12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (73)

By: Tom Bartlett
December 25, 2021

One in an ongoing, seasonal series of posts in which we reprint stories originally written — by HILOBROW contributors and friends — for Josh Glenn and Rob Walker’s 2009–2010 anthropological-literary experiment SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS. This 2021–2022 installment of 12 stories will bring the series total to 84. See below for links to more info about both SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS and PROJECT:OBJECT.

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DEVICE

From June 1996 to February 1999 I worked as a manager at a well-known electronic supply retailer in a mostly vacant strip mall on the outskirts of a medium-sized metropolitan area located in the southeastern United States. I don’t say this to brag but simply because it is a fact like the inevitability of death or the importance of placing a plastic weather boot on exposed coax cable to prevent moisture seepage.

During that time I lived in a 900-square-foot two-bedroom apartment overlooking a popular name-brand eatery famous for its spicy boneless chicken with the assistant manager for the same well-known electronic supply retailer who, for the purposes of this description, I will refer to as AMFTSWKESR. AMFTSWKESR and I spent our days fielding inquiries from a continuous procession of would-be technology users who wondered either a) why a 3.5mm plug could not be inserted into a 2.5mm jack or b) if the computer came with the Internet already on it or if that cost extra.

To these conundrums we would respond, “You make a point” or “That is a question.” Deeming their points “interesting” or their questions “good” seemed to us a violation of certain ideals which, while not expressly stated, were understood to be sacrosanct. In the evenings AMFTSWKESR and I would perform a cursory inventory, place the large bills in the downstairs safe, and drive my fuel-efficient two-door to the aforementioned popular name-brand eatery where we would order spicy boneless chicken and act out our favorite customer encounters from that day. Then we would return to our apartment, plug in the item pictured above, and stare at it transfixed until one or both of us passed out on the thrift-store couch, our nametags still affixed to our wrinkled knit shirts.

In November of 1998 AMFTSWKESR moved to the midwestern United States to be close to a curly haired woman he met in a chat room for people with a shared interest in a commercially unsuccessful science fiction film from the 1980s. The pictured item belonged to AMFTSWKESR, but he left it behind because he thought I might get more use out of it, a gesture intended to indicate that our roughly two-and-a-half-year friendship had been equally meaningful to him. Or that is what I took it to indicate.

Minus AMFTSWKESR’s presence at this particular branch of the well-known electronic supply retailer the position became unbearable and I tendered my resignation shortly thereafter. In the intervening decade I have held a series of nearly identical jobs and lived in a number of nearly identical apartments and yet it all feels like a pathetic foreign replica of that short-lived period, an assertion which is either a) a reminder that the days you’re living now may be as close to halcyon as you’ll ever come or b) a testament to my inexplicable fondness for a seemingly unremarkable and long-since-ended chapter of my admittedly non-noteworthy existence.

Some may wonder why I would offer this corded totem for sale to the general public or why I would find it necessary to dwell on my personal work history rather than more pertinent information as to the item’s current condition and functionality. They may, for instance, ask: What is it? To which I must reply: That is a question.

