Match Made in Materials
My dad was a woodworker. He built furniture with a mid-century-adjacent vibe. He also built out of wood objects one wouldn’t expect to be made of wood, like table lamps and Christmas ornaments. Found throughout my childhood home are wooden wares in his signature style.
My dad was also frugal. He preferred to engineer a practical hack for the problem at hand rather than purchase a ready-made solution. Working in the garage and his pants are too loose? Use this rope here to make a belt. Your kids are bored? Use this wood and dowel maker to create a “doll” they can color.
One object in particular marries Dad’s penchant for woodwork and using what’s available to solve a problem: his desk chair. The carpet in his home office rendered both four-legged and wheely chairs a pain to move around. Dad took one of our plastic patio chairs—you know the type, found for a few bucks at your local big box store—and affixed wooden gliders to the bottom. It worked perfectly and lasted decades.
While reading Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, I couldn’t get this chair out of my head. Author Susan Freinkel takes the reader through the history of plastic, the use of which exploded after WWII, dedicating each chapter to the history of a single plastic object: comb, chair, Frisbee, and so forth. Though combs, early plastic objects, were designed to look like natural materials (ivory, wood, metals) the plastic-made chair hit its stride in the market only when designers embraced plastic’s own aesthetic.
Dad’s green monobloc chair atop naked wood gliders is certainly an aesthetic, one befitting a redneck computer station. But because of reading Freinkel’s Plastic, I see not only my dad’s skill and practical problem-solving in that chair; I see as well the same inventiveness and frugality of designers before him using cheap, available materials to create a functional product.
I chose Freinkel’s book for the Reading Women Challenge prompt “a book about the environment.” With the fires ravaging the west coast, I’ve never been more concerned about climate change, and I found Plastic eases me into environmentalism discourse without terrifying or infuriating me.
So far, Freinkel maintains an attitude of curiosity which makes the plastics industry seem interesting as opposed to ominous. Seventy-five pages in, the possibilities of plastic appear limitless! Yet I expect the other shoe to drop as I continue reading.
It’s Wednesday, so you know the drill. Below are words from Plastic starting with the sentence in which I found them, followed by Oxford definition, and finally a sentence of my own using them.
“Plastic's penchant for inexpensive imitation came to be seen as cheap ersatz” (8).
Adjective: (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else. Not real or genuine.
Despite herbalists’ claim that chicory root tastes just like coffee, I consider it ersatz.
“It’s a pattern—some might say a vicious circle—that makes the plastics-design revolution look more like a commercial putsch” (46-7).
Noun: a violent attempt to overthrow a government.
Covid-19 has been a putsch on society.
“The story is almost certainly apocryphal” (59).
Adjective: (of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true.
Fake news is dangerous for being apocryphal; though the information is dubious, people still believe it.