Many years ago, I went Christmas shopping with my younger brother.
He was barely 16 and already a weightlifter, fanatical about muscle-building and sports — which is why it might have been a dumb move taking that shortcut through the sporting goods section of the department store.
Before I knew it, he was into the weight training equipment, as fast and serious as a chicken on a compost pile.
Pieces were flying everywhere and the whang and clang of wires and weights echoed across the floor.
I think he was attempting a three-minute test workout of the equipment before the staff could shut him down.
A frosty older woman who probably hadn’t approved of the world for the last 20 years approached him with a dour expression.
She had the kind of tightly pursed lips you can see today on President Bush every time someone asks him about weapons of mass destruction.
By the time her wagging finger almost reached my brother, he’d found the chest expander. He gave a mighty stretch across his Arnold Schwarzenegger chest and the thing went SPROING, pieces whistling down the aisle.
She stopped in her tracks, as he contemptuously held out the broken remnants in one hand and said: “cheap junk.”
He dropped it like a dead snake onto the display counter and walked away with all the aplomb and arrogance of a 16-year-old shopping terrorist, while I scurried, horrified, after him.
The woman didn’t say a word. I presume she was just glad to see us go.
“Cheap junk.” It’s strange how that phrase has become so commonplace in our lives.
Out of curiosity I Googled the phrase and got 69,000 hits. Evidently, there’s still a lot of it out there.
What got me thinking about cheap junk was the recent purchase of one of those electrified tennis racquets used for killing bugs.
Since my wife is allergic to wasps it’s a handy weapon for any flying assassins invading the house.
Also, wasps have a talent for dining on bees. The yellow jackets fly in conga lines outside my hive, waiting for the poor bees to return laden with pollen and nectar.
As the hapless drones land the wasps pounce on them and eat them alive and squirming. I guess they’re the wasp equivalent of lamb with honey sauce.
Thus there was some need for the electrified tennis racquet.
We’d already been using one for years, until an over-enthusiastic swing caught a chair and that was the end of that plastic racquet.
When I saw a new model on sell for a mere $4.95 I bought it immediately, only to discover at home that, unlike the older AA models, it used enough big D batteries to almost equal the price of the racquet. O well.
After another trip to the store for batteries, I decided to try it out on the wasps. The first wasp I struck bounced off it and chased me around the beehive three times.
I was at a considerable disadvantage with my gimpy leg. He finally gave up the chase. So I tried a different strategy, softly lifting the electrified racquet upwards under the next wasp.
That wasp hotfooted it across the wires like an Indian fire dancer. When it reached the plastic rim, the little monster turned back and high-stepped across the electric wires again, maybe convincing himself he hadn’t just imagined the first trip.
However, by the time he climbed onto the other end he was fighting mad and flew straight for my face.
A tennis pro would have been proud of the way I backhanded him across the bee-yard, but the wasp came back, and he brought a few friends with him.
I hightailed it out of the bee-yard like a middle-aged Andre Agassi, playing a retreating game of wasp tennis.
That “bug-killer” racquet definitely qualified as cheap junk. Yet when I considered returning it, with the receipt now long gone and without the see-through packaging, which took hedging shears to open, I decided all the gas and time wasn’t worth the effort.
That’s when I realized this stuff is so cheaply made its only real purpose is to be purchased, taken home, and thrown away.
Many thousands of these bats would soon become part of the 720 kilograms of garbage the average North American family tosses into a landfill yearly, most of it plastic that will last for a thousand years.
Shoddy craftsmanship isn’t a modern invention.
Undoubtedly, bad tools and inept tool usage have been around ever since the first spear tip broke off on the ass of a cave-bear.
Lousy products have been recorded in our first written records. I’m willing to bet that some hieroglyph somewhere in Egypt says: “Atothemtup, your pyramid is tilting.”
Bad workmanship really got kick-started during the industrial revolution, with the invention of the factory method.
Soon cheaper and cheaper knock-offs were rolling off the assembly line, accompanied by the rising roar of complaints from the suckers who kept lining up to buy them.
“Made in Japan” was the sign of bad trouble ahead when I was a child. Yet within 50 years Japan has developed a reputation for craftsmanship.
During my teen years “Made in Taiwan” became the sucker symbol. Today, “Made in China” is the mark of doom. No doubt, as the Chinese economy develops that will also become a different story.
Meanwhile, somebody else will be making the cheap junk and, sheep that we are, we’ll still be lining up for it, laying waste to our planet for the privilege of buying worthless gewgaws that won’t last a year.
Someday, we’ll have to wise up. The planet won’t survive the toxic weight of all our garbage. That’s why I’m going to take that racquet back, after all.
Until then, a little wasp tennis anyone?