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The Can Opener Blues

September 28, 2012
By Bob Seidenstein ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

A can opener is an amazing device, and all the more amazing for how little we regard it.

Just think: It performs a task nothing else can do, does it over and over, for decades even yet we never think about it. Or more precisely (like most things) we never think about it till it's not there.

So where did this sudden can opener musing come from? Where else but the most obvious place - the demise of my can opener.

Maybe I took my can opener for granted more than most people because I had it so long: It worked perfectly for 35 years, so I figured it'd last another 35, at least. Alas, it didn't, having given up the ghost a few weeks ago, leaving me with a wicked case of The Can Opener Blues.

Admittedly, this wasn't some great emotional loss. I wasn't about to sit shiva over it, nor did I feel I'd just bid adieu to a faithful servant, or any of that bumpf. I mean, it was just an old hand-held can opener, for Pete's sake. Still, it required action on my behalf, namely getting another one.

I have other can openers, all of them of the Jack London or Barney Rubble variety. One is on my Leatherman, one is on my pocket knife. I've even got an old army-issue P38, affectionately known to generations of GIs as the John Wayne. But while they'll open cans, the extra effort they require make them impractical for quick and civilized housekeeping. Using them in place of a real can opener is as efficient as lighting a gas stove with flint and steel.

Nope, any can I'd open in my kitchen would be done with The Real McCoy.

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't want something fancy-shmancy - no titanium whiz-bang designed by a famous Swedish architect, or that ilk. In fact, I didn't even want an upgrade. All I wanted was a replacement - the identical twin (or more likely, the great-great grandson) of my old opener. But where to get one?


The bargain hunter on the hunt


If you know me, even a little, you know I think buying almost anything retail (toothbrushes, eye cups and skivs to the contrary) is a defeat, if not a disgrace. Uh-uh, let some less adventurous, more acquisitive soul pay full price for something. Me, I'll cop it for pennies on the dollar. And thus my love of thrift shops, consignment stores and garage sales.

But there's a problem with shopping in those venues, namely you never know what's there. Which is half the adventure. Unfortunately, you never know what's NOT in there either. Which is a major drawback when you're looking for something specific like, in my case, a can opener.

With household items I usually have great luck in Barb Curtis's Dorsey Street Exchange. And even if what I want isn't on the shelf, Barb might have one stashed in her basement and will fetch it for me. Or if she doesn't have it, she'll let me know when one comes in.

But I couldn't wait for my can opener. Or more exactly, I could wait, but Pippy the Cat couldn't, since her Tuna and Egg Supreme comes in a can.

Unfortunately, the DSE was a no-go.

That left only one option - Another's Treasure. And it was a score: Following in the sandal-steps of Julius Caesar, I went, I saw, I purchased.

It was just like my old can opener. It also looked brand-new - not a scratch on it, and no coagulated food goo on its cutting wheels.

The price? Well, it was hardly the Deal of the Century, what with me having to shell out two bucks of my hard-earned gelt. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I had no option but to empty my coffers.

When I got home, a question nagged at me like an aching tooth: Was this can opener a bargain or not?

I immediately looked up its reviews on the internet.

"A total piece of junk," said one.

"Keeps dropping the can," said another.

"Garbage, pure garbage," said a third.

And so it went, on and on and on, each review seemingly worse than the last. They all gave it one star, only because it's impossible to give no stars.

Finally among the comments I found out the problem. The company, an old and trusted one, used to make wonderful can openers. They worked perfectly and lasted for decades. They were also made in the good ole US of A.

The crappy new ones are, of course, made in bad ole China.

And which one did I have?

Hands atremble, I picked it up and looked at its place of manufacture. Ah-HA! The good ole US of A! Not only are my Can Opener Blues gone, but if this opener works half as well as the old one, they'll never come back.

Which brings us to the bad and good news of all of this.

The bad news: It's a sad damn day when the only place I can pay a reasonable price for high-quality American-made products is in thrift shops.

The good news: At least we still have thrift shops.



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