Naming the Nameless

The object caught my attention immediately. It sat on a shelf in the “men’s section” of our local Thrift Shop, along with the usual old trowels, jars of rusty bolts and random door hinges. Made of strong gray and black plastic, the thing consisted of two interacting screw clamps mounted atop fluted cylinders, with a hole underneath. No markings, no manufacturer’s name. As I turned it over and over in my hands, fascinated, I discovered a label that a Thrift Shop volunteer had affixed to it. Evidently the volunteer was as baffled as I, since the label said:

Retrospasmodic Farbulator.

Price $1

retrospasmodic farbulator

Before going into more detail I need to pause momentarily, to provide background information on our Thrift Shop. Hugely popular, its official name is the Summerland Hospital Auxiliary, although if you use that name you often get blank stares. The Shop generates hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for our hospital, by selling donated items at 50 cents or a dollar, with the odd rare item going for as much as $20. Stuff is dropped off in the alley behind the Shop, sorted and priced by the volunteers, and then sold. Clothing, dishware, toys, DVDs, books, puzzles, you name it, chances are you can find it at the Thrift Shop. Originally, senior downsizing provided most of the Shop’s inventory, as our town’s old folks transitioned from family homes to apartment condos. But now, recycling of used items has caught on with the entire community. Many women I know do all their clothes shopping there. Used booksellers pillage the book section. Outgrown children’s skis and boots are donated, purchased, used for a year by the next youngster, and then returned to the Thrift Shop for the next cycle.

The Thrift Shop opens Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm to 4pm. On a typical Tuesday, a crowd begins to gather in front of the doors at about 12:30. They are nervous with excitement, knowing that two whole days of new donations have accumulated since the previous Saturday afternoon’s closing. Canny Thrift Shop volunteers place a few choice new items in the display window over the Sunday-Monday restocking period, thus titillating the crowd even further. Wednesday is also a big day, since the depleted shelves from the Tuesday onslaught are restocked Wednesday morning, from the famous private inner sanctum known as the “Staff Only Area.” Sometimes on April weekends, when half the town is engaged in spring cleaning, the Thrift Shop has to put a sign in the alley behind the store, begging for folks to hold off on their donations for a few days, due to capacity issues.

Nearly everyone in our small town has a Thrift Shop story: the incredible find, the one that got away, the thing you would surely find some use for, the donation followed by the buy-back, and so on.

But I have digressed from the Farbulator, which of course I bought. Its name brought to mind those words you use when you don’t know–or can’t remember—the actual name of the object in question. The Whatzit, the Doohickey, the Doofer, the Denksbumpf, the Schmilblick. I think a thoroughly researched investigation of this incredibly creative genre is worthy of an MA in English Lit. The thesis would of course be dedicated to the individual that came up with Retrospasmodic Farbulator.

PS: I welcome any contributions to the genre.

1 thought on “Naming the Nameless

  1. Don, thanks for the engaging précis on the thrift shop. thingamagiggy? Whatchamacallit? Did you ever find out what your object was designed for??

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