Tool: The Long Arm, $28.49

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro
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  • 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.

Use of this object, however, can be fraught with variance and irregular human friction.The Long Arm hangs by its “claw” from an elevated shelf and is, as such, quite accessible to the casual shopper.Yet my frequent attempts to use the Long Arm (I am 5′ 1 3/4″) are met with considerable frowning from the Man Behind the Counter. Having carefully considered the possible explanations for his distress, I have arrived at three hypotheses:

  1. That I am using the Long Arm indecently (I prefer to use the hand as a hook to knock down the out-of-reach object, at which point I run beyond the object’s apparent trajectory, then scurry back to retrieve the fallen object from the floor; and I will admit that once, yes, a tumbling roll of double-ply toilet paper did hit another customer).
  2. That the right to use this tool is reserved for the proprietors of the establishment.
  3. That everyone in New York is committed to being an asshole. Consider the following interview, regarding the Long Arm, between myself and the Man Behind the Counter:

Me [Sweetly]: Can I use this?

Man Behind the Counter: Let me do it.

Me: Do you know what this is called?

MBTC: Claw.

Me: Do you know why it’s blue and yellow?


Me: [Super-excited to discuss historical minutia]: Do you know this was invented by Ben Franklin in the eighteenth century?

MBTC: [Vigorously frowning]:

Other relatives of the Long Arm may include the sneaky shoulder tapper, the back scratcher, and the always-hilarious extendable fork.The long arm is available from Instawares under the name Nifty Nabber. Unger, the manufacturer of this product, claims that the Nabber is the “ideal extension to your arm” (I might argue that a bottle of bourbon is more ideal) and that the powerful claw is well suited to grip “small and oddshaped objects.” Despite this, it has proved, to date, highly unhelpful regarding the matter of the diseased, hostile pigeons shitting on my windowsill.

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