Armagideon Time

Can the can

June 14th, 2017

In times of crisis, I have found it helpful to look back to an simpler equally chaotic and confusing time in search of answers bizarre shit to marvel at through fragmentary memory and a thick nostalgic haze.

Sure, things may look pretty grim on a global scale in 2017, but they still haven’t sunk to the levels witnessed in 1977, when a “can collector display rack” managed to become a marquee item in the Sears Wish Book.

I can’t tell you why America’s ever-increasing supply of empties became the stuff of lower-middlebrow folk art during that era. Did it grow out of the ecological awareness fostered over the previous decade? Was it it tied to the legal drinking age’s drop from 21 to 18 and the broader proliferation of beer-themed merchandise to minors? Could it have been a clever marketing push by container and beverage producers to evangelize the shift away from glass bottles while pushing folks to explore outside their beverage-based comfort zones?

I don’t know and I honestly don’t care enough to find out, but the phenomenon was real….much to the chargin of mess-conscious moms who lamented the steady stream of unwashed empties which flowed from the softball field’s parking lot to the dressers of their boy-children’s already untidy bedrooms.

My attention was initially grabbed by the assortment of brands featured on the pull-tab era wonders on display. Even discounting for regional offerings, it gave me lucid flashbacks to tagging along on one my old man’s many trips to the package store (that’s “liquor store” for you non-Boston types) in those days. The reward for behaving myself (never a certainty, then or now) was a Slim Jim and my choice of tonic (that’s “pop” or “soda” for you non-Boston types) from the store’s huge-to-my-five-year-old-self non-alcoholic cold singles case.

Picking the “correct” one was a big deal, and my favorite oscillated between grape Fanta and A&W Cream Soda (because MY INITIALS ARE A AND W, DAD, DAD, LOOK). I still drink the latter on the reg, despite the many disapproving looks I get from my dentist.

Afterward, my dad would park his current domestic dinosaur of a family car at the far end of the New Boston Street industrial park, where we’d sip from our cans and watch the trains on the Lowell line roll past.

That recollection is like a polished piece of amber among the broken glass that constitutes most of the contents of my internal memory box. It’s weird that it took this catalog image to shake it to the surface again, but the human mind wanders in unexpected directions.

In any case, my carbonated answer to Proust’s madelines got shoved aside when I noticed that one of the item’s “custom decorator ideas” for displaying one’s can collection included “your van.” You can’t say Sears didn’t know the products target demographic.

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8 Responses to “Can the can”

  1. Sallyp

    I suppose I cannot sneer at the display of cans, when I have a bowl of wine corks sitting on my bar counter in the family room.

    But… Classy wine corks!

  2. DensityDuck

    Given how much traction Warhol got just for pointing out that graphic design was an art form, I guess it’s not so surprising that people would consider aluminum beverage cans to be an artistic display…

  3. SJB


  4. Zeno

    I’m guessing the end result would be something approximating a hybrid aesthetic somewhere between Warhol and Mondrian, yet on a Kmart budget. I can see the appeal in the sense of the time.

    Eh, but who am I kidding? I could actually use one of these today to display my collection of ~50 Dr. Pepper knockoffs from regional grocery chains across the country.

  5. bitterandrew

    Does your collection feature a Dr. Weis can, Zeno?

    I’m kind of partial to that one for obvious reasons, though Stop & Shop’s “Dr. Bob” is up there, too.

  6. Chris Wuchte

    I never knew any kids who decorated their walls with cans, but I knew several whose dad’s did. Usually to be found in a basement TV room. And for a few years it was pretty common to go into an older person’s house and find something like that. More than once someone proudly showed me their can of Billy Beer.

  7. John

    So, um, the collector in me is cringing looking at the placement of the display rack in the van. The first time someone sits down on the couch and smacks the back of their head, crushing the most desirable cans (proudly displayed front and center) of your collection.

    Well, scratch that. maybe the couch wasn’t used for sitting…

  8. Zeno

    I don’t have any Dr. Weis, although I do have an old can of “Dr. B” from a Boston-area HEB courtesy of an in-law who went to BU.

    “Dr. Bob” is a name that comes up quite a bit. I think I have 3 or 4 of those from different regions. “Dr. Wild” is a close second.

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