Over Easy: Quality is not in the cards

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 4/9/2021 10:01:47 PM
Modified: 4/9/2021 10:01:44 PM

Lately I’ve been noticing a calamitous decline in the quality of certain consumer goods — index cards, for one sorry example that has left me bitter.

Whoever made the ones I procured at the Very Cheap Discount Store of Imported Shoddy Things is producing a pale imitation of the index cards of yore. They are thin, saggy, frail. They are not fit to hold weighty thoughts.

When I was young an index card was a substantial thing. They could be employed for mighty tasks, like memorizing the scientific classification system, or creating to-do lists that demanded to be done.

Has this nation allowed an iconic product to be cheapened under our very eyes? Where was the powerful index card lobby? Somewhere, the curator of an index card museum spends his days in a dreamy state, adrift in memories of a glorious past.

Maybe I am making too much of this, but I don’t know how we consumers sleep at night. I sometimes awake in the wee-est of the wee hours, and it occurs to me only now that I might be forever restless until I process my feelings about flimsy cards.

I thought this travesty might be isolated until I recently bought some matches. Again, in times past, matches were plenty sturdy. That’s why kids in the Old Days That Were Good used matches to build replicas of the Eiffel Tower or Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin that are still ready for service as they wait in dark, forgotten corners of basements and attics. I am certain the U.S. Gross National Product of the years from 1955 to 1965 was all the better for them. Real American jobs resulted.

The matches of today, or at least the major brand ones I just bought, are willowy runts. They were imported from Chile, where the forests, based on this particular sample, could crumble in anything more than a breeze. Vermont and New Hampshire woodsmen and woodswomen must weep.

Many trends are too big for me to think through, but now and then I am stopped short by a small one that stirs my passions. Many years ago I was distressed by plastic car door handles that seemed to break every three years. The car was otherwise dependable. They couldn’t have used a little bit of metal? I’ve never gotten over it, really.

I think my discomfort is because I grew up in a time when even basic things were built to last. Coca-Cola was colder and sweeter and sold in thick glass bottles that you knew would last like the roads of the Roman Empire. Our toys were made of metal, melted down from Navy destroyers and old Army tanks. You could leave a rake outside a year or two and it would spring to life when called to duty, albeit with vicious splinters. Furniture, even the ugliest pieces, endured.

I appreciate the far-ranging digital wonders of today, powered by chips and circuits. There is a roomful of encyclopedias in every smartphone. With a simple application you can create a to-do list that runs from here to eternity.

But don’t forget the humble index card. They are useful as all get out. (Not sure about the utility of “all get out,” but that’s a topic for another day.)

Vladimir Nabokov employed them to write novels. Some years ago, a University of Chicago professor, Harold Pollack, created a sensation with his declaration that “All the financial advice you’ll ever need fits on a single index card.”

His card began: “1. Strive to save 10-20% of your income.”

My own list would start with: 1. Inherit lots of money, preferably a billion.

His seems more realistic, but a lot more work.

If you look online you can find plenty of posts about things you can do with an index card, which are good for goal setting, shopping lists, flash cards, doodling and bookmarks, just to name a few. To that I would add gratitude lists or enemies lists, depending on your mood. You could also use an index card to keep a list of things to do with index cards, completing the circle of life, or something.

When it comes to my own big-picture thinking, the index card may beat computers. A card is an inducement to concise thinking. For me, one probably holds what can realistically be achieved or imagined in a day.

Perhaps the golden age of index cards is over. I suppose the provisioner of index cards to the queen is still producing the finest examples of the craft, but it would be too bad if the rest of us are left to our own devices, increasingly cheap or digital.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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