The Long Arm

  • ALSO KNOWN AS: The Nifty Nabber
  • LENGTH: 36”
  • CLAW SPAN: Width of Book Spine
  • OTHER USES: Annoying Store Proprietors, Back Scratching, Killing Pigeons

In addition to inventing the odometer, bifocal eyeglasses, the iron furnace stove, watertight bulkheads, a flexible urinary catheter, and the lighting rod, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) invented the Long Arm. Originally designed as a wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end, Franklin invented the Long Arm in his old age to retrieve books from high shelves.

The Long Arm, now materialized in blue and yellow plastic, resides in every New York City corner store and is used to reach a large and diverse selection of supermarket fare. Where lateral space is a rare commodity, grouped items must be contained and displayed vertically; this creates an obstacle for the short and the elderly populations of New York who, like Franklin, cannot reach certain essentials. (A list of things on high: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, cereal. Admittedly, these items are well suited to such skyscraping placement in that they are lightweight, and, were you to wield the Long Arm irresponsibly, they would not do much damage to your head). Though the modern incarnation of the Long Arm is somewhat vexing in that the trigger is hard to squeeze, and that some of the high-placed groceries are significantly larger than the potential span of the claw (about the width of a book spine), the hooked pole itself is lightweight enough that knocking a nine-pack of Bounty to the floor is nearly effortless.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro has been published in Open City and Tokion, and is a founding member of the New Politeness.

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