John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Somebody is marketing a joke line of super-fancy, homemade toilet plungers.
When Abraham Lincoln was faced with a stubborn clog in the john, he would oft repeat the wise aphorism: "Give me six hours to unclog a toilet and I will spend the first four buffing the plunger."
Didn't know that TMI bit of presidential history? That's because it didn't actually happen. Ol' Abe preferred using a rusty carriage bolt to dislodge, er, Lincoln logs. Just kidding: The quote was manufactured by an equally made-up company, Re Made, which is pretending to distribute a $350 toilet plunger inspired by the Illinois Railsplitter himself. It has a bespoke leather sheath fitted over the rubber cup, and supposedly ships in a shavings-packed crate with numbered documentation and a lifetime guarantee:
"In a tribute to our 16th President, this handsome plunger will be produced in a limited edition of 100," coos the introduction to the "Lincoln" Plunger. It continues:
Dependable, versatile and with a rich and powerful history, the American Master Plunger is the quintessential aquatic tool and an icon of American design and ingenuity. Every feature of this plunger was meticulously designed by Re Made in New York. The Dayton pattern head is made from fine silicone American rubber and is hand cast in North Carolina by fourth-generation plunger makers. The Re Made helve is lathed from Appalachian wood pine and its elegant curvature and slender form factor ensure superior efficiency and safety.
As Lloyd Atler of Treehugger noted yesterday, the plunger project is a satire of the real-life home accessories of Peter Buchanan-Smith, a New York designer who once worked for Isaac Mizrahi, Paper magazine, and Wilco. Buchanan-Smith's company Best Made markets a line of specialty axes, such as the Lincoln model of "American Felling Axe" made from "straight-grain, premium" Appalachian hickory and a "numbered 24-page axe manual." This being New York, of course, it also has a superior "slim profile."
Because this chopper's $350 price tag would make a grizzled mountain man spit black coffee with rage, the folks behind Re Made built a whole website mocking the tone of Buchanan-Smith's site. There's even a doctored New York Times article discussing the designer's museum-quality "urban plunger," riffing on an interview about handmade axes he really did give to the paper in 2010. The slightly altered quotes have a bizarre, but somehow believable effect, like when Buchanan-Smith is recognized by a barista who exclaims, "You're the plunger man!" – and then drafts a payment plan to obtain one for her bathroom.
Try to obtain these value-accumulating plungers, or their must-have companion piece, the leather plunger sling, and you're in for disappointment: The phone number is a 555 and the ordering page leads to a Detroit hardware store. A couple photos on Re Made's Facebook page hint at links to the Detroit art scene. People seem to be taking it for the joke it is, with one guy asking: "Do you guys ship overnight? I have a hell of a clog going on here and I'm scared to use this plunger of questionable origin under my sink." To which Re Made deadpans: "Yes. Definitely. We can help you out with that clog."