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“Ceci n’est pas un dessus-de-lit”

You have a perfect right to get mad at inanimate objects. This is especially true of the ones you own, like your computer. The object has done something that is the proximate cause of your inconvenience or even your pain. You already know that hitting it won’t do you any good, so I won’t remind you.

But what about objects whose mere existence is an annoyance? We all know the list of big things that we wish didn’t exist, like terrorism and Congress. It’s the little ones that get up my nose.

The thing that hotels now lay across the bottom of your bed.

You’ve seen them: oblong strips of fabric, color-coordinated with the room, that stretch from side to side of the bottom quarter of the mattress. For something that lacks a name* itself, this is a truly speaking object. It says:

This is not a bedspread. We know it is not a bedspread. We are not giving you a bedspread, because you would just throw it on the floor at the foot of the bed and walk on it. This is here to show you that we know what a bedspread is, and we are the kind of people who give their guests bedspreads, but only if they deserve them.

Can someone come up with a word for this object? Can it be published on a family blog? (How about on a writer’s blog?)

The goodie bags handed out by airlines on overseas flights.

Inside, you will find many pointless objects. There is a small plastic bottle with a spray top, containing special water to spritz your face with, on account of the dryness of the air in a plane. Who thought of this? Have you ever seen someone on a plane squirt themselves in the face? How did her seatmate look?

Then there are the socks with the consistency of cheesecloth in case your feet get cold. Despite the fact that you are already wearing socks. And you have shoes. And if you take the shoes off, you have a blanket.

(I actually kept one such pair of socks. Some marketing genius had required the Asian wage slaves who made the socks to sew little felt eyes over the toes and a tiny red tag that protruded like a snake’s tongue from the seam below. That’s good marketing. The fact that this was done on only one of the socks showed real Style.)

You also get a tiny tube of the lowest-possible-quality toothpaste and a fairy-sized brush. Brushing your teeth with this kit would take about as long as it takes a single Egyptian plover to clean out the mouth of a jumbo crocodile. Besides, have you ever seen any passenger, once on the ground, peel out of the mad dash for the luggage to go and brush her teeth?

The famous Masco debacle.

Granted, the maker of these objects sincerely intended them to be useful, unlike those mentioned above. And okay, maybe it’s only famous to someone (me) who was researching the Masco Corporation for an investment firm when it happened. But draw your chair up to the edge of the precipice, and I’ll tell you the story.

Masco made faucets, mostly, so it knew how to manipulate metal and plastic. Some clever employee realized that one of their plastics could easily be molded into cups and dishes that would be remarkably cheap – a few times the price of disposable plates – but would last much, much longer. And they could come in all kinds of eye-catching colors. So these were made and marketed.

The product crashed like a pumpkin dropped from a plane. Great initial sales, then…nothing. When I next called on the company, the treasurer bet me I couldn’t guess what their marketers had learned about the reason for the failure.

He shouldn’t have challenged a Yankee homemaker. Obviously, I said, the minute the first signs of wear showed up, the magic was over. The owner had a set of slightly dulled, slightly scratched plastic tableware that was still much too good to throw away! My only wonder was that some frugal buyer, infuriated at the waste of his cupboard space, had not assassinated the company president.

We need a new noun for “object offered in the full knowledge that the recipient would be better off without it.” This word will be useful when your parents downsize their home and you have to get rid of the results (including their Masco dishware.) Any suggestions?

 

*When I started this post, I thought this object had no name. Of course it has. How could the makers sell them by the gross to hotels without a name to order them by? It is called a bed scarf or bed runner.** That makes it no better.

**And if you care, in French it is a jeté-de-lit.

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