WHENEVER I reflect on the advances of modern technology, I wonder what it was like to live in a world without refrigerator magnets.
This occurred to me recently when I came home dog-tired from a day of stringing meaningless sentences together here at the newspaper.
Stumbling into the kitchen, I found this cheery message on the Sears Coldspot: "The chain on S's bike came off. Pls fix!"
"Fix" had been underlined three times in bright red marker. Clearly this was a task of no small urgency.
Before the dawn of refrigerator magnets, of course, a husband and wife could not communicate in such a fashion.
Instead, they were actually forced to speak face-to-face, where one might begin the conversation with "Hi, how was your day?" and the two would then banter back and forth until eventually the subject of a loose bicycle chain would be broached.
God, that must have been wearying! Not to mention time-consuming!
But with the advent of the refrigerator magnet, communication between men and women became much more efficient.
Now one can cut through the phony exchange of pleasantries and the touchy-feely psychobabble of face-to-face chatter and get right to the point.
Which in my case apparently was: Fix the bicycle chain, worm.
In any event, as I went out to fix the bicycle chain -- by the way, it was now about 98 degrees outside -- I marveled at how much refrigerator magnets mean to the modern marriage.
Even as the sweat poured off me and I got grease all over my hands and skinned the knuckles of two fingers because the stupid nut holding the chain was stripped and the wrench kept slipping off, I thought: "What an absolutely marvelous way for a man and woman to share their innermost thoughts and feelings!"
The beauty of refrigerator magnets is that they come in all shapes and sizes.
In my home, for instance, we seem particularly drawn to refrigerator magnets shaped like fruit.
We have a banana. We have an apple. We have a watermelon and a pineapple. We also have an orange and a coconut as back-ups. (What's that old saying: "You can never have too many refrigerator magnets?" Amen, it says here.)
Together, our magnets can hold any sort of message you'd care to leave, such as the valentine left for me after I returned from a trip out of town last month: "Big wasp's nest under roof by rear deck. Pls remove!"
Which I did, even before unpacking my bags. But 16 feet up on a ladder with a can of Raid Wasp and Hornet Killer, bobbing and weaving like Smokin' Joe Frazier as wave after wave of angry wasps buzzed about my head, I thought: "How comes she's the only one expressing herself via these refrigerator magnets? Why don't I get in on the fun, too?"
That way, I could start leaving my own gooey love notes pinned to the Coldspot, such as: "Driveway needs to be black-topped. What are you waiting for?" Or: "Don't forget: your turn to change the transmission fluid on Subaru."
Another thing that occurred to me up on that ladder was this: communicating with your wife via refrigerator magnets is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Even an acclaimed inventor such as, oh, Thomas Alva Edison never foresaw the impact of these magnets.
Otherwise he would have surely plunged full speed ahead into getting them on the market in the late 1800s. Then he, too, could have had the pleasure of arriving home from a hectic day at the lab to find a note stuck to the icebox that said: "Carbon filaments from your light bulbs are all over house. Pls clean up!"
Or, "If you're through fooling with diplex telegrapher, trim hedges!"
No, Edison never experienced that sort of closeness with his housemate.
And he never had a chance to savor the ironic tone of my all-time favorite refrigerator magnet communique, left for me some years ago after my wife --ed off to work: "Mrs. T's dog died. She's upset. Told her you'd bury it. Pls bring shovel -- she needs hers to plant roses."
As I stood there that afternoon, digging a shallow grave for an ugly little mutt I didn't even like, a vicious little cur who would lunge at me whenever Mrs. T walked him past our house, all I could think of was: "Poor Edison. No fruit magnets. What must life have been like back then?"
It must have been so empty.