I’m generally not one to place much stock in conspiracy theories, but when an American institution comes under senseless attack from within, it gives me pause to reconsider my cherished beliefs. Events I’ve encountered over the past several weeks have left me no choice but to conclude there’s a conspiracy of hydra-like proportions slithering unnoticed through our country. It’s so far-reaching, it’s almost impossible to unearth its roots. And so insidious, it goes largely unnoticed.
One of the last testaments to American ingenuity, the venerable Zippo lighter, is systematically being dismantled by agents working under the auspices of homogenization. The network is vast, and so sublime that even its agents are unaware of its power. The average Joe — citizens like you and me — never sees the effects of homogenization — until it strikes us on an immediate level.
At first, I had no reason to suspect there were forces working in concert to undermine the proud tradition of the Zippo lighter. Thinking that the corner convenience store might stock flints or lighter fluid was a shot in the dark at best, even though this particular location carried every brand of cigarette known to man. Not surprisingly, I fared no better at the liquor store across the street. But I couldn’t help but note both locations offered a variety of refillable butane lighters alongside the obligatory disposable Bics and Scriptos. Undaunted, I went to a nearby drug store where I had purchased flints before, only to be met with a vacant stare from the post-pubescent clerk. Finally, I visited the tobacco bar at my newly remodeled neighborhood grocery store. In the course of the store’s makeover, photo processing and DVD rentals had been eliminated, but the floral section had been expanded as a freestanding kiosk within the store. The tobacco bar had been redone, too. Flints and lighter fluid had fallen victim to the consolidation process, but the selection of butane lighters and disposable lighters had been expanded.
Clearly, this was no mere coincidence. Only weeks before, I was able to purchase Zippo flints and lighter fluid with ease. Now, wherever I went, clerks extolled the virtues of disposables and butane. As tempting as it was to surrender to the inevitable, something I couldn’t explain — something innate, something American — spurred me to not forsake the Zippo. Bic lighters, and their imitators, lure unsuspecting consumers with promises of convenience. They neglect to mention how they’re actually little explosive devices. Only a few days ago here in Dallas, a disposable lighter was responsible for the decimation of an SUV. It had been left in the vehicle for hours in the Texas heat, and when the owner tried to use it, it exploded in his hand. Of course, he dropped the lighter immediately, but the little Chinese-assembled IED completely torched his vehicle.
I would never suggest that French companies like Bic, or American-based novelty companies dealing in throwaways, are undermining our way of life by outsourcing the manufacturing of their little flamethrowers to China. However, it’s blatantly apparent that 79 cent lighters don’t really represent convenience, and actually are potential environmental hazards. They don’t last very long, and when they do work, it’s only haphazardly, particularly in the outdoors. As a result, they’re routinely tossed aside by frustrated users, presenting fire hazards — and if they don’t combust, their plastic casings languish forever by the roadside.
Zippos, on the other hand, are an American engineering marvel, elegant in design, legendary for their reliability. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Zippo, and they’ve remained relatively unchanged since they first appeared. It’s impossible to improve on perfection, and for what it does, nothing has ever beat a Zippo. Assuming they’re fueled and the flint isn’t worn away, they will, as promised, light under the windiest conditions without fail. And if anything should ever go wrong with it, the company will replace it at absolutely no cost. After my father died, I came across one he owned, with the lid missing. I sent it to Zippo, and it came back from Zippo’s manufacturing plant in Bradford, Pennsylvania, good as new.
Zippos have been lauded by presidents, generals and soldiers for decades, and not without good reason. During WWII, Zippo suspended commercial sales, and only made the lighter available to the military. Eisenhower and MacArthur, as well as countless grunts, lauded it as the only flame upon which they could depend. There are stories of its metal case stopping bullets during battle. And of course, as per the unconditional guarantee, such damaged lighters were replaced with no questions asked.
A Zippo isn’t just a lighter — it’s an accoutrement that you selfishly guard. You might own several, with each one having its own backstory, but you never throw one away. Each one reminds the owner of a particular point in his or her life — a bittersweet romance, an affair with a fast car, a little social victory — all sealed with that distinctive click as the Zippo is closed. There’s a little piece of American history in every Zippo.
You don’t get that with a Bic lighter, and you don’t get it with a novelty butane lighter emblazoned with skull-and-crossbones or crude feminine silhouettes. All those give you are frustrations and bad memories of misplaced adolescence. In our throwaway culture, that’s how we mark time. We paste over our past with fiberboard facades and call it progress. It’s not evolution, though — it’s surrender to homogenization.
Trust me — the Homogenization Conspiracy is not a figment of my fevered imagination. It’s not relegated to the Zippo, either. The perfect little lighter is just a pawn in this. If the dark forces that dictate our tastes can covertly take out an American icon like the Zippo by denying us its fuel source, what’s next? Rise up, America! If you don’t do it now, future generations will be consigned to a world ruled by overlords whose only allegiance is to disposability. And the world will end with the telltale click of a Zippo slamming shut…