offers an engineering perspective on commonplace objects (Petroski also wrote an entire book on the paper clip—talk about minutiae).

The common napkin holder is an example of an often overlooked thing.  It’s not complicated—the napkin holder simply applies sufficient weight so that a stack of napkins doesn’t blow away in the next breeze.  It’s really just a glorified paperweight on the one hand.  But on the other it also acts as a napkin dispenser—holding the pile in place while the person in need plucks a single napkin from the stack, but leaving the stack itself intact.  Someone had to make this thing.  It has a history.

Certainly, civilization would continue if the napkin holder didn’t exist.  In that case we would live in a world where napkins frequently blew around a lot in the open air.  As a counter-measure we’d keep them tucked away in cupboards or under heavy books.  Someone would think, someday, what if something existed which could hold these blowing napkins down in one place but also allowed the napkins to be plucked casually one-by-one from the holder.  That would be nice and it would save space occupied in the cupboard or clean up some clutter so we don’t have to hold down our napkins with a large book.  When one backtracks the utility of an object in this manner it helps the sense of appreciation.