Posted by: trevormeers | October 8, 2011

Duct. Duct. Tape!

You don’t need MacGyver’s savvy or mullet to recognize that a thing doesn’t need fixing if it can’t be fixed by a handy person armed with duct tape, a Leatherman tool and baling wire (or “bale warr” as it was known in the Missouri-inflected hay fields of my youth). It wouldn’t surprise me in the least of some archaeologist studying how Egyptians built the pyramids suddenly pulled a fossilized roll of silver tape from the sand and yelled, “I knew it!”

Just as with any true pleasure in life, one of the most enjoyable aspects of a relationship with duct tape is watching a new generation discover its wonders all over again. We’ve been savoring that generational handoff in our house over the last few weeks as Allison has discovered that her artistic muse likes to speak via duct tape.

She is, of course, merely taking her place in a line of duct tape visionaries that stretches, believe it or not, even farther back than Red Green or even MacGyver. Duct tape actually started out under the name that picky editors like me have always corrected as a childish mispronunciation. Turns out, it really was “duck tape” at the start. It originated, as so many great American expressions did, in World War II, when soldiers suddenly received rolls of a miraculous cloth-based tape that was super sticky, easy to tear and pretty much waterproof. Thus, “duck” tape. They used it to repair vehicles, seal up ammo cans and, I imagine, silence privates who told too many stories in the middle of the night.

After the war, civilians discovered that duck tape was just as good at sealing the seams of the heating/air conditioning systems in suburban homes popping up across the nation. Responding to this new environment, manufacturers changed the color from olive drab to aluminum silver. Thus, “duct” tape.

When I was growing up, a tape by any name stuck just as sweet. I used it to repair the grips of plastic machine guns, decorate the forks of my banana seat bike (along with its fetching cousin, electrical tape) and add stripes to my silver Atari jacket.

The patron saint of all men with more can-do spirit than style sense.

And most importantly, I took duct tape to sea. At one point, my brother and I owned an inflatable kayak we dubbed The Mel Mains, in honor of a local TV anchor who I think died in about 1980, but kept reading the 10 o’clock news for another decade or so. Because the Mains was an inflatable rubber craft and because our home water was a shallow farmland creek studded with beaver dams and junk appliances, duct tape proved a key supply on every voyage. After a couple of seasons on Oak Creek, the Mains’ superstructure was more tape than rubber. On the plus side, all the air leaking past the duct-tape patches and out of the Mains provided some semblance of motorboat sounds coming out the back.

Allison’s fascination with duct tape is far more aesthetic. It began when I brought home a roll of colored tape I’d gotten in a press kit at work. Pulling the roll from my bag, she said, “This comes in pink?!” and disappeared into her room to start sketching ideas.

Soon, she’d made me a pretty fair wallet using zebra-stripe tape she’d somehow acquired. The wallet doesn’t really fold, so I choose to carry it as more of a sophisticated money sleeve that seems like something James Bond would use, assuming he was investigating a ZZ Top concert.

The J. Peterman catalog will soon make the Urban Zebra Wallet a must-have for the man about town.

With the zebra wallet complete, Allison really started feeling it and moved on to duct tape clothing. She talked her mom into a shopping spree at Target and came home with several roles of tape in a variety of colors and patterns. About a day later, she walked into the kitchen carrying a duct-tape skirt she’d made for Katie. If there were any more siblings in the house, jealousy surely would’ve followed because the skirt looked shockingly like the Technicolor dreamcoat that drove Joseph’s 11 brothers to such distraction. Upon closer inspection, the skirt actually was really just a flat sheet of tape. But it’s proving itself as an excellent area rug in the living room.

After the skirt’s success, Allison was ready to go to market. She decided to make duct tape wallets and sell them at the upcoming family garage sale. Naturally, I took this as a teachable moment and helped her figure out her costs of materials and told her about my own travails selling crafted goods as a kid. When I was about 8, I decided to produce a line of broadswords built from scrap wall lathe taken out of the old farmhouse we were remodeling.

The Amazing Technicolor Duct Tape Skirt.

The business was ramping up well until my dad asked, “What kind of warranty are you going to offer on them?”

I said, “What’s that?”

“You promise to give people their money back if the sword breaks,” he said.

“But most of them break the first time you fight with them,” I protested. And the business model sort of petered out after that.

Allison made it all the way through manufacturing and carefully set out a collection of duct-tape wallets at the garage sale, priced at $1 each. But when Saturday evening came, she hauled all the wallets back home, along with our old dog kennel and Nordic-Track, which has now failed to sell in five consecutive sales.

Fortunately, I don’t think the weak duct-tape wallet market discouraged her in the least. People didn’t get MacGyver at first either.



  1. Every body loves a class. Tell her to charge to teach a few styles, students bring their own materials, send home a few handouts, and wala! Almost pure profit. She’s such a brainiack! Got to love her. Oh, and Katie can model.

  2. I discovered new colors & patterns of duct tape @ Home Depot today. There’s one less Christmas present I have to search for:).

  3. You go, Allison!
    Ruby made a duct tape dress once that turned out more like a barrel. Even after we gunked up my sewing machine trying to sew some pleats into the thing, it was better suited as Rodeo Clown wear.

  4. Hey, Trevor, just watched an episode on the History channel that spotlighted duct tape as an important gadget. I think all of us have used duck tape at one time or another

  5. Duct tape rules…I have taken a lot of abuse and ridicule over the years for my numerous uses of duct tape, but the applications are amazing. I am working on an experiment right now if duct tape can in any way help the Husker’s defense…I would add to your list of duct tape and baling wire as essentials….WD40…that stuff is amazing.

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