Suddenly Vintage

The other day, the laptop computer I use for writing this splendid column starting behaving oddly. The written words were becoming repetitive and repetitive; the writing began to have mizpelings—and many of the paragraphs ended in mid-senten.

So I drove my laptop over to the same place I’d purchased it only four years ago. A guy sitting behind a counter called “The Genius Bar” gave it a quick once-over and then stated, “This keyboard is pretty dirty.” Only a genius could have come up with that. It made me think I should have taken my computer to a dry cleaners instead.
But upon further examination, Einstein’s doppelganger announced, “I’m not sure we can fix this thing. It’s a vintage model and it’s tough to get parts.”

Vintage? What did that mean? Did it mean that my laptop was an enduring classic—or that it looked like I had spilled a glass of classic 2006 Dom Perignon on the keyboard?

As soon as I got home, I googled the word ‘vintage’ just to be sure. When I got past all the favorable definitions about fine wine, excellence and maturity—my eyes fell upon the meaning the computer guy undoubtedly intended: “Old and outmoded.”

Four measly years old, and my laptop is old-and-outmoded. I turned my tearful eyes away from the computer screen—and stared sadly out my old-and-outmoded office window to the old-and-outmoded 2010 sedan sitting in my old-and- outmoded driveway.

Then, realizing I was sitting in my old-and-outmoded boxer shorts, I shuffled into the laundry room, removed my old-and-outmoded Dockers from our old-and- outmoded Maytag dryer, and slipped them on my old-and-outmoded self.

It is no news bulletin that virtually every brand-new thing you and I buy is already passé’ by the time it leaves the door of the store—or the box that Amazon delivers it in.

Even laundry detergent that is “new and improved” is “old and impaired” before it’s half-gone. If you get a puppy on Monday, plan to feed it senior formula by Wednesday. And you are lucky if you can get ten minutes out of a five-day deodorant pad.

It won’t be long before a worker who makes, say, thingamabobs—will take a lunch break only to come back and have his boss tell him: “Forget the thingamabobs. We are not making those anywhere. It’s doo-hickeys now.”

You might remember reading once about something called “planned obsolescence.” (Obsolescence is a big word that has pretty much become obsolete these days.) Planned obsolescence has to do with a business and manufacturing practice that began sometime in the 20’s or 30’s where, right from the start, products were designed to go haywire.

Maybe that’s not all bad. After all, if things like fashions never changed, a guy might wind up wearing the same pair of neon bellbottom pants that he bought 30 years ago. Like my brother does.

The idea is to get suckers—I mean, consumers—to be repeat customers over and over again. The best way to do that is to make sure that everything we might buy—from vehicles—to wax lips—will not last long. (Some people think wax lips by their very nature are not intended to last long. But I believe that with love and care, wax lips can last a lifetime.)

It all means that the novelty rubber chicken I got last Christmas is already ‘vintage’ since it has lost that new rubber chicken smell. In another year, it will be an antique; soon after that, museum-worthy.

Some obsolescence is not planned—it simply happens as technology changes. Take Kodachrome, the most popular photographic film for decades—pretty much discontinued by Eastman Kodak in 2009. The last roll of it was processed in 2010—perhaps vacation photos of a family trip to Enumclaw.

With digital cameras, home video and Smart phones—the demand for film went away. Paul Simon might have seen it coming in 1973, when he sang, “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.” But Mama did. Mama was into tough love—and all those old “Fotomats” are now drive-up java joints.

The whole thing can be a bit dismaying to people who long for days gone by. Yet, I am happy to report that my moribund laptop still has a place in my house—working nicely now as a doorstop. And the timing was perfect—since my actual doorstop stopped working two weeks ago and getting parts for it is tough.
So if you are about to celebrate a birthday, take solace in this: “You’re not getting older; you’re just getting outmoded.”

It means that your vintage glass—while a bit cracked and out of style—is nonetheless half full.