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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Fan

When I was a kid, our family bought its first fan at E.J.Korvette's department store on the corner of Gratiot and Twelve Mile in Roseville, Michigan. Much could be said about this store. Local legend had it that it was so named for “Eight Jewish Korean Veterans.” I never doubted its truth. Korvette's was also where my Mom bought her wigs—but that’s another story. And it was at Korvette's that I made my first successful ascent UP a DOWN escalator.

Why might a boy do such a thing? The same reason Hillary climbed Everest. Because it's there! At any rate, there at the top of the escalator, as if a reward for my achievement, was the FAN section of the appliance department. Dozens of fans filling two sides of an aisle, each proudly blowing ribbons and streamers in my face. Oh, how I wished we had a fan like one of those.

We had a fan at home. Dad made it from a forced-air furnace blower someone was throwing out—one of those huge “hamster wheel” designs. It had no switch—just a plug Dad stuck on the end of the old wire. This was Dad's way of keeping us away form the intake as we turned the thing on.

Dad's fan was so powerful it would blow Mom’s area rugs and small furniture across the room. Sometimes it would vibrate out of position in the night, and we’d hear things blowing over in the dark living room. Dad would get up to check it out, and on his way back to bed he’d say, “Now that’s a fan!”

It wasn’t so much the wind-tunnel effect of this industrial “blower” that bothered my Mom. After all, it did help cool down the house. What embarrassed her in front of company was the looks of this thing-- with its huge, grimy motor, exposed belt, pulleys, etc. What could she do to get Dad to see the need for safer fan?

Well, I don’t know if it was a strategy on Mom’s part, but in May of 1968 my little brother Jim was born, and that summer Dad decided to buy a real fan—with covers over the blades and everything—one less capable of blowing a toddler head over heals (much less the other dangers involved).

So when I heard the news that we were getting a fan, I told Dad about the cool display at Korvette's. He appreciated the tip and announced a "family outing"—a purchase of this proportion was right up there with buying the Plymouth Fury II a few years before, which happened to be the car we all piled into to head for Twelve Mile.

When we got to the store, I did not go UP the DOWN escalator—such a thought would never occur to me while shopping with Dad. He had the strictest store protocol known to retail. His aversion to buying things in general was second only to his fear of buying something we broke. On the rare occasions we kids shopped with him, we walked behind him, arms close to our sides as if passing through a maze of WET PAINT signs.

The second-floor fan display was a gauntlet of streamers just as I’d described. We each stood facing a fan saying "ahhhh" toward Nirvana, as a cheerful salesman approached Dad to explain the features. “Features on a fan?” you might be wondering. Why, yes, features galore. Things we take for granted now used to be demonstrated like new inventions to customers who gathered around in amazement.

"This baby oscillates [If it weren’t for fans, we would not know that word.] This one tilts and oscillates. This one has three speeds forward and one in reverse. It comes in cool aqua or silver ice. Do you want three blades? Four or five? You want a fan that turns-on with a knob or one that turns-on with a row of push buttons? Like this deluxe model. Nice, eh? [We didn't know it then but the word deluxe would soon lose all cachet and fall off the face of the retail planet. Someday this will be true of the word digital.]

“HIGH” mode was the key selling point for Dad. Oh, other features factored in—“I notice this one’s cord is a foot longer than that one. I like that”—but after years with a furnace blower in the living room, it was “HIGH” that would sell Dad on a fan, and the salesman read his mind.

“This one is an inch wider for greater stability in “HIGH” mode? Push that red button, Son, and see what happens."

I looked at Dad. He nodded, and I pushed the red button. It was the first time I had been near a fan when turning it on. From safe behind a metal grill, the gentle breeze ramped up to an authoritative hair-blowing stream, while showing a level of restraint we’d not experienced in a wind machine.

This fan weighed and cost twice as much as the same size box fan would today, but Dad bought it. He liked the power. I liked that it was controlled by a row of colored buttons.

Dad rigged the new fan up in the screen window of the dining room. It wasn’t as powerful as his furnace blower, but it was louder—it sounded like a crop duster taking off in the living room. I still have hearing loss in some decibel ranges from standing in front of the fan talking into it so my words sounded all “choppy.” We used to do that for hours when nothing good was on TV.

(Note: Mom called the space at the end of our living room a “dining room” for ten years in hopes of someday having a dining room table to put there. She had her Duncan Phyfe, of course, but that was in the basement still needing chairs, and her "dream" by then had switched to an Early American set she'd bookmarked in an Ethan Allen catelog. Once Jim grew out of his high chair, the seven of us could no longer fit around the Formica kitchen table with the chrome legs and matching chairs [that had shiny vinyl seat pads with splits in them and torn corners that scratched our bare legs]. It was then that Mom finally got her maple dining room set. She was thrilled, and we were happy for her, but I was older and recall less about the day the table and chairs arrived than I do of the night we brought home the new fan.)

Nowadays, with air conditioning, fans are less essential for survival, but they’re so cheap most households have several for various reasons. I’ve probably bought more than a dozen fans in my married life—not one was demonstrated by a salesman before purchase. When they give out, we just get a new one. Like so many of our low-cost goods in a "throw-away" world, they're cheaper to replace than to fix.

Last weekend was my Grandma’s 95th Birthday. We went over to Port Huron to gather with hundreds of people in the reception hall on the top floor of her apartment complex. The AC went out, and it was a very hot day. My uncle rounded up a dozen fans to circulate the air for more than 250 guests, most of whom were 70 or older. We “younger” folks (in our fifties) had our doubts that it would help. But believe it or not, it worked. The converging breezes were just right, and to most of the people in that room it triggered memories of modern luxury. We even had decorative streamers attached to them, blowing in celebration. I hadn’t seen such fun since I was a kid at E.J.Korvette's.

By the way, that fan we bought was a work horse for over twenty years. It's still up in my Mom's attic--works fine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked to talk into a fan on hot summer days! Just to think today we use fans to kill the noise...nice to have air conditioning!

16/7/06 4:00 PM  

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