The Five, or Six, or Seven Stages of Grief

In the old days, time healed all wounds. They say life is more complicated today, though I suspect life is the same and it is the living that has become more involved.

With Elizabeth Kubler Ross came a five-step pathway through grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. In recent years, shock was added as the first stage of grief, which makes six, and in some lexicons, guilt is inserted somewhere between denial and anger, bringing the total to seven.  

Apparently, psychology does not escape the Second Law of Thermodynamics either, but we’re not here to talk about grief, though it does grieve me to say that when it comes to the demise of quality in goods and services, I’m stuck somewhere between shock and denial.

Our story begins with the arrival of a new Craftsman air compressor. I had been looking for something that wouldn’t make my ears bleed but didn’t need to cycle after two or three finishing nails. The ad looked great, as ads often do, but like most of us, I viewed it with suspicion. The reviews were great, and there were many. Reviews are also suspect, as some are written by company employees. In the end it was the price, the reviews and the word, “Craftsman” that sealed the deal.

In retrospect, I should have known better than to give too much credence to the name. Sears sold Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker in 2017. Do you ever wonder if, when one company buys another company that the former retains any of the memories and characteristics of the latter? Is it like the Borg on Star Trek? Does Craftsman remember its glory days and wish it made quality tools, but is powerless under the influence of the collective? Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

My dad’s 1970’s Craftsman tools hang proudly in my shop, a reminder of the American quality and ingenuity that was, but the “Craftsman” that arrived on my front porch was made in China for Stanley Black and Decker Acme Coyote.

The first clue that something was amiss was a strange and unpleasant odor that filled the shop as soon as the box was opened, and the compressor removed. “Did Bonnie get hold of a skunk?” My wife asked me. “No, I think it’s the air hose that came with this compressor.” I replied. “You have to take that outside. I can smell it all the way into the den.”

The nasty skunk smell was probably dibutylphthalate, a plastic stabilizer commonly used in plastics from The People’s Republic. Do they use that in everything or does the Chinese government decree that it must be used in all plastics shipped to the US? Enquiring minds want to know. What I do know is that the chemical is a hormone disruptor and potentially very unhealthy for susceptible people. I also know that the plastic skunk smell is not an early indicator of quality in a manufactured product.

I put on a pair of gloves and took the little hose out to the truck and threw it in the back, briefly wondering how something so thin could ever expect to survive the 150-psi advertised for the compressor. After two days in the bright sun, you can still smell it when you walk by the truck.

Back in the shop, I noticed a little bag of trinkets which had fallen onto the floor. This turned out to be the “accessories” which were included as a bonus. I marveled for a moment at the photographic and pixel prowess required to make the trinkets look like the serious tools shown in the ad. They did not stink, so I tossed them into the garbage bin in the shop.

The compressor worked fine, right out of the box. It seemed loud to me, but perhaps Craftsman Stanley Black and Decker Acme Coyote measures “decibels” on a different scale. On the plus side,  I’m predicting the unit will be tough enough, judging from the fact that it arrived undamaged in the beat up box so often produced by the Amazon warehouse/UPS gauntlet between the last click online and our rural location. For the price and the apparent quality, I’ll feel comfortable tossing this unit on the back of the truck without the TLC I would reserve for a finer tool like an Ingersoll Rand. Sometimes it’s an advantage to have a semi-disposable “beater” tool.

Which brings us back, briefly, to the five, or six, or seven stages of grief that some of us feel over the demise of quality in the world. I’m shocked that a hundred-dollar bill has so little value, and no, I’m not giving any away. I’m in denial that our currency has lost so much of its purchasing power. I’m angry that we all watched it happening right under our noses and were unconcerned. I’m bargaining in my head that this piece of junk is a “good” thing for banging around in the back of my truck. The whole affair could be quite depressing.

To achieve acceptance, I had to do a bit of math. Thank God for math, and logic, and reason, more valuable in their current scarcity. Here are the numbers that led me to understanding.

If price is still a relative guide to quality, to get the quality of a $129 Craftsman tool made in 1978, I would need to pay $507.28 in today’s currency. The $129 I paid for this compressor gets me $32.80 of 1978 quality. To all my dad’s tools hanging in the shop, this is a thirty-dollar compressor just made for banging around in the back of the truck.

Finally, if I don’t bang it around too much, this compressor might last a year or two. In six years, I might buy three and still come out cheaper than an Ingersoll Rand that would easily last that long. Now that IS a bargain! Isn’t it?

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