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REPRINTED FROM SIGNIFICANTOBJECTS.COM: Matthew Battles on CANDYLAND | Patrick Cates on MEAT TENDERIZER | Matthew De Abaitua on PIGGY BANK | Mark Frauenfelder on JUG | Jason Grote on DOME DOLL | Mimi Lipson on HALSTON MUG | Annie Nocenti on JFK BUST | Gary Panter on DIVE MASK | James Parker on KITTY SAUCER | Greg Rowland on MUSHROOM SHAKER | Luc Sante on FLANNEL BALL | Douglas Wolk on PORTABLE HAIR DRYER | Annalee Newitz on COCONUT CUP | Cintra Wilson on TROPHY | Jen Collins on UNCOLA GLASS | Joanne McNeil on GRAIN THING | Jonathan Lethem on MISSOURI SHOTGLASS | Sarah Weinman on UNICORN FIGURINE | Shelley Jackson on CRUMB SWEEPER | Barbara Bogaev on JUST MARRIED CUP | Dan Reines on FRIDAY MUG | Jenny Offill on MINIATURE TURKEY DINNER | Katie Hennessey on WOODEN FIGURINE | James Hannaham on NAPKIN RING | Bruce Sterling on METAL BOOT | Colson Whitehead on WOODEN MALLET | Jenny Davidson on TOY HOT DOG | Kate Bernheimer on PINK HORSE | Lydia Millet on CHILI CAT | Matthew Sharpe on MULE FIGURINE | Meg Cabot on WOODEN ANIMAL | Sara Ryan on POPSICLE STICK CONSTRUCTION | Ed Park on COW VASE | Jessica Helfand on ELVIS CHOCOLATE TIN | Sheila Heti on CAPE COD SHOE | William Gibson on “HAWK” ASHTRAY | Ben Greenman on SMILING MUG | Dean Haspiel on KENTUCKY DISH | Doug Dorst on RUSSIAN FIGURE | Kurt Andersen on SANTA NUTCRACKER | Matt Brown on CRUMPTER | Chris Adrian on KANGAMOUSE | Nicholson Baker on MEAT THERMOMETER| Rachel Axler on FORTUNE TELLING DEVICE | Sean Howe on PABST BOTTLE OPENER | Susannah Breslin on NECKING TEAM BUTTON | Tim Carvell on ROUND BOX | Susanna Daniel on SHARK AND SEAL PENS | Curtis Sittenfeld on SPOTTED DOGS FIGURINE | Matthew Klam on DUCK VASE | Merrill Markoe on FLIP-FLOP FRAME | Blake Butler on UTAH SNOW GLOBE | Neil LaBute on RABBIT CANDLE | Rob Agredo on LIGHTER SHAPED LIKE SMALL POOL BALL | Rosecrans Baldwin on PRAYING HANDS | Rob Baedeker on FOPPISH FIGURINE | Scarlett Thomas on BIRTHDAY CANDLES | Wayne Koestenbaum on DUCK NUTCRACKER | Jeff Turrentine on “WOMEN & INFANTS” GLASS | Joe Lyons on LETTERS AND NUMBERS PLATE | Adam Davies on TROLL NUTCRACKER | Myla Goldberg on HAND-HELD BUBBLE BLOWER | Dan Chaon on COOKING FORK | Jenny Hayes on DOLPHIN BOX | Kevin Brockmeier on ROPE/WOOD MONKEY | Miranda Mellis on BRASS APPLE | Todd Pruzan on GOLF BALL BANK | Toni Schlesinger on 4-TILE | Stacey Levine on BAR MITZVAH BOOKENDS | Margot Livesey on CIGARETTE CASE | Joe Wenderoth on BALANCING BIRD THING | Charles Baxter on CERAMIC SHELL | Thomas Bartlett on DEVICE | Claire Zulkey on FLINTSTONE PEZ | Betsey Swardlick on DILBERT | Sung J. Woo on BIRD FIGURINE | Tom McNeely on CAT MUG | J. Robert Lennon on CHOIRBOY FIGURINE | Matthew J. Wells on BBQ SAUCE JAR | Maud Newton on CRACKER BARREL ORNAMENT | Stewart O’Nan on DUCK TRAY | Meghan O’Rourke on FELT MOUSE | Lauren Mechling on BLUE VASE | Mark Sarvas on AMACO YOYO | Andrew Ervin on IDOL | Rachel Berger on #1 MOM HOOKS | Nomi Kane on ALIEN TOY | Nick Asbury on CLOWN | Lucinda Rosenfeld on CREAMER COW | Ben Katchor on MAINE STATUTES DISH | Mark Doty on FISH SPOONS | Sarah Rainone on IRELAND COW PLATE | Stephen Elliott on HAWAIIAN UTENSILS | R.K. Scher on INDIAN MAIDEN | Ben Ehrenreich on JAR OF MARBLES | Glen David Gold on KNEELING MAN FIGURINE | Lizzie Skurnick on PEN STAND.

ALSO SEE: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | POLITICAL OBJECTS (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 (4Q2017) | FLAIR (2Q2018) | FOSSILS (4Q2018) | FETISHES (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS (2Q2021) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | LOST OBJECTS (Hat & Beard Press, 2022) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.

CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: RETRO VIRUS by Douglas Wolk | UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website) | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators

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