Day 6: smidgins of joy
Sometimes, there’s a lot of science behind a smidgin of joy.
Not many people know it, but I have extra-thick business cards for one reason only. They enable me to tell anyone to whom I give them that they are multipurpose and that the recipient should think twice before tossing it in the bin when they get home, since if folded, they are normally the perfect thickness to place under a table leg to prevent the table from wobbling. One way to pass on a smidgin of joy to someone else, I suppose.
Stabilizers are nothing new. Hydraulic versions have been used in big machinery for years, have had greater or lesser success, and have been more or less prone to needing maintenance and repair.
I know my fridge purchased at the end of 2009 has interconnected fluid cylinders on adjacent supports, or something less complex but equally effective, installed.
Unlike the GE Refrigerator which wobbled and shuddered its whole life long, and in various incarnations after having the compressor gassed or replaced. I knew a guy once who had two leather belts strapped together to keep his GE fridge closed. His wobble-prevention device was the requisite number of pages from an old telephone directory discreetly wedged under one corner. The fridge worked like a bomb, as the old saying goes.
And if you’re old enough to remember when the GE refrigerator was new, or ever rode along on a running board on a Chandler Six or any other vehicle for that matter, then, Dearie you’re a whole lot older than I!
If you don’t already know them, you can find the lyrics to that song here as well as a later version with added verses sung by a Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman.
Some of the lines that had me laughing were these:
Dearie, do you remember when we
Stayed up all night to get
Pittsburgh on the crystal set?
Those lines take a bit of unpacking, and won’t mean anything unless you know that a crystal set was a radio receiver and that Pittsburg was the birthplace of American broadcast radio in 1920 (which I do), implying that “Dearie” was born at the turn of the nineteenth century, i.e. a long, long time ago. You might also need to know that reception and sound quality depended on the strength of the broadcast signal.
These lyrics bring me to another connective smidgin of joy. It is something called frames of reference. As is obvious from the song Dearie, frames of reference are culture-bound and to some extent, time-bound, since our elders pass on to us the gems of their youth, if we’re fortunate.
I was most fortunate to receive an excellent gift earlier this year of a book by John McPhee entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process in which he illustrates that frames of reference on their own without additional description constitute poor writing. As a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1965, he expresses this succinctly:
Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night. You see the lights. They imply a structure you can’t see. Inside that frame of reference — those descending lights — is a big airplane with its flaps down expecting a runway.
You will never land smoothly on borrowed vividness. If you say someone looks like Tom Cruise — and you let it go at that — you are asking Tom Cruise to do your writing for you. Your description will fail when your reader doesn’t know who Tom Cruise is.
Joel Achenbach, in his wonderful book Captured by Aliens (1999) […] produces this description of a professor at Tufts University: “He looks like Gene Wilder, and has some of the same manic energy.” Gene Wilder? Search me. But nota bene: when Joel says “the same manic energy” he is paying back much of the vividness he borrowed.John McPhee, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (New York, Farrer Strauss and Giroux, 2018), 120-121.
So far, I have discussed wobbly table legs, wobbly fridges and wobbly writing from which I will now assert the universality of wobbliness which is probably caused by the Earth itself wobbling on its axis of rotation.
Curiously, and this might spark a smidgin of joy in everyone except that nutty minimalist declutterer Marie Kondo who seems to think one can tidy one’s wardrobe in the space of just one day, the Earth’s wobble is called the Chandler wobble. One wonders, therefore, whether this has anything to do with Henry Ford’s purported difficulty in attaching the runner board under the vintage vehicle of the same name referenced in the Dearie song and, indeed whether naming it as such is mere coincidence.
Speaking of Marie Kondo (and attentive readers will have spotted how I paid back some of the vividness I borrowed John McPhee writes when I described the woman in the above paragraph), I had some coincidental smidgins of joy today that did not involve table legs.
This morning, I looked at my now broken alarm clock which I had not removed from my bedside. Zero joy there. I was in a hurry this morning, so merely contemplated whether I should dust the clock before chucking it in the bin.
The other minor domestic thought while washing dishes was that one of these days I really ought to replace the mixing bowl I broke months ago. I did not rank this thought on the joy scale.
A surprise smidgin of joy in the late afternoon came from a friend who suggested we go for a coffee. Via IKEA in the next town. I said yes, because I enjoy chatting with her, and I have not been there since the store opened over two years ago. I had no intention of buying anything.
But guess what? Nine euros later (the last of the big spenders, me), I walked out with a wall clock I have been threatening to buy for about a decade, the perfect mixing bowl, and a pack of ten AA batteries. It was only when we were enjoying our coffee afterwards that the penny dropped about connection. Our table did not wobble either.
The IKEA visit awakened my long-dormant homemaking instincts. Using extremely wobbly logic, I put that feeling into the mix with the act of having purchased a lottery ticket earlier in the day and then browsed the internet to determine roughly how much prize money I would need for the kind of modest apartment at the beach I’ve had in mind for about forty years.
Forty years ago was roughly when I first folded a piece of paper and put it under a table leg —and about when the generous human being who sent me a book on the writing process out of the blue started working.
I tossed the broken alarm clock. It landed in the bin on the first try. I did not dust it.
©2019 Allison Wright