BOSTON. As conventioneers emerged from the Bayside Hotel here yesterday morning after weekend-long trade association gatherings, there was more than the usual jostling for cabs at curbside caused by an urge to return home. “It was like a rugby scrum,” said long-time doorman Al DiBennideto. “Usually we only see that kind of infighting when the American Library Association is in town and a scuffle breaks out between the Dewey Decimal gang and the Library of Congress thugs.”
The source of the conflict was a scheduling snafu that booked two competing and conflicting groups at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center at the same time; the National Staple Products Association in Exhibit Hall A, and the Paper Clip Manufacturers of America in Exhibit Hall B.
“Those two groups, they really don’t like each other,” says Assistant Director of Exhibition Space Michael “Mickey” O’Reilly. “They’re like the cattle and sheep farmers in the old westerns,” he says, thinking back to the television cowboy shows of his youth. “They’re basically in the same line of business, and yet they’re fierce competitors.”
The market for staples and paper clips has shrunk dramatically since the invention of the desktop computer in 1975, according to office supply historian Milton Gabwertz of the New England College of Business. “Prior to that time a young man or woman could expect to handle a million paper clips during a four-decade career, and staple a comparable number of documents,” he says. “Today kids use paper clips to dig crud out of their ears, and some of younger girls we hire have staples in their noses for some reason.”
The natural friction that close proximity brings was exacerbated when the two groups unknowingly adopted similar slogans for their confabs this year; the staple group chose “Staples: Holding America Together for 150 years” while the clip crowd came up with “Paper Clips: We Keep Important Stuff Together.” “In hindsight, we should have asked them both to submit marketing materials in advance,” says Deputy Convention Commissioner Jack Halloran. “We were too busy counting the days until our pensions max out I guess.”
An uneasy détente is achieved at the taxi stand as members of the two groups go their separate ways, trying their best to ignore each other, with just an occasional jibe breaking the steely science. “Hey Fred,” one clip partisan says in a stage whisper to a colleague, “when Microsoft wanted an image for an attachment to an email, did they choose a staple, or a paper clip?”
His friend begins to laugh and an angry staple advocate is about to throw a punch when a change in the rotating sign outside the facility announces the next group that will convene here, and the two warring factions are united by a common enemy.
“Oh man,” says Ted Frobisher of Upper Peninsula Stapler Co. to Paul Gonsalvo of Buckeye State Clips, “is there anything worse than a binder clip salesman?”