Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Give me a lever and a place to stand


Bronze steelyard, Roman (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


    "Give me a lever," Archimedes said, "and a place to stand, and I will move the world."
     Only he didn't say that. That is the final version, the gradual improvement, cleaned-up over the centuries, as everyone from Lord Byron to Thomas Jefferson to John F. Kennedy grabbed the thought and started polishing.
      So I don't feel bad, faced with one of those lingering household tasks, left undone due to its difficulty, I thought of Archimedes' supposed line (compounding the error by ascribing it to Aristotle—they both begin with A!—until I drew upon my journalistic training, and checked).
     So what did Archimedes say? Nothing. His writings are lost. The sentiment comes to us from Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus (14:7):
    And yet even Archimedes, who was a kinsman and friend of King Hiero, wrote to him that with any given force it was possible to move any given weight; and emboldened, as we are told, by the strength of his demonstration, he declared that, if there were another world, and he could go to it, he could move this. Hiero was astonished, and begged him to put his proposition into execution, and show him some great weight moved by a slight force
    Which he proceeded to do, Plutarch says, by moving a ship with little effort, using a system of pulleys. 
Cigarette card, 1888 (Met)
      I myself resorted to a species of lever, a hand truck—a vastly useful tool to have around the house.  And it worked.
     Maybe I should outline the situation:
     My younger son wanted to be a writer. I, in that automatic error that parents make, used my life as the lens through which to see his, and though this ambition meant he needed a roll top desk to write upon. Because that's what writers have, roll top desks. I still have the one I bought with my paper route money in the early 1970s, for all the good it did.
     Thanks to the wonder of Craigslist, a sufficiently massive oaken roll top desk was stuck into his room, where it sat neglected for five or 10 years, until he made it known we could get rid of that thing at any time.
     Oh that it were that easy.
     My wife automatically assumed that her husband, with his balky back and bad hip, could never move the thing. Perhaps neighbor boys could. Perhaps a lawn care crew could be waylaid at their work and lured inside our home. She spoke, several times, made several calls. But burly men or boys were not available. I pondered what to do, even phoned 1-800-GOT-JUNK. No wonder they're so cheery on those radio ads; they're expensive.
    "Give me a lever," I thought, "and a place to stand, and I will move the world."
     Monday after my writing was done, I dragged the hand truck upstairs and tipped the desk onto it. Then bumped the chunk of oak slowly but controlled down the stairs, out the front door, and into the van. I was afraid they wouldn't take it, but the folks at Goodwill were happy to have it. "We have a lot of people who want these things," the guy at Goodwill said.
     "I hope it finds a good home," I said, driving off with relief. And people think the classics are without practical use.

7 comments:

  1. Salvation Army gets best ratings from the checkers I've been told, I guess I should check that myself. While I'm here, an experience last year with Kars for Kids was quite negative. The tow truck showed up without the promised paperwork, limited communication skills and a bad attitude. That may have been a localized problem, Florida, but dealing with their national call center was also unsatisfactory.

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    1. What I don't like about Kars for Kids is that it only benefits Orthodox Jewish education, and so its commercials seem deceptive.

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    2. Hard to avoid religious entities sometimes when donating, but even though I'm anti-religion, I appreciate the charitable impulse. Had no Idea about K4K Orthodox agenda but it wouldn't have bothered me had they performed competently. I would rather help poor kids in Rogers Park than an extreme religious sect, Orthodox Jews aren't that far from the center. Guess southwest Florida isn't a hot spot for them.

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  2. CharityWatch gives Goodwill top rating, 89% of monies support the mission, $9 spent to obtain every$100 in donations. There top 3 executives earn approximately $700,000, $300,00, and $300,000 respectively.

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  3. Habitat For Humanity would have taken that desk in a heartbeat. You might have had to wait a while to schedule a truck for pick-up, but it would have gone into one of their Re-Store outlets and been sold quickly. There's one not all that far from you...it's on Pulaski, just north of Peterson.

    The revenue generated by the ReStore goes right back into providing housing for those in need. Here in Cleveland, Habitat no longer builds any new housing for needy folks, like Jimmy Carter used to do, because there are literally thousands of empty and abandoned homes in Northeast Ohio. The Habitat construction teams have plenty of habitable older residences available, for purchase and restoration. Restore and Re-Store, get it? It's a bad pun, but no joke. Everybody wins, nobody loses.


    We get truckloads (literally) of donations every day, and hordes of loyal customers, who are finding some real treasures at bargain prices. Antique dealers love the place. I said "we" because I'm now in my fifth year of working at one of their outlets here. Ask the man who knows.

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    1. A ReStore just opened in Joliet. It's on Larkin, just south of Theodore.

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    2. In addition to the stores in Chicago and Joliet, Habitat operates seven other ReStore outlets in "Chicagoland"--they're located in Chicago Heights, Addison, Aurora, Elgin, Mc Henry, Woodstock, and Gurnee.

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