The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘catalogs’

Power Tools

July 15, 2014 | by

The wonders of industrial-supply catalogs.

Photo: Jjron, via Wikimedia Commons

When I was nine or ten, riding in the backseat of my mom’s car as we drove the gauntlet of strip malls, car dealerships, big-box stores, and fast-food franchises that constituted our suburb’s commercial district, I realized that all of the tall signs and buildings had been constructed and erected by actual people, different crews of people. I thought about all the Burger King and Mattress Discounters signs in the world, how each had been shipped from somewhere, delivered to someone, received, assembled, mounted, electrified. I attributed a lot of power and reach to corporations, especially those that advertised on TV, and to understand that they comprised real people was something of an epiphany—especially in suburbia, where corporate authority rests in the illusion that no human labor has gone into transforming and homogenizing the landscape. All the stores were just there. What else could there be?

That moment is part of what informs my fascination with the Grainger catalog, a massive, 4,322-plus page industrial-supply inventory with which I first became acquainted last year, when a friend gave it to me for my birthday. Released annually on February 1, it’s an omnibus of 590,000 products—power tools, fasteners, pneumatics, hydraulics, pumps, raw materials, janitorial necessities, HVAC and refrigeration components—a work of pure utility, designed, honed, and focus-grouped to provide ready access to its most arcane sections. I can’t get enough of it. For the uninitiated, it provides a glimpse at the invisible infrastructure girding the world of construction, maintenance, repair, and operations. Grainger’s aggressively salt-of-the-earth slogan is “For the Ones Who Get It Done,” and the joy of perusing its catalog is in seeing how very many things there are to get done, and how many ways we have of doing them.

And so I often reach for it in pursuit of a kind of materialist awe. It makes for a reading experience more engaging, imaginative, and informative than almost anything that passes as literature. I’ve put down novels to pick up the Grainger catalog, which holds court on my coffee table and which could, in a pinch, serve as a coffee table unto itself.

Grainger sells mail-room organizers, carpet deodorizers, hairnet dispensers, and gutter-deicing cables. They sell a three-stage, heavy-traffic floor-matting system designed to entrap heavy debris. They sell miniature high-precision stainless-steel ball bearings with extended inner rings. They sell 550-foot rolls of foam for protecting electronics and an oil-filtration system for high-viscosity fluids. Their catalog contains a proliferation of heavily modified nouns that denote things I never knew existed, or things I’d intuited to exist, but had never really considered.

Metalized polyester film tape.

GMP/GLP data output moisture analyzers.

Electrostatic dissipative (ESD) gloves.

Cup point alloy steel socket set screws. Read More »

6 COMMENTS

Addendum

June 6, 2014 | by

Albert_Roosenboom_The_tempting_cake

Albert Roosenboom, The Tempting Cake (detail), nineteenth century.

On Wednesday, I mentioned to you a certain menu description. This description caused something of an existential crisis. I wept; I ranted; I pondered existence. But life is not just a vale of tears!

I might still be lying in bed, paralyzed by the enormity of everything, had I not been saved by yet another piece of food-related writing. This one came courtesy of a slightly outdated gourmet-store catalogue I picked up at the airport last week. I say “outdated” because it contained a number of Easter and Passover treats available for purchase. I always find looking at food relaxing, but when I opened it, I found that this catalogue was much more than just pretty pictures and appetizing captions. It was riveting.

The prose was bold, even dashing. Also, bizarre. Here is a description of all-butter croissants:

Boasting French connections of the cuisine nature, they immediately bring to mind afternoons on the Seine. Indeed, it is their verity that affords them this intensely delicious recall.

On a certain flowering tree, sold in the garden center: Read More »

Comments Off