Login or Register

Sign in with Facebook

Every year when spring cleaning comes around, the question resonating all over America, other than, "How did all that stuff manage to fit in the garage?" is "Why do we still have that?" Whether it's a POG collection or a prom dress or the broken flip phone you were totally going to see about getting fixed five years ago, it is now the centerpiece of a mystery regarding how it survived multiple spring cleanings long past its "use by" date.

We as a society sometimes ask the same question while doing a double-take at stuff we notice in America's collective garage. Things such as ...

5
Pennies

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The story goes that ancient kings of Siam would bestow the gift of a white elephant on people that annoyed them. White elephants were considered sacred, and owners were expected to spend a lot of money taking care of them, while not being allowed to give the animals away or put them to work. (This tradition was probably started by white elephants, which are very intelligent animals.)

Colesworthy Grant
They know what's up.

Pennies are the white elephant of modern-day currency and are nothing but a burden to everyone who crosses their path. Pennies are so worthless that we have to trick people into picking them up off the street by pretending they're lucky. In case that's not clear, we aren't willing to pick up actual money because it's more trouble than it's worth.

We'll certainly leave pennies in the "take a penny, leave a penny" trays -- not out of interest in helping a future stranger but just to unload the worthless, unwanted hunk of metal on some other poor sap. Purses and coin jars are overflowing everywhere with useless, coppery garbage that is illegal to destroy.

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
An immortal doorstop.

The government itself is losing money minting pennies, spending 1.7 cents for every 1 cent coin they create.

Which leads to the question: Who on Earth is keeping the penny alive? The answer is Big Zinc. I'm not kidding. The main pro-penny advocacy group is sponsored primarily by Jarden Zinc, which makes about $48 million a year supplying raw coin materials to the U.S. government. They gave their organization a cutesy, groan-inducing name (Americans For Common Cents -- ugh) to make it sound like a homespun, grassroots sort of venture, but it looks like the same old story of a company trying to protect its golden (or zinc) goose.

To make matters worse, Canada already got rid of its penny two years ago, and stands to make $42.5 million from melting them down. I haven't really been sold on the "decline of America" narrative that a lot of people are pushing, but if Canada can do something this obvious and we can't, I don't know.

4
Aerosol Sprays

otme/iStock/Getty Images

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, it seemed that America was dead set on cramming everything possible into an aerosol can. Everything from sunscreen to cheese could be fired out of a high pressure can that was always just a few degrees Fahrenheit from exploding. And, resting high atop the crunchy aerosol hierarchy was hairspray, creating bangs that formed an impenetrable shell up to 5 inches above your scalp. I tried to copy the girls who used it, and this is about when I discovered that my hair was virtually immune to all chemicals, which is not as useful a superpower as it sounds. This is probably the only reason I wasn't cool.

Juanmonino/iStock/Getty Images
She's upset because someone just told her that hairstyle is 25 years out of date.

These went out of style along with shoulder pads, partly because we realized giant bangs looked dumb, and partly because there was a big to-do about chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol sprays hurting the planet.

Apparently, America phased out the CFCs in aerosols as early as the mid '70s, while most other countries signed on to do so in 1987, which actually gave everyone a false sense of security. Because, as it turns out, there are other dangers to aerosols besides making holes in the atmosphere.

Even non-CFC aerosol sprays emit unhealthy organic compounds that cause headaches and more long-term problems, which isn't particularly surprising when you think about it. Regardless of how "healthy" companies can make hairspray, you still wouldn't want all those tiny droplets of glue adhering to the inside of your lungs. Yet, that's essentially what you're doing each time you use it, unless you've figured out some system in which you never breathe while using aerosols. There's a very good reason why spray paint suggests you wear a ventilation mask while using the product, yet you're much more likely to use spray deodorant or hairspray on a daily basis and no one ever even mentions it might be a good idea cover the main entrance point to the rest of your body. So the next time you see someone at the gym or the pool locker room spraying themselves down with deodorant and creating their own personal storm cloud of fancy smelling butane, hold your breath and keep your distance because you're actually dealing with a small scale airborne toxic event.

Continue Reading Below

3
CD Stores

Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Remember when all the cool kids would hang out at the music shop in the mall, buying the latest CDs with the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" labels on them? Or, alternatively, wondering what life would be like if their parents let them buy the explicit lyrics CDs, and then everyone would think they were so cool? When everything that was hot was whatever you found there? The music, the posters, the fellow students of the opposite sex? I don't, but my cool friends tell me it was awesome.

Anyway, that reality is no more. Once upon a time (2000), when CDs were king, 943 million physical albums were sold in a year. But all great empires must fall, and so did CDs, sales being cut in half to 500 million by 2007, and finally to a shameful 140.8 million albums last year.

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Where ... where are we?"
"We must have fallen through a time portal. Stay close."

Not only that, those 943 million CDs were probably mostly sold over a store counter back in 2000, while a ton of last year's 140 million albums probably were bought with a click and sent in the mail, with nary a trip to the record store. The remaining CDs were purchased by moms and grandmothers buying presents who asked the nice young man at the store what was cool with the kids these days (and still probably went to get it out of the bargain bin of a drugstore, because "it'll be cheaper there").

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
Sometimes they accidentally go to the bank and buy their grandkids a certificate of deposit instead.

Even coffee shops won't sell CDs anymore, and that really tells you something, when the company that opened its CD sales with Muzak thinks something isn't cool anymore. Yet you can still stumble across CD stores here and there with no "going out of business sale" sign in sight. What gives?

There are two things going on. One, a lot of stores, especially independent stores, are selling a lot of vinyl, which is selling more than it ever has since Nielsen first started tracking sales in 1991. They're giving up on the streamers and downloaders and focusing on a niche audience of hipsters and audiophiles who want to buy vinyl records and talk to someone in person about what good taste they have.

Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
"Wow, that's really obscure."
"Thank you!"

The second thing that's going on is that CD stores are just denying reality. If your question is, "How are they making any money?" They're not. If your question is, "When are they going to wake up and smell the whatever smell streaming bytes emit as they pass through the Internet and let it go?" Then your guess is as good as mine. Grab some popcorn and we'll see.

2
Personalized Checks

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

I used to have personalized checks once upon a time, with cartoon flying pigs on them, because why not? It was a nice little conversation starter and made people smile when I paid at the grocery store or wherever they still took checks back then.

Designer Checks
Holy crap, they still sell them.

Which is exactly the point -- that was so long ago I can't even remember where I was using these checks. All I can remember is that it was across some counter, and a real person would remark, "That's cute," and we'd have a friendly interaction. That is not how things work these days.

You probably don't need statistics to see that people hardly write checks anymore, but if you do, here's one: The number of checks paid out in 2013 was less than half of the number from 2003. A lot of those are businesses paying each other, which they prefer to do with checks for businessy reasons I won't bore you with here.

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"Please pay by check. I like the way they smell."

When individuals write checks nowadays, it's almost always (1) to the government, or (2) for bills. The check goes into an envelope, and in the mail, and when it arrives, goes to a machine, or a very underpaid person, who rips it out along with a hundred other checks during their shift, and probably puts it in a machine. Neither the machines nor the underpaid people are likely to be impressed by your charming design, and they couldn't talk to you about it even if they were.

Designer Checks
Your electric bill will be paid without them ONCE realizing
you are a Gone With The Wind fan.

Such is the futility of attempting to distinguish yourself or even brighten someone else's day with an individualized check design in this day and age. As the old philosophical saying goes, if your final Unicorn check falls into the utility company's check-processing machine and nobody sees it go extinct, did you really just pay $20 a box for these? Good lord, why?

Continue Reading Below

1
Landlines

byryo/iStock/Getty Images

The most fascinating thing about pop science fiction for me is the possibility of laughably failed predictions. Not just the old flying car or the rooms filled with giant computers, but more subtle things. So many sci-fi stories assumed that as technology came up with ways to make long-distance communication more similar to in-person communication, we would automatically jump on it. Everyone in the future would talk by videophones (and eventually holograms). Text communication would be obsolete!

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images
Also, we would dial with our brains.

Fast-forward to today, where the No. 1 way "u" stay in touch with "ur" friends is "thru" texting, which people love so much that news headlines discuss "text addiction" and drivers are so compelled to text that they drive into telephone poles and lakes.

Meanwhile, call anyone just to say hi or to settle what time you're doing something, and they'll be bewildered that you didn't just text them.

moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images
"Why are you wasting my ear time?"

If you took a sci-fi viewer or writer from decades past, who had assumed 2015 would be full of videophones and/or holograms, and instantly transported them to today, they would be very, very confused to see people constantly ignoring their FaceTime and Skype and Google Hangouts apps to type some barely decipherable message to a friend. And not only ignoring video but even ignoring the audio connection that everybody used back in the day. It would look like we actually regressed.

In this culture, it's not surprising we're ditching our telephone landlines en masse. This chart from Statista shows the decline:

Via Statista


The appeal of the landline is it's a cost-efficient way to just "be there" with another person for hours, even through long silences, knowing they're there, hearing their breathing, none of which was creepy at all, I swear, back in the day. It's harder on a cellphone, what with the heat, the battery life, the number of minutes you have, and the crummy reception. But none of that matters in a world where you don't think of an audio connection as opening a portal to the other person's presence. Just text 'em!

I'm not saying whether this is good or bad or trying to make some commentary about What This Means About Society Today. I'm just saying there's no point trying to sell people landlines anymore; it's like trying to sell airplane tickets to birds.

So next time you feel bad about all the ancient things you've failed to purge from your attic or closet or garage, just remember that America itself is really behind in cleaning out its own garage. Man, we really need to get around to it sometime.

To turn on reply notifications, click here

1251 Comments

Load Comments