One Word After Another – James A. Autry

The Inanimate Object Conspiracy

Friends and relatives have questioned my sanity or simply dismissed me as “quirky,” but at last I have been vindicated. And by the not-failing New York Times, of all places.

You see, I believe there exists a very silent conspiracy that has an impact on the daily lives of all of us. It is the Inanimate Object Conspiracy. This was first identified by my late older brother who was a highly regarded Associated Press bureau chief, thus an impeccable source.

He took me aside one evening after our usual quota of Tennessee bourbon had been consumed, then with a furtive glance around the room, said, “Jimmy, I have discovered why so many so-called inanimate objects seem to mysteriously malfunction.”

I needed more information. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Think about it. Ever had a zipper that never failed, then one morning when you’re late, it grabbed your shirttail and jammed?”

“Well, yes.”

“And how about all the electronic devices that mysteriously stop working, such as the TV remote?”

I nodded.

“Or tried to lower blinds and found them stuck in the up position and the cords hopelessly tangled?”

I admitted it has happened to me.

“Or those times you call a repair person to fix something that, when the person shows up on the $100 service call, the device, whatever it was, works just fine?”

I couldn’t argue with him.

“And how about when you spill a small cup of milk and when cleaning it up, discover it has transmogrified into a gallon of milk?” (He liked to use words like transmogrified.)

Then he delivered his coup de grâce. “And coat hangers. Don’t get me started on coat hangers.”

Out of love for my brother, I decided to change the subject. But he made me promise I would stay alert for signs of the conspiracy. He died many years ago, but I have kept my promise and have learned to recognize the mischievous inanimate objects. When an object, such as a shoehorn, disappears I know it will never be where I think it ought to be. It has somehow secretly migrated.

A few years ago, my wife asked me to let the subject drop, so I no longer mention it when bedeviled by some object. I could not help pointing out to her, however, this from the New York Times, May 5, 2020, edition: “In a variety of experiments, social psychologists have found that when people are longing to socialize, they are more likely than usual to perceive humanlike traits in inanimate objects.”

There. Take that, you doubters and unbelievers!

Now I can openly divulge who leads the inanimate object conspiracy: coat hangers. Yes, those pesky, constantly entangling, falling-to-the-floor coat hangers. And when the door is closed and the closet is dark, I am convinced that they breed and multiply.


James A. Autry of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 15 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. His newest book, “The White Man Who Stayed,” will be published in September (see page 34).

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