If I had not needed an emery board that morning off Antarctica, I might never have gotten to know the man I called Hammacher Schlemmer.
Recently retired, he racks up miles with a vengeance, preferring to travel by sea. And he is accompanied by more gadgets and gizmos and oddball gear than the fabled stock of Hammacher Schlemmer, a forerunner to Brookstone and The Sharper Image.
As one who likes to travel light, I found him the antithesis of all I hold dear. I also found his stash of goods undeniably handy, there at the bottom of the world.
"Nail file or emery board?" asked old H. S. "I've got both. Clippers? Orange stick? Scissors? Whatever you need."
I followed him to his cabin--the largest on the ship. It was like a hardware store. Shelves were filled with little things. Boxes and stowaway drawers held more. Closets were packed and tidy.
He could have outfitted the entire ship for this Antarctic adventure, and in some ways he did. The man had extra gloves, caps and mittens. He was carrying transformer plugs of every shape. He had string and wire and batteries.
One passenger needed a screwdriver and was heading for the Radio Room to ask for one. "What size?" asked H. S. "Phillips head or regular?" The passenger borrowed a small screwdriver for his eyeglasses and a larger one for a camera.
"Ah, you need more film," I overheard him say at breakfast. "You took more penguin shots than you thought you would. I did that my first time down here."
He had extra film, of course, in a choice of ASAs. He also had spare camera parts, flash attachments and tripods.
He carried small heat packets that slip inside mittens to keep hands warm. He wore elastic sea-bands on each wrist to ward off seasickness, and he talked about their miracle powers until I had to excuse myself.
The bands have buttons that work like acupressure. He had extras, and insisted I try them. There's nothing weird about me; they give me claustrophobia. I fell back on my trusty nausea fighter, a prescription called Tigan.
My well-meaning pal had an amazing pharmacy, probably the best between Tierra del Fuego and Palmer Station. He carried painkillers of every size and strength. He had cold remedies to swallow, swig, inhale or rub on.
His selection of antibiotics was impressive. As an attorney, he did not prescribe medicine, but he did offer to share. "Any allergies?" he always asked.
When the subject was a sore back, H. S. had a heating pad. For an injured shoulder he carried a sonic massager. He had extension cords to fit every gadget.
His library was formidable--heavy on fiction and complete with "you're-gonna-love-it" reviews. He made mental lists of reservations and would sometimes chastise a slow reader because "the next guy wants that book."
In three weeks I heard of only one request he could not handle. He'd forgotten Super Glue. He apologized for days.
Like travelers of another era, this intrepid Californian uses steamer trunks, although his are modern and collapsible. After Antarctica, he and his bride were flying from Santiago to Lima to see the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Then they were off for Rio to board the Sagafjord for a South Pacific cruise. (They were sending their foul-weather gear home from Chile, he explained; his son was shipping trunks of fresh tropic-weight clothes to the dock in Brazil.)
The Sagafjord had been their honeymoon ship. After the wedding in Rarotonga, H. S. informed the captain that he wanted a king-size bed. A Polish carpenter was sent up with boards and a saw to build a king-size frame around the twin beds.
The man thinks big and likes toys. When the ship went to Hong Kong he bought a large electric train and enough track to fill his stateroom.
"Five or six could play at once and operate the parts," he told me with glee. "The staff dropped by every day. They loved it."
I shook my head at the thought of having the cabin on the other side of the tracks.
This week I saw a Hammacher Schlemmer ad for a travel scale that fits into a briefcase. Its capacity is 300 pounds.
I can think of nothing worse to lug around the world. Who wants to know what a scale has to tell?
But I'll bet an inflatable life raft and a fiberglass tool kit that my friend has one by now.
At least one.