"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Saran Wrap, Super Glue, And Duck Tape–How Modern Miracles Become An Obsession

“What would I do without it?”, asked Marcie Vibberts as she taped a rip in the canvas backing of her suitcase with a stretch of Duck Tape. Marcie taped everything – frayed wires, running shoes, leaky dishwasher doors, and jeans – and she estimated that Duck Tape had saved her thousand of dollars over the years.  She knew that her father, who never bought anything new, would be proud of her. “Why give your money to Sears”, he was fond of saying, “when you can fix it yourself”, and indeed there wasn’t an appliance in his kitchen which had not been jerry-rigged, taped, propped, or glued. 

Duck tape

The hole in the top of the faucet which sprayed a fine mist over the dishes drying in the rack was stopped up with Superglue.  The timer on the washer-drier was jiggered to work for only twenty minutes at a time, but his aerial wiring (a system of suspension and mechanical tension) saved him hundreds of dollars for a new or even reconditioned laundry system.

The pinprick holes in the ceiling which leaked water from disengaged tiles on the roof were quickly taped, and an interior system of balsawood swales under the eaves took the leaking water into the gutter; and once again Marcie’s father saved hundreds more in contractor costs.

Old lamps which most families would have thrown out were rehabilitated thanks to Duck Tape and Superglue.  One in particular, a faux-Chinese vase copied from a famous Ming Dynasty original, had been knocked over by the neighbor’s dog and broken into a hundred pieces and shards; but Hector Vibberts calmly picked up each and every one and the next day put them back together as easily as if he had been working on a simple jigsaw puzzle.  If you looked carefully you could see the cracks which had been glued together; and of course there was the telltale silver-grey Duck Tape holding the lowest and largest pieces together with the wooden base; but all-in-all, a creditable job of repair and reconstruction.

Image result for images superglue

As a child Marcie took no notice of her jerry-rigged house, for it was hers; and although she did notice the gleaming new counters, spacious and quiet refrigerators, and unblemished and perfectly clean carpets in her friends’ homes, nothing immediately registered.  Only when she became a pre-teen, did she stop inviting friends over to her house and begin her whining and whinging about its bandaged and tacky look. “I’m so embarrassed”, she said to her parents; but her father had been taping, gluing, and rigging everything for so long that there was no chance that he would change his ways. She vowed that she would never live in a house like theirs ever again.

Life never turns out the way you intend it; and since Freud was right about the formation of personality and character before the age of five, Marcie Vibberts turned out to be much like her father.  At first, she used Duck Tape and Superglue only sparingly.  She was careful not to let the tape show and to be sure that seams, joints, and holes were adhered without any hardened, gluey ooze which happened if you were too impatient. Before long, the tape and glue were staples of her household and she, like her father, was proud of her frugality and practicality. 


The problem was that in a generation what had been a natural thriftiness for her father who had grown up on a ranch during the Depression became a nervous compulsion.  It became harder and harder for Marcie to throw anything away; and although she made a good living at her K Street firm, she was paralyzed with the thought of buying anything. When she finished taping a wobbly heel or patching a worn bathing suit, she threw them against the wall, banged her fists against her temples and yelled, “Get a life!”.

Her friends at first loved her for her eccentricity.  Some totally misread her repairs and took the Duck Tape as hipster statement – fashionably ripped jeans, for example, which had been accessorized – or the reconstituted pottery fragments as an ironic statement against materialism.  After a while even the most generous-minded conceded that she was a bit batty; and some even thought that she needed professional help.

Image result for images hipster jeans with duct tape


Stories of old women who are found dead in the one miniscule crawl space between bedroom and kitchen, hemmed in by floor-to-ceiling newspapers and magazines from 1950 are legion.  The hoarding starts innocently enough – a newspaper clipping, a special Hollywood edition of Life or Look, a useful hank of string – but then becomes an obsession.  Everything has value, and nothing can be discarded. Sons and daughters are known to have spent weeks digging out from the mountains of clutter and detritus in their mothers’ homes.

Marcie knew these stories, and each time she taped a table leg or loose fixture, she thought that she was becoming like those women.  Yet, given the nature of her obsession, she for the life of her could not stay her hand.  It was like some supernatural force forced her hand into the broom closet, pulled out the Duck Tape, ripped off a strip and affixed it to the appliance, lamp, or article of clothing. “I have become my father”, she said as she put the last drops of Superglue on the broken curtain ring on her shower. “What am I going to do?”.

Rather than get better, her obsession became worse.  She found that Saran Wrap – another labor-saving product of the 20th century – could be used in the service of home repair.  Although millions of housewives used it to cover leftovers instead of the cumbersome glass containers of years past, Marcie realized that with enough layers and with proper attention to seals and cover, it was waterproof.  When combined with Duck Tape Saran Wrap made a particularly good sleeve for a leaky elbow joint.  There was no reason whatsoever to buy galoshes, since Saran Wrap – again fastened with Duck Tape - made a perfectly good seal against water, ice and snow.  The pesky leaks and dribbles that defied both Duck Tape and Superglue could now be brought under control.

Image result for images saran wrap

Duck Tape, Superglue, and Saran Wrap are all marvelous miracle products.  They save time, work, and money; and most of us cannot imagine life without them.  Few of us have the frugal compulsions of Marcie Vibberts and use these products appropriately and rarely.  They are there when you need them.

The fact that these remarkable household products could take on such a life of their own in the hands of the unstable may or may not mean anything profound.  Some critics who had read of Marcie Vibberts in a Johns Hopkins psychiatric journal, believed that no expression of mental illness could ever be divorced completely from the cultural environment in which the patient lives.  The products – symbols of American ingenuity, practicality, and parsimony – could very easily be used in the distorted expressions of a woman who desperately wanted to keep up with the Joneses, dress in fine clothes and designer shoes, live in Spring Valley or Beverly Hills but who couldn’t.  Her frustrations at being denied the American dream were expressed in the most mundane and counter-materialistic products such as Duck Tape.

Image result for images dior dress


Others claimed that these critics overthought the problem.  Marcie suffered from Silas Marner syndrome, was congenitally miserly, and used these products and their practical application to cover up her niggardliness and closet misanthropy.

Image result for images silas marner

I thought she was just plain nuts, nuttier than a fruitcake, and too healthy to be committed or to spend years in therapy.  She was simply a batty old lady who loved to tape and glue things; and was a reminder of how close we all come to going over the edge.

The fact that Saran Wrap, Duck Tape, and Superglue were involved was a bit unsettling; for I had always thought that life would be incomplete if not a misery without them; but then again, such a dependency I am told is also very unhealthy, so I better watch out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.