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Posts Tagged ‘obsolescence’

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October 14, 2014 | by

Bundesbuch_schoenlin

An illustration from Bundesbuch von Magenau (Book of the Covenant of Magenau), 1790.

One of the many things that dates my childhood firmly to the eighties and early nineties is the ubiquity of large reference books in it. Reference books, big ones, figure in most of my memories; I guess they were easy to find at tag sales. At any given moment, you could find me poring over The Great TV Sitcom Book, The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, Best Movie Quotes, or The Big Broadway Fake Book, which is in fact probably still in use for auditions, since it contains only sheet music. (I read this only in moments of desperation.) However, it should be said that lines were drawn: someone once gave my family one of those dedicated Great American Bathroom Books, and my mother found it disgusting and threw it away immediately.

For a few years, this sort of tome—eighties excess between two covers—must have had imprints in every major publishing house of the era. There was a distinctive look to the volumes, which were probably intended as gifts or coffee-table items, but had their own low shelf at our house. Monumental title adjectives—great, big, ultimate, definitive—were desirable. The font had to be assertive. It was also a good idea to have lots of the content listed on the jacket, a taste of the great knowledge contained therein. Obviously they had to be physically large, as unwieldy as possible—although I carried them from room to room. It wasn’t just me, either. My friends liked them, too, as I remember, but this may be a comment on the quality of entertainment on offer at my playdates. Read More »

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Fit to Print

August 14, 2014 | by

Silly-Putty_2

A 1965 ad for Silly Putty, plainly advertising its ability to pick up newsprint.

On Monday, the Times’s David Carr had a gloomy prognosis for the fate of print newspapers. He wrote,

It’s a measure of the basic problem that many people haven’t cared or noticed as their hometown newspapers have reduced staffing, days of circulation, delivery and coverage. Will they notice or care when those newspapers go away altogether? I’m not optimistic about that.

Carr and many others are alive to the societal, artistic, and human implications of this loss. All this aside, it means lost jobs. You don’t need me to say that, or to belabor the passing of an era. These things are too huge to contemplate.

So you start thinking about the stupid things. The oblong bags newspapers come in. What will people use to clean up after their dogs? Where will they get rubber bands? Will “train-style” folding become a lost art? And what about Silly Putty?

Silly Putty can’t really be called a major casualty in this overhaul, but it is something that will be decisively rendered extinct. It’s a retro toy now—if you can even call something which was so obviously the byproduct of industrial experimentation a “toy”—but with the death of the newspaper, one of its primary functions (if you can call it a function) will be nullified.

Silly Putty should be placed in a time capsule immediately on grounds of sheer weirdness. Try explaining it to an alien: “It’s putty, but it’s … silly. It’s sort of flesh-colored. It has a really distinctive chemical smell. It stretches, and snaps, and turns into a puddle. If you roll it up, it bounces like a ball. Oh, and it picks up newsprint. Then it gets really grubby and you keep it in a plastic egg, forever.” If Silly Putty’s origins are clear enough—it was a World War II–era attempt to address rubber shortages—its ability to transfer newsprint is more mysterious. How did someone figure this out? And how did anyone decide it was a selling point? Read More »

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The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes

June 12, 2014 | by

A racetrack in obsolescence.

Racetrack2

Photo: Ilya Lipkin

Every year on the third Monday of January, the Aqueduct Racetrack, in South Ozone Park, Queens, runs a six-furlong race in honor of Jimmy Winkfield. The choice of date, Martin Luther King Day, is not accidental. Of Winkfield’s many accomplishments, which include winning the Russian Oaks an incredible five times for Czar Nicholas II, he is best known as the last black jockey to run a winner in the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.

To be black in the world of horse racing was no easy thing in the early part of the twentieth century. Winkfield, born in Kentucky, had enjoyed a storied career in Russia and France, but when he returned to America he was forced to enter a reception held in his honor through the hotel’s service entrance, with the bellhops and the kitchen staff.

Because of the raw January weather, attendance at the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes is usually rather sparse compared to the bigger events at the height of the racing season. This year, my older brother Ilya and I saw the race completely on a whim—we thought it might be fun to trek out to the Aqueduct like we used to when we were younger. Back then, if the weather was fine, our father would drive us to the track out in Ozone Park, a favorite destination for the unattached men in the neighborhood. Edik from the dry cleaners down the street was a fixture there, as was Pavel, the bartender at the Pennant Sports Bar on Northern, and Parsons, whose brother was an orderly at the elder-care facility where our grandfather died. To me, gaining admission to that world of working men was no less exciting than the races themselves. I watched with great interest as they quaffed beer and studied the odds on the board and cursed when they invariably lost their money. Being a bit older, Ilya had a better sense of what was actually going on. He nagged Pavel until the bartender showed him how to decipher the near-hieroglyphic racing form. The one time my father let him place a bet, we won eighty dollars. It proved to be a red-letter day, because that same afternoon, I fed a carrot to Cigar, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred, just before the first big win of his career. (The Aqueduct now runs a race in his honor as well.) Read More »

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