One of my Christmas presents last year was a three-pack of little beepers that help to locate TV/stereo remote controls that invariably go into hiding in our household. They attach to the back of the remotes with those sticky strips that last for a week or two and then un-attach. They beep when a special whistle is blown. Turns out, though, that the beepers respond to all sorts of noises: high-pitched voices, laughter, singing, whistling, humming, the cat. My grandson sets off all three with a calculated squeal.

They're all detached now and in a little bowl and serve only to showcase our grandson's perfect pitch, getting them to beep as he does with his first squeal.

It got me thinking about some other bad consumer decisions I've made in my life. Like buying something from a catalog when I was 17 called Auto Buddy, which was advertised as a flashlight, emergency blinker and vacuum. Just what I needed for my '59 VW. It was only $5.99.

The flashlight was OK, the emergency blinker was visible for about 10 feet and the vacuum — the real reason I wanted my own Auto Buddy — only swirled the dust away in the places I applied it. That was the great suction coming from two double-A batteries. I should have known, but I was 17 and gullible.

No such excuse years later, when I bought a waist belt that would make me trimmer, ”even while I sleep.” “No need to exercise, no hours in a gym slaving and sweating — just strap it on, and lose.”

What could be more ideal for someone who hates tedious, repetitive exercise?

What the belt did was slightly rearrange my midsection while it was worn and produced a band of sweat, which was “evidence” of weight loss.

What was I thinking?

Years later, someone in my family paid good money for a “step” that sheds pounds when you step up onto it and then step down from it. Then you repeat it a hundred times to simulate going up real steps. This “unique exercise experience” could easily be duplicated by any wood block, briefcase, thick book or, just for those people who aren't into buying the latest thing in exercise equipment, real stairs! Someone made a lot of money convincing a lot of people that there was only one real “step.” (Include my family in that roundup.)

Then there was the gopher-be-gone kit I bought to finally put to rest the demon creature that lived under my front lawn and was turning it into a moonscape.

The kit came with a hookup to the exhaust pipe of my car, which attached to a long hose that eventually made its way into the latest gopher hole. I let the engine idle for a half-hour to gas the gopher, or, if you choose, encourage him to vacate the premises. Just for the record, I was OK with gassing him.

Only a few hours after I resorted to this extreme measure, the little fellow made a new mound on the grass, mocking my effort. If gophers laugh, he was having a good one on me for this feeble attempt at eviction.

But the blue ribbon for bad buys goes to a tube of toothpaste that my wife bought when we were first married. We had both agreed to make an effort to buy generic products to save some money, and so I was pleased to see a tube of toothpaste that appeared in my drawer that had only the word “Toothpaste” written on it.. Who needs brand names, I remember thinking each time I squeezed out a glob of this general issue and brushed away. I also remember thinking how very gritty this stuff was. But it was good stuff, I thought — no frills, back to the basics, inexpensive. For two weeks I brushed with this non-brand. I was happy.

Then I happened to see on the side of the tube the word, “Directions,” which made me wonder just how stupid we had all become to need directions in applying toothpaste. Then I read what words came next. They were, “Lift the dog's upper lip.”

Puzzlement gave way to shock as I realized that for two weeks I was brushing my teeth with dog toothpaste, which my wife had bought on the sly knowing that I would not favor such a purchase. (I mean really, what's next? Under-leg deodorant, mouthwash?)

Somehow this toothpaste had made its way into my personal bathroom drawer even though it was meant for Gypsy, our poodle with bad teeth. Ten years she was with us and never attracted a male dog, and the thought was, among the female members of the family (everyone but me), “Maybe it's her breath.”

This only scratches the surface of dumb purchases I've made over the years. I join the rest of the human race in its relentless and sometimes impatient desire to make life more convenient, more comfortable and less expensive. They are qualities that gain attraction as I add more years to my life. Having lived as many years as I have, however, I know that I will be fully capable when I am 70 of being just as stupid as I was when I was 17.

?DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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