Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Freshness of the Mid-20th Century: Jade East and the Phone Flipper

'Tis the season for catalogs, and apparently for irony-free advertisements, if you look in the right places. We received our annual catalog from The Vermont Country Store, a business that prides itself on stocking the kind of product that "evokes memories of a time gone-by," is a "unique problem solver," or is generally a "hard-to-find item from the United States and around the world." I love looking through the catalog for its odd blend of kitch and earnestness: among the ads for flannel Granny gowns, red and blue Mosser Glassware, and European Chocolate Bottles Filled With Top-Shelf Liqueurs I spied these two small ads, both hearkening to an era long-gone:

Jade East? Fantastic. I believe that Jack Lord at a 1973 Hawaii Five-O promotional appearance was the last man to wear this cologne without irony. Very much of its era, Jade East capitalized on the West's then-romanticized affection for all things Polynesian: Tiki restaurants and bars, backyard luas, "exotic" drinks of varying potency. (Bars that cater to the old craze still hang on.) "Notes of cedar, oakmoss, sandalwood, and a touch of musk create a lasting impression": this was the scent that promised that you'd get lei'd. In the 70s.

And I'm not sure that I can express the mixture of nostalgia and despair that swept over me when I saw the ad for the desk phone flipper. As a kid I loved playing Business Man with my dad's phone flipper on his big wooden desk: scroll down to a letter, press a button, and up snapped the lid, efficiently revealing a page of "contacts," whatever that was. All of my friends' dads had one, and I thought that the item had vanished, that there were maybe a few hundred of them gathering dust in a New Jersey warehouse. What strikes me is the sarcasm-free presentation of the item—not only is there a factory somewhere that still manufactures the parts that can be assembled into the phone flipper, there is apparently a market for them, beyond mid-century-besotted hipsters and Mad Men stylists. And your refill demands are met, as well.

Paging through the Vermont Country Store catalog can be a humbling experience: what I'm ready to snarkily dismiss as old-fashioned or obsolete proves its usefulness, for someone, somewhere. Who am I to snicker?

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