In the winter of 2000 A.D., I was a penniless Psychology major with aspirational living fantasies. Wrapped in a navy pea coat, I would wander the icy streets of Manhattan, gazing with lust at the brownstones of Gramercy, dreaming of the day when I would causally look through an issue of Home & Garden magazine and flippantly say, “Well doesn’t that look nice? Perhaps we’ll buy it tomorrow.” (I still dream of that day, 12 years later, even as living in Manhattan stopped being my aspirational anything.)

Christmas was approaching. I thought of my mother complaining about a jar of something or other, how it was impossible to open, how if she had a jar opener, a lot of frustration might be avoided. I stumbled into a Restoration Hardware store in the Flatiron District, mostly hoping to feed my brain more aspirational crap. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Restoration Hardware is a beautifully arranged store that sells vintage-looking industrial design items and various other home goods at the sort of markup that would chase any reasonable person back to Bed Bath & Beyond, were the things not displayed in such a stately, bourgeois-baiting manner. As I roamed the retail space, wondering if selling an eyeball on the black market might allow me to purchase a tin bowl, (who needs two eyeballs, anyway?) I saw the perfect thing at an affordable price point: a Good Grip jar opener, which I instantly purchased.

On the train ride to my parents’ house, I fantasized about jars, evil jars whose lids heaven itself could not pry off, my mother pointing – “That one! Now, that one!” – and me, with our new shiny black jar opener, running around the kitchen, popping off lids as if they were beer bottle caps, the freed pickles and jam and whatnot dancing out of defeated jars into the open. (Perhaps that was a good time to start diagnosing myself.)

My mother was grateful for the gift. She took out a jar of pickled cabbage she’d been having trouble with and said, “How would you use that again?” I examined the lid. It was not a flat type of lid that sealed so many jars I had seen in Eastern Europe as a child, the lid this little tool was obviously made for. It was a very modern lid you had to grip hard and just twist. Unwilling to admit that I might have bought the wrong tool, I tried to use it anyway. The jar opener slid all around the lid, obviously incapable of that which it was not made for.

“What are you doing?” said mom.

“Gimme a sec,” I mumbled, and proceeded to bang the lid with the jar opener.

My mother came over, twisted off the lid, picked up the jar opener and said, “It’s okay, I’m sure we’ll use it for something.”

Fast-forward 12 years. My parents bought an apartment with a balcony that faces a quiet street. Perfection – except for the vile pigeons, who land on the balcony occasionally and treat it as their bathroom. Given the city’s ridiculous assertion that pigeons are not disease-ridden vermin and therefore may not be exterminated, my parents had to find other ways to keep them off the balcony, including spikes, wire, contraptions that flutter in the wind, and when appropriate, the broom. Still, the parasitic creatures would occasionally find a way to crap on all that is good, including the balcony.

As my mother and I walked out on the balcony a couple of months ago to enjoy the warm weather, we saw a little pile of bird excrement on the railing. “Damn things, just can’t keep them off the property,” said mom and picked up – wait for it – the Good Grip jar opener. She scooped up the excrement, tossed it on the patch of grass beneath the window, and wiped the edge clean with a piece of paper towel, which she then tossed in a garbage pail. She put the jar opener in the corner to await its next unenviable mission.

“That thing!” I guffawed. “It’s perfect!”

“I told you we’d find use for it someday,” said mom, taking a sip of her tea, the evening slowly descending around us.