The Season of the Zipper

Published in the New York Times SundayReview


I’m so glad it’s spring because I won’t get stuck in my down coat anymore. Several times I had to put my hands over my head and get peeled out of it — once at a restaurant.

The problem is the zipper. It’s two-way. Once it’s zipped up, it unzips from the bottom. This is a look. A style thing. The two-way zipper has been around awhile, but in the last few years, it has become a bigger and more unwieldy piece of hardware. People who have spent their lives zipping up with no problem now need lessons: Hold the two zipper pieces on the left together so that you can insert the right side all the way to the bottom. If those two pieces on the left separate even slightly, you cannot zip. You can tug for eternity and nothing will happen.

My friend’s daughter laughs at her when she tries and tries again to zip her coat. I had to give an otherwise perfectly competent male friend a zipper lesson. Men, who have spent their lives zipping their flies, cannot zip their jackets. All winter I noticed that there was a moment in the evening when all movement stopped, when each of us leaving the movies or a restaurant was slightly bent over, head down, intense, concentrating while he or she attempted to zip.

I used to be able to multitask when I zipped. I could, for instance, talk and zip. No more.

These improved zippers have a tendency to get caught on fabric, which is why I had to get peeled out of my down coat. They catch easily. This means there is an anxiety factor present in a previously anxiety-free action: zipping. Suppose you’re out with someone you want to impress. Or are out and simply don’t want to be humiliated. Who wants to have the maître d’ or your date, spouse, child or boss trying to unstick your zipper? To avoid this possibility, I have walked home on a cold night unzipped.

This zipper is not only an advance in fashion but in industrial design. I am surrounded in my apartment by other such advances, and I might not even be exaggerating when I say that they are all fraught. My new electric coffee maker is talented. Press a button and it can clean itself except for the Pyrex pot the coffee drips into. This pot has a hollow plastic handle. When I put it in the dishwasher — upside down obviously to get the inside clean — the hollow handle fills up with water. When unloading I forget this and never notice. I am barely awake for one thing, having not yet had coffee. I flip the pot over to put it back in place on the coffee maker and splatter water all over the kitchen.

My blender, purchased a year ago, has eight buttons: stir, chop, mix, purée, liquefy, pulse, crush ice and off. It makes a terrific racket. After six months the handle on the container, which is made of some sort of plastic, split and had to be taped back together. Probably I shouldn’t have put it in the dishwasher, but I confess I didn’t read the manual, and besides why make a blender container that isn’t dishwasher friendly? It never crossed my mind. Weirdly, the duct tape repeatedly survived the dishwasher while the handle could not.

Then my friends Jenny and Joel gave me their Waring blender purchased, they estimated, in 1978. The container has no handle. It’s made of thick rippled glass and is easy to grip. The blender has one switch and it can do everything. When on, its soft whirring sound doesn’t scare the dog, the test of any good kitchen appliance.

As things acquire more abilities they are either harder to work or less well designed or just basically trouble. I expect to be ambushed by improvements in technology. I expect to be rendered helpless by upgrades. But by zippers?

Which is why I am especially excited about spring. The flowers for one thing. Mother Nature designed them perfectly and perfect they remain: the painted face of the pansy, the scent of a lilac. A tulip is a tulip is a tulip, now and forever. The anemone seems a miracle, but it is, every spring, the same miracle.

And then there are the clothes. My light jacket has a two-way zipper, but it starts at my hips, so shorter, easier to see, less room for disaster. My shoes. Flats. I can slip them on and slip them off. Best of all, T-shirts — those perfect tops that we just pull over our heads. No designer, fashion or industrial, has managed to wreck the T-shirt by improving it. Yet.

published in the New York Times