I don’t know about you, but I avoided Black Friday like the Black Plague. That’s not to say there weren’t some great bargains out there, but each time I heard how parking at my Walmart overflowed into the funeral home next-door, or read about some knucklehead in California deterring fellow shoppers with pepper spray, I felt all the more vindicated in my decision to be hermit for a day.
Instead of circumnavigating that circus, I spent a little time browsing Christmas gift catalogs. Always on the lookout for something meaningful, I gravitate toward those merchants who carry items which express originality, creativity, lasting practicality, or at least a sick sense of humor.
In the latest “Things You Never Knew Existed” catalog, you can buy an End of the World Countdown Timer, which ticks off the days, hours and minutes until December 21, 2012. I think at 12.98 plus shipping it’s a fair price if it helps you enjoy your doom digitally.
From another catalog you can buy a giant (pretend) bottle of Liquid White-Out. It comes with batteries and apparently talks to you, telling you how badly you messed something up. From this same company you can buy a giant $65 bottle of Coca-Cola, an enormous loaf of raisin bread, and a 5-foot tall toothbrush (which I suppose one needs after drinking a $65 bottle of Coke).
For all of their “what-do-you-do-with-this-big-thing-after-the-joke-is-over” charm, I have found the occasional oversized item to make a good decoration. From a similar catalog years ago I bought myself a 3-foot-tall Sgt Pepper record album, complete with grooves, which to this day looks really cool hanging on my office wall. (I have yet to find a turntable big enough to play it on, however.)
Seeing nothing definitively gift-worthy in the above catalogs, I turned to the internet and somehow ended up on a site teaching people how to remove an eyelash that’s gotten stuck in their eye. Call it morbid curiosity, but I dutifully read all of its advice, even though I know full well how to get an eyelash out. But what really caught my eye in this article was the mention of something called an “eyewash station.” What in the world was that?
Googling “eyewash station” took me to another site where I learned that OSHA requires certain factories, those which create a lot of dust or chemical particles, to provide their workers with a way to wash their eyes when needed, heavily pushing this device which, I learned, costs anywhere from $300 to the thousands. It seems like a $2 bottle of Target saline solution would do the same thing, but I’m not in government.
All of which brings me to this. Every day, you and I come across countless random details just like these, which have no immediate relevance to us. But if there’s anything remotely interesting about them, they are fodder worth storing in your creative bank.
If I was writing a story today about someone who worked in a saw mill, an eyewash station is a detail I could now include. That incidental fixture could become essential in a scene involving an accident at the plant, or at the very least provide a prop that reinforces the setting and helps the reader feel the sawdust permeating the environment.
If one of my characters was prone to a fatalistic outlook, their accepting that the world will end in 2012 is a fair motivation for giving up on all the dreams they once had.
If I was writing something about finding the perfect Christmas gift, I might mention catalogs filled with giant toothbrushes, or Walmart parking lots that overflow into funeral homes.
Hey, that could even make a decent blogpost.