Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"My Favorite Inanimate Object"

I don’t think I’m cheap, but what do I know? My view is that I love this inanimate object not – at least not primarily – for moneysaving reasons, but because it’s existence fills me with wonder, excitement, hopefulness and joy. It’s almost like magic, though come to think of it, everything I don’t understand feels, to some degree, like magic, including how, though billions of phone calls are being bounced off satellites at the same time, you never get somebody else’s call by mistake. The light bulb also knocks me out. A heat bulb I could understand. You plug something in, and it gets hot, like a waffle iron. But where does the light come from? Don’t tell me. I would miss going “Look at that!” every time it goes on.

Okay, so there’s this store – it’s still around – in a “walking street” mall near my house called the Z Gallery. This was the store where I bought this wonderful thing I’m about to talk about, although since that time, the place has completely altered its inventory, and not for the better. There is now nothing in there I would want to purchase. No “wonderment” items whatsoever. Mostly, it’s really ugly lamps. Did you ever wonder who buys the stuff that you think is hideous? I do, all the time. Just once, I’d like to walk up to the checkout counter as they’re paying for their coveted monstrosity and go,


Anyway, about twenty-five years ago – don’t hold me to that, old people are notoriously inaccurate about the dating of past events – I say something happened ten years ago and it was twenty years ago; I believe as you get older, the years somehow become shorter – anyway, I walked into the Z Gallery, at the time when they sold less unattractive furniture accessories and more chazzerai (assorted knickknacks) – and I discovered and felt immediately compelled to buy, at a price of twenty-two dollars, a smallish (maybe six by nine inch), flat, molded black plastic, what was promoted as:

A solar calculator.

This description seemed mislabeled to me, because, despite its being “solar”, I was never required to stand in the sun to use it. I do not have to calculate outdoors at all. I can calculate in my office. And I don’t even have to stand by the window. I can use it when the blinds are drawn, and my office lights are off. It appears to be a “solar” calculator that can function in the dark.

Lacking any kind of light source – natural or otherwise – my calculator works flawlessly. And it continues to do so after, what I believe to be, twenty-five years.

The most magical part of all?

The thing never breaks.

Judging by a quarter of century of impeccable service, my calculator is projected to last


I love perfection. I strive for it every day in this blog, and consistently fall short. Now here’s this thing I own that is inherently…perfect. It lasts forever, and works as reliably today as it did when I bought it. It always calculates correctly – just for fun, I have double-checked its computations, comparing its results with my own pen and paper calculations, and after all these years, it has never once been wrong.

Wouldn’t it be terrible if you “bad lucked” into an “Evil Calculator” that deliberately gave you faulty calculations?

ME: I have five hundred dollars in the bank.

EVIL CALCULATOR: Heh, heh, heh.

My calculator neither gloats nor misleads. It is one hundred per cent decent and correct. Every single time. Since, somewhere around, 1986. I did that in my head – 2011 minus 25 – but I could have done it on my calculator. And I’m certain the answer would be exactly the same.

What’s interesting to me is, I look around my house, and do not see a single piece of equipment that, like my calculator, has the “Expiration Date” of “Never!” This magnificent gizmo seems to be one of a kind. And you can easily understand why.

The customer may be ecstatic about such a product. The free enterprise system? Considerably less so.

“Would you like to buy a solar calculator?”

“I already have one. And it’s projected to last forever.”

Uh-oh. Say goodbye to the Capitalist System. Open the window, and you’ll hear the house of cards called “business” come crashing to the ground.

If I were Swedish and voting, I would readily accord the person who invented the calculator that lasts forever the “Nobel Prize for Mechanistic Immortality.” Judging from the dearth of devices boasting similar longevity, what seems clearly to have happened is that, instead of being feted, huzzahed and carried around on shoulders, the inventor of this devise was instead vigorously shaken, bopped over the head repeatedly with a mallet, had his head submerged in water for several minutes, after which, he was forced down a gauntlet of club-wielding company shareholders and assembly line workers, to the point where the battered genius who invented the reasonably priced product that lasted forever agreed to promise, through swollen lips and shattered teeth, that

He would never ever do it again.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; many manufactured devices can last much longer than we use them. Cars, for example, with reasonable maintenance can last generations. Are they any good after a decade? Not really, but they still work. I suspect that a lot of things you and I have thrown out were not worn out, but just out of fashion. A calculator that works never goes out of fashion unless it's a slide rule.


YEKIMI said...

The calculator company will be calling to buy it back from you. They would like to study the reason why it has lasted so long and fix it so that will never happen again!

Mac said...

Volvo made a galvanized car which didn't rust (if you didn't scratch it), and sales of new Volvos tailed off so badly in the next few years, they went back to the definitely-will-rust version.

Then there was a rumour (maybe an urban myth) about a car manufacturer who put microscopic holes in their car panels, to ensure rust a few years down the road. Built-in obsolescence = future business.

Frank said...

Be sure to leave that calculator in the will so it can last for eternity.

Billy Harro said...

I have a similar calculator - solar that works in any environment (that I've tried). Think I paid $7. for it, but it was probably 12 yrs. ago, so it's nowhere near 'as proven' as yours is. Sadly, I don't know where it is anymore as I just use the calculators on the computer (mostly) or the cell phone. Is that sad, or just reality? I fear however that if I spill Coke on it, the end will fizzle to the top.

GRayR said...

I sit here with a Franklin Spelling Ace Computer that I got in about 1986. Small thing with 4 AAA batteries that I still use.

And I still have an 18" 4 decimal place slide rule that I picked up a 'couple' of years ago. Engineers used to wear these like swords. The longer the slide rule the 'better' the engineer.

Andrew said...

Your description of what might have happened to the man who invented the calculator reminds of the description of the 1951 movie "The Man in the White Suit."

From IMDB:
"An altruistic chemist invents a fabric that resists wear and stain as boon to humanity but both capital and labor realize it must be suppressed for economic reasons."