Before apps, there was a gadget for that

I’ve inherited my father’s penchant for purchasing “miracle” devices, a few of which actually work.

Linda Bleck

I am not a hoarder, or even a collector. But I do like gadgets – especially those touted as making life easier and “As seen on TV!”

My latest acquisition is the EZ Cracker. It looks like a lopsided set of white plastic pliers, but it is, simply, amazing. It not only cracks eggs, but it also separates the two halves of the shell and neatly plops the contents into your bowl or frying pan. It has turned breakfast into an adventure.

I know exactly where this propensity for gadgets came from: my father. Despite his having grown up during the Depression, when there were resources for necessities but little else, he developed a love of gadgets. When I was a kid, he began to introduce me to them, usually with the preamble, “Wait till you see this!”

The first gadget he ever wowed me with was a doozy. I must have been about 7. We had a black-and-white TV and couldn’t afford the expensive new color sets, but no problem. My dad saw an ad for a miraculous device: a plastic sheet that converted black and white to color. And for only a couple of bucks! I recall my family sitting in front of the TV as my father applied the sheet to the screen, and voilà! – “I Love Lucy” took on a new dimension. 

The plastic sheet was blue at the top, red in the middle, and green at the bottom (to correspond to sky, earth, and grass). This didn’t go over well in Lucy’s apartment, but the experience was still an object of tremendous fascination for a night or two. 

Despite the limitations of the miracle color screen, my father’s interest in gadgets continued unabated. There was the soap-impregnated car-washing mitt, the original Veg-O-Matic (“It slices! It dices!”), and the Awesome Auger, a long screwlike device for digging garden holes (“Without the blisters, bending, and backache!”). One of his favorites was the ShamWow! – a highly absorbent cloth (“4 for $19.95 and a second set absolutely free!”) that could apparently drain a lake if not handled carefully. 

In my home, not all of the gadgets were used as intended. Preeminent was the SaladShooter, a pistol-like contraption that sliced and actually fired vegetables into the mixing bowl. At least, that was its purpose. My brother and I preferred to chase each other around the house with it, shooting potato slices at each other.

Last on my list is Mighty Putty. It was not, technically speaking, a gadget, but it still touted the promise of life transformed. When my father saw it advertised on TV, he quickly ordered the quick-setting adhesive and insisted I be present for the unveiling. 

“This is the strongest adhesive in the world,” he announced with a pride suggesting he had invented it. Then he repeated the advertiser’s line: “It has the strength to pull an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer!” 

Maybe so, but we never tested this immense potential, and my father was content when it neatly mended the handle of his favorite coffee mug.

The thing about these gadgets is that – the instant color TV screen aside – they actually work as advertised. The battery-operated SaladShooter, when it wasn’t an instrument of the potato wars between me and my brother, did indeed create a bowl of neatly cut veggies in rapid order; the Awesome Auger did allow my father to plant his tomatoes without bending over; and the soap-loaded mitt gave him endless hours of pleasure in a day when dads washed their cars in the driveway.

I haven’t bought a gadget in a good long while now, mostly because I don’t watch much TV anymore. But I recently saw something on the internet: a chair cushion so soft and yielding that one can supposedly place an egg on it and then sit on the egg without breaking it. Do I need such a thing? I’m tempted. Wouldn’t it make a nice counterpoint to my EZ Cracker?

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