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Sunday, September 17, 2006

To some, the clothespin is obsolete, but...

I bought some new clothespins last week. At first reading, you may not agree that qualifies as news, but consider this: when was the last time you or one of your family members or friends bought any clothespins?
To some, the clothespin is obsolete, a once vital housekeeping item that has outgrown its usefulness and is now archaic and on its way to a display case in a museum of antiquities. To others, the clothespin remains an important object, a dependable invention that is clever and resilient, and seldom fails to perform exactly as advertised. Years ago we enlisted in the second group, those who use and respect the clothespin.
As a utensil, it is widely admired because it is well designed. I bought the wooden kind with the metal spring, the model that clenches the clothes and secures them to the clothesline. That’s the premium type of clothespin, but, whenever practical, I favor quality over price, especially when the total outlay is in the single digits. I’ll discuss the clothesline later, but the design of that type of pin deserves some special attention. They still sell the other kind of all wooden pins, the kind with the notch between the two sides, the type that relies on friction to maintain a tight grip on the clothing.
Some things get invented and consistently reinvented. Consider the iPod. You buy one and weeks later a new improved version hits the stores. New models keep being developed and introduced to the market, each of them presumably superior to its predecessors. Are those modifications necessary? That question can’t be asked pertaining to the clothespin. The old style friction model had its day, but the spring-equipped type decades ago assumed a commanding position in the home laundry basket. There still seems to be a substantial market for the old style clothespins, but not for hanging laundry. They are a favorite commodity for certain crafts projects; they can be assembled into sculptural displays, painted and used in construction of small objects for sale at the local crafts fair.
The world may be waiting for a new style of clothespin, a 21st century version, but the inventors apparently are working on other projects. They have been ignoring the clothespin for decades, at least as far as I know. Some companies do sell plastic models, but they just don’t seem to function as well as wood. When the research and development specialists ignore an item, that’s a pretty good indication that the current model is functional and highly regarded.
Although the clothespin marketers operate unnoticed, below the radar screen, when a person needs to replenish a supply, there are plenty of sources. You just have to find them. I don’t mean find the sources, I mean find the pins, once you arrive at the store.
Take your pick: hardware store, supermarket or drugstore. They all have them but there are no displays. They are all tucked away in an obscure spot where only a patient and persistent shopper would find them without assistance. My persistence fades when it comes to shopping, so I immediately enlisted the help of a clerk in a large drugstore and she strode down the main aisle, made a hard left, then a right and stopped in a homey area. She reached down to the bottom shelf---that’s the location reserved for products for which there isn’t much demand---and grabbed me a bag of clothespins. I thanked her. Profusely.
Clothespins have always been important to us because we have a clothesline. As far as I have been able to determine through modest surveillance, we are the only house on the block with an operating clothesline. We are in that declining number of people who prefer sunshine and gentle breezes for the drying, rather than a dryer. We save the dryer for rainy days and winter.
Last week, a six year old visited us overnight, and, while demonstrating headstands, she noticed the clothesline. Having never seen one before, she thought it was tightrope walking, or some similar exercise.
But that’s not all: A couple of years ago an attorney friend was sitting in our backyard, when he spotted something that immediately intrigued him. “Is that a clothes pole?” he asked, in a tone somewhere between astonishment and bewilderment. Yes, it was. It remains in operation. We believe it’s essential to try to stay abreast of all the latest labor saving gadgets.



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