Many ‘brilliant innovations’ are useless, but some are more useless than others

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Orson Welles as Harry Lime in Graham Greene’s ‘The Third man’.

They (the Swiss) produced the cuckoo clock, but also the fondue set.

So, the question in this context is, what is the most absolutely useless item in your household? You know, something you either received as a gift, or that you felt was a ‘must-have’ during some fleeting moment of materialistic insanity, and has now sat on the shelf in the basement or garage for years, decades even? In a poll taken in the UK (but it could just as easily have been taken here) the answer is the fondue set.

When I got married for the first time, my wife and I received two fondue sets. And, in those days people had fondue parties. You would invite another couple over. You would fire up the fondue burner. You would crack far too many bottles of wine and you would eat and drink for hours and hours. Sometimes you got two fondues going. One with hot oil for cooking meat, shrimp, etc., and one with melted cheese for dipping chunks of bread. If you could muster up a third set (not difficult in those days), you could even do a dessert fondue with melted chocolate and fresh strawberries. It was fun. It was a moment in time. And, as is the case for all things that seemed like a good idea at the time — it was a good idea at that time — and seemingly only at that time. We did the fondue thing for a while — maybe a year, and then the set(s) got put away, never to emerge. I don’t know if my ex-wife still has our originals. I’ve never had any desire to purchase another to make up for the ‘loss.’

But, fondue sets were not the only ‘flashes in the pan’ (as it were). Also topping the list were ice-cream makers (I had one of those until recently when I gave it away to a friend who expressed interest in having it if I wasn’t using it. I kissed her in gratitude. That was because it had sat in the garage for years — and years — and years, unused. It made great ice cream, but I never used it. I still eat ice cream. I buy it at the store.); on the same list of ‘good ideas at the time’ would be toasted sandwich makers, and especially exercise bikes.

Exercise bikes. I had one of those, too. It seemed like a good idea. And, for the first couple of encounters, it was almost fun; a challenge. I would increase the tension to see what I could endure. I would chalk up miles on the sonofabitch, and watch that little odometer go up (ever so slowly). And then that was it. It got boring. It got so excruciatingly boring. I did try to persevere with it, however. I tried variations to ease the boredom. I would read the newspaper while ‘riding’. I would watch television, to pass the tedious time. I would chat with my wife. I would do anything I could to keep from focusing on the inane fake riding. I thought of trying to have sex on it, but I reckoned that would have called for a degree of dexterity and athleticism that I probably wouldn’t have been able to master. Finally I decided that going for a real bike ride, or just a good walk, would be doing me considerably more good, and cut the boredom factor down radically. So, I got Max and gave the freakin’ exercise bike away.

One item that fails to make the list of good ideas turned bad is the electric bread maker. That’s because they are ‘good’ ideas.
“It’ll be just like the exercise bike,” said my ex-wife when I vouchsafed the idea of buying a bread maker many years and marriages ago. “You’ll use it three times, and then it’ll end up in the garage, never to be used again.”

And that is what happened — for a time. It was sort of a breadmakerus interruptus, in which it did end up in the garage — actually for years. And then, years and marriages passed, and I found it one day after a long and dustry hiatus. I hauled it out. I found some recipes. I fired it up. The bread I made was wonderful. Wendy and I actually used it so often that it wore out, and we bought a newer, considerably improved one. We use no other source of the staff of life. I resent it if we are traveling and I actually have to ‘buy’ bread. The bread I make is so much more wonderful, and it costs literally pennies per loaf.

Thank you, Black & Decker, you can now pay me for the plug. And now I would be interested to learn about the item(s) you find the most useless. Pinklea, I suspect you’ll have some thoughts on this.


6 responses to “Many ‘brilliant innovations’ are useless, but some are more useless than others

  1. Too weird. I just now threw my standard ingredients in the bread machine and fired it up. It takes me exactly 10 minutes from notion to having finished the clean up and we’ll have warm, fresh bread for dinner. I also wore out the last one. That said, I freely admit that it has languished in the back of a closet for years at a time. And though I am regularly looked down my nose by the culinary holier-than-thou, I could give a rat’s ass. *I* have hot, fresh bread for dinner and all they have is their principles and standards and integrity.

  2. a yogourt maker – it never even got used once – and even more embarassing I moved it with me to new homes three times. However I have now parted with it – at a garage sale – to a new home where I am sure it has been dusted and is now cranking out quarts of fabulous yogourt a week…. or not…..

  3. I use an exercise bike powered by my arms as the real thing is expensive and very dangerous here as we have one of the highest rates of deaths due to bicyclists getting hit by cars in the nation…

    My most useless thing? An electric can opener. Lightening and electrical storms cause power outages. Alone in the dark and hungry? If your opener’s electric, you could be waiting a long time to eat or feed the cat.

  4. Funny enough, we still do the fondue (or raclette) thing with friends once or twice a year. Probably because we’re French. And yeah, the fondue set is gold and brown a total 70s throwback. There’s at least one fondue restaurant that I know of in Montreal.

    As for useless: I think the juicer and fryer were both pretty much useless (both gifts). We used the fryer for a while until we started making Greek style potatoes in the oven. However they never ended up in the garage – I got rid of them in short order.

  5. Hmm, yes, an exercise bike and an ice cream maker and a fondue set all lived at my house for a while as well (well, we ARE siblings, aren’t we?). I also used to own a facial sauna once upon a time. All these items were gifts, of course – I would never have even THOUGHT to buy any of those things myself. Other than that, however, I am basically a minimalist in that everything I own, I use … except my cuckoo clock. It’s still in the repair shop. I may use use it if I ever get it back.

  6. And may that clock return in fine fettle. I never did get me one of them facial saunas, however, so you are one up on me, dear sister.

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