19 November, 2011

Up Against the Curse of Quality

Sure, we rail against products that crap out on us before their time. They waste our money and burn through our patience, whether it's from leaving us in a lurch or with a stain on our carpets. It's no wonder we heap scorn on them - I get that. But what about where the opposite occurs? Like the proverbial bad actor in a never-ending death scene, some items in our lives just don't get the message that the hook in the wings is coming for them. Unfortunately, some objects we own have outworn their welcome for various reasons and yet they linger, stubbornly providing all of the functionality they've always promised while giving us no real reason to deep six them. The problem for some of us is in letting go, we can't simply abandon something just because we, or the item, or life itself has somehow changed. The balloon hasn't got a hole in it - that would alter it to the point where it is no longer a balloon but instead a wrinkled blob of latex. In our case, the balloon perhaps doesn't float to the ceiling quite so readily, or we've grown weary of its colour and no passersby are wanting to take it from us. We can't just release it. So while everyone around us updates their entire world like a new skin (but seemingly every seven months instead of seven years) we plod on in life, supported by unappealing, fully-functioning, high quality crap.

Take, for instance, my Nokia phone. Please. I even bought it used from, clearly, some harder-hearted soul than me - someone able to just hang up on their relationship when the latest, thinner, more-feature-laden "personal communication device" came along - and this little avocado coffin simply refuses to die. It holds a charge longer than my pants' lifespan; its reception makes newer, sexier phones seem like they're tethered to the end of a string; it unfortunately has texting; no matter how many times I smash drop it to the ground the pieces always snap back together, and, like a faithful, pathetic mutt, it never, ever gets lost, no matter what tricks I try. Although I am sick of all the laughs I get from 9 year olds when I whip this out to call home, some part of me cannot justify replacing it until it dies.

And then there's my eight-year-old Corolla. It's scratched up and dinged to hell. It isn't roomy or fast. And it's certainly silver - inside and out. But the stinking thing starts up in a jiff... every... damn... time. Even when it's 30 below and my fingers can't even turn the key in the ignition it somehow manages. Okay, I know, it's my fault. I could have seen the writing on the wall, given the stellar reliability records this vehicle has, but I still stupidly drank the value Kool-Aid, and now have to live with this thing for the foreseeable future, while every week someone else on my street pulls up in something quieter, roomier, sexier, more colourful. While I'm tempted to try draining out its oil to see how long it will last, with my luck it'll be like the 1970 Beetle I owned all over again - it was missing its pressure relief valve for over a month and cruised nearly 500kms with zero oil pressure. With my luck the Toyota will still be roadworthy when the rest of the world is flying to work in their skycars.

The oft-used family bread machine is a joke, and the manufacturer insists on repeating the punchline ad infinitum by making replacement pans available more than a decade after we bought the thing. Three times, each of them years apart, the little gasket around the spinning paddle finally leaks, and I have no choice but to buy another pan so the entire machine doesn't need replacing.
The plastic main control panel cracked after years of button pushing, and once the buttons themselves also quit I stupidly figured out a way to hot-wire the circuit board with a teaspoon in order to fire it up.
Alas, it seems that until that glorious day when this white elephant finally gives up the ghost, I am stuck with an endless supply of terrific loaves of bread.

Now, if only my MEC cycling shorts would just fall apart, this rant wouldn't even be necessary. I could live with the phone, and when it's dark, and if I squint my eyes just right, the car looks okay, I guess. But these shorts are the bane of my existence. I needed a pair of cycling shorts one crisp autumn day, when it was clear that my increasing mileage was straining my dwindling inventory of viable bike clothes. Being the time of year it was, the store's selection of summer gear was understandably paltry - the racks were now jammed with thermal goods of all styles and sizes. The only shorts available were on a bottom shelf near the washrooms, and they were clearly that year's summer orphans and castaways. The good news for me was that they had a size Medium, the bad news was their colour was a shade the labels optimistically called Anthracite. Who makes cycling shorts that are not black - the time-worn tone of discretion? Being more beggar than chooser at this point, I relented and bought the wretched garment, telling myself that one year - just one year - I must try shopping for seasonal gear when most sensible, ordinary folks do. To make a horrible story short: the rugged yet breathable fabric has, with repeated washings over several long seasons, faded into an alarmingly light charcoal that no longer camouflages my "package". Yet the shorts continue to provide all of the comfort that they originally did; their seams refuse to fray, the elastic cuffs - while puckered like a grandma sucking back a Big Slurpie on Bingo Night - are nowhere near giving up. The solution here: avoid arrest by only wearing them indoors, on stationary trainer rides. Preferably with the lights out.
Would you be caught dead in these? I may, because I am certain to expire before they do.

Until I figure out a way to give up texting, baking, riding and driving, I can see I'll need to dig deep to cope with the upcoming decades. The planned obsolescence train pulled out of the station before I arrived, so I am stuck with some very high quality junk. Sure, I could donate it all to some charity, but, truth be told, I think I've almost grown fond of these unrejectable castoffs. What can I say? I'm a softy standing up defiantly in this throw-away society of ours. Either that, or I'm just too cheap to trade up.

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