Sunnyside’s 99 Cent Treat store , at 41st and Queens Boulevard, is a neighborhood institution beloved for its idiosyncrasies: There’s blank VHS tapes for sale right at the checkouts, in the space reserved for impulse buys, and despite the shop’s name nothing whatsoever seems to cost $.99.
Recently I dropped in to pick up some dirt-cheap wires for stereo speakers. There, among the Treat’s impressive wall of cables and connectors, I found a Trisonic brand wire that fit my needs …. and I discovered, at the bottom of the package, a curious message: “Let go of all attachment. Only then will you receive.”
“Good to know,” I thought. And then I wondered, “But isn’t a speaker wire designed to do just the opposite — to attach and receive?”
Hanging nearby was a coil of Trisonic cable. At the bottom of its package: “Once we cultivate a compassionate attitude, nonviolence comes automatically.”
“That’s not what I would expect a cable to tell me,” I thought. And I snapped a photo.
And then, suddenly, I realized that messages from the weirdly paternal Trisonic company were all around me, hectoring me to be a better person. On a digital voltage tester:
“Even if your experience of altruistic motivation is modest, it will definitely give you a degree of mental peace.”
On a wrench:
“Doing nothing and idling time away consumes our life.”
A bracket condescended to me:
“Whether or not you understand profound ideas, it is important to be a good person wherever you are right now.”
And a wire splitter was weirdly accusatory:
“If your life goes along too easily you become soft.”
If that’s true, wouldn’t Trisonic owe it to the world to make its products shitty and hard to use?
Unlike fortune cookies, these bits of wisdom don’t necessarily seem crafted to amuse a Western audience. Instead, some seem to express complex beliefs that might deeply held by the manufacturers themselves:
(The products come from China, but Trisonic has a U.S. presence. The local office is called “Eastern America Trio Products” and has a PO Box in Flushing.)
Here’s what the complete package looks like. The message on this one: “To end the disasters of the world, we must improve the human mind.”
The human mind being difficult to improve, we’ll start with everyone’s butt hinges.
If you’re like me, sometimes when you’re picking up 100 feet of wire, you feel preoccupied thinking about the social order. If so, Trisonic is there for you!
Another question that plagues shoppers at the 99 Cent Treat: What is to be done with humanity?
Few Trisonic tips have anything to do with the product whose packaging they adorn. The rare exception comes on a pair of rubber door stops:
“As you become more detached from the world, rather than denying your humanity, you become more humane.”
So, stop those doors and be people!
Sometimes they stop being philosophical and start sounding like the husbands on sitcoms talking to their wives, as is the case with this tip from a screwdriver:
“People often feel upset because they take careless remarks too seriously.”
Anyway, here’s a heap of other advice from actual Trisonic products:
“Your mad mood serves your enemy.”
“Life is empty if we do nothing to pass the days.”
“Humans are not for money. Money if [sic] for humans.”
“A confused mind suffers agony; an enlightened mind feels at ease.”
“Sleep is the best meditation.”
“It’s more of an honor to serve others than to be served.”
“To willfully undergo hardship for the sake of others is compassion.”
Thanks, Trisonic, you international hardware/electronics company that really just wants to be a patronizing small-type Jiminy Cricket! Can I give you one tiny bit of advice from America? Don’t print your pedantry in yellow type atop a photo of an orange jump suit!
And quit presuming your customers have “enemies”!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 12, 2